Managers and media need discretion of old Billy Nick

NORMAN GILLER is out of hospital, if not yet back to 100 per cent fitness, but hopeful of a full recovery. A bit like Aaron Ramsey, whose horror injury last week has prompted the sports sage of Dorset to take a one-eyed look at Arsenal’s often “one-eyed” manager

I do wish I had psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians and Arsene Wenger sitting alongside me this week when I encountered something of a miracle on Facebook, which gave a fresh insight into the power of the internet.

For those of you not familiar with the workings of Facebook, let me tell you that I take part in several forums on there that bring together Tottenham-tinged fans talking about all things Spurs.

Unashamedly, I confess that I started on Facebook with commercial intent to get a selling momentum for my Lane of Dreams book.

But Facebook friends have become exactly that, and I have attracted an army of people I have never met in my life, yet with whom I feel a rapport and a respect that warms me every time I go on line.

My net has hauled in several dear old journo pals including the gifted James Mossop, award-winning news reporter Terry Pattison, Sheffield star Keith Farnsworth, award-winning author Anton Rippon, and just recently Kimberley Chambers, an exceptional and natural writer from my old East End territory who is fast making a name for herself as a writer of gritty and compelling novels. She is Spurs obsessed.

On Saturday I watched live on my computer screen as Ryan Shawcross and Aaron Ramsey came together in the sickening moment that ended with Arsenal’s bright young star in agony with a double fracture of his right leg.

I am one of the few media men left standing who can say to Arsene Wenger’s face: “I have been watching football much longer than you and can recognise a 50-50 ball when I see it.”

It appeared to me that there was no malice aforethought in the Shawcross tackle. It was a blinking-of-an-eye incident when the heavier weight and momentum of the Stoke defender made the difference as they collided.

Referee Peter Walton was wrong to react with an instant red card for Shawcross (pictured above, obvious in shock after the incident). And Arsene Wenger was wrong to make his comments on the stomach-churning episode while his emotions were still running high.

The television match director had the good sense and taste not to show replays of the collision and its awful aftermath. Similar judgement should have been made in protecting Monsieur Wenger.

It is at times like this when the media pack should show reasoning and control, and accept that it is inappropriate to be putting a microphone into somebody’s face. But maybe that is not an option in this age of 24/7 news.

I know that managers are contracted to give after-match interviews, but on this occasion Wenger should have been excused. Yes, I appreciate that is easy for me to say now that I am no longer an in-the-trenches reporter (who would have been one of the first to try to get a Wenger reaction). But from my sidelines seat, I know the timing of the interview was all wrong, and made a horrible footballing moment even worse.

Wenger made ridiculous heat-of-the-moment comments about the intentions of Shawcross, and managed to bracket the incident with two Arsenal players (Abou Diaby and Eduardo) having their legs broken over a five-year period. He was somehow building it into a conspiracy against Arsenal.

In my time, I have seen tackles of real evil intent. One of the most calculated was at Highbury in 1964 when “old” Bobby Collins kicked Arsenal matchstick man George Eastham up in the air and young Billy Bremner chopped him on the way down.

As George hobbled off the pitch in what were the early moments of the match, he said: “If that’s the way Leeds want to win the title, let them have the fucking thing.”

The following season, Collins himself had his leg broken by a thigh-high “assassination” by an Italian hitman when Leeds played Torino. He who lives by the sword…

Old pros will tell you that one of the worst tackles they ever saw was Manchester United’s Noel Cantwell’s over-the-top challenge that broke Dave Mackay’s leg at Old Trafford in 1963. This was in a European Cup-winners’ Cup tie, and the crack of breaking bone could be heard around the ground. Mackay, who did not believe in taking prisoners when tackling like a Ben Nevis avalanche, was understandably bitter, and from then on he always called Cantwell “Cant”, except his pronounciation was a little confusing.

They made it up after both had retired, but for the rest of his playing career, Mackay was said to be planning a revenge hit on the “Cant”.

But here’s the point: You will not find a single match-day word about the tackle from Spurs manager Bill Nicholson, because he knew how to guard his tongue. How Arsene Wenger could learn from Bill Nick’s say-nowt policy.

I have enormous respect for Wenger, and rate him one of the finest managers of his generation. He is intelligent, usually incisive and a master of football tactics, but there are times when he seems to have the tongue of a petulant ignoramus.

Which all brings me to the Miracle on Facebook. Anybody who knows the history of the deep hatred between Tottenham and Arsenal fans will confirm that there is as much chance of them saying nice things to and about each other as Wayne Bridge shaking John Terry’s hand.

Yet when I offered on Facebook that I should ” on behalf of Tottenham fans ” send condolences and best wishes for a swift recovery to Aaron Ramsey, there was an instant and overwhelming support for the idea.

Swarms of Arsenal-hating Tottenham supporters came forward with messages of goodwill and wanted to be associated with the warm and affectionate thoughts for Ramsey. Suddenly, the colour of a player’s shirt did not matter. Their compassion for a young player ” an Arsenal player ” made this old man very happy.

It brought home to me the power of the internet in general and Facebook in particular for bringing together people of conflicting views and getting them to agree unanimously on a subject that might otherwise fester. Believe me, Tottenham supporters wishing well for an Arsenal player ” even in these circumstances ” is something close to a miracle.

Perhaps it will help bring a little warmth between the two clubs. Now that would be a real miracle.

On this subject I suggest that M Wenger says: “Je n’ai rien à dire”.

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.

Click here for more recent articles on journalism, sport and sports journalism

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form