x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ok, we get the message, but please, no more T-shirts of support

Clubs risk accusations of callousness if they do not follow the T-shirt precedent set by the likes of Chelsea and may want to play it safe.

Chelsea players expressed support for Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Chelsea players expressed support for Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Can football please call a time out on T-shirts?

The answer is probably no. History will look back at March 2012 as "the T-shirt watershed", in which the wearing of hastily-printed slogans passed from renegade to regulation behaviour.

Remember when subverting the team shirt in this way was limited to the oddballs and firebrands? Robbie Fowler's support of striking Liverpool dockers, Ian Wright's "179 Just Done It" vest after breaking the Arsenal goal record.

The sentiments expressed on those garments were genuinely held.

Can we be so sure of the motivation of the Chelsea players who warmed up in Stiliyan Petrov T-shirts at Aston Villa on Saturday?

The shirts bore the cancer-stricken Villa captain's name and number, along with the message: "Our thoughts are with you".

I do not doubt for a second that the Chelsea players felt sympathy towards Petrov, who attended the match with his wife and two sons just days after being diagnosed with acute leukaemia.

Whether they felt strongly enough to get their own T-shirt printed, however, we will never know.

This is the problem with T-shirts "going mainstream". Once a team starts printing and wearing such garments en masse, the currency is devalued.

The reason the T-shirt issue reached critical mass last month was the proximity of two terrible events: the on-pitch cardiac arrest of Bolton's Fabrice Muamba and Petrov's illness.

As Muamba lay critically ill in hospital, conspicuous displays of support became the done thing.

If such sentiments were absent the mob demanded them, seemingly oblivious to the inherent emptiness of a goodwill message extracted under pressure.

My concern is that Chelsea issued those Petrov shirts partly out of genuine sympathy but also with half a mind on the consequences of their absence. Better to play it safe than to have to explain to the mob why a cardiac arrest victim deserves a T-shirt but a cancer sufferer does not.

This is how precedents are set. Other clubs visiting Villa Park must now follow suit or risk accusations of callousness.

And who will draw the line over which ailments require a T-shirt?

We know cancer and cardiac arrest are on the list, but what about players laid low by depression, diabetes, dialysis? It will take a brave club to say "enough is enough".

Personally, I would like to see a moratorium on such behaviour. Call me old-fashioned but I am willing to believe automatically that footballers feel sympathy towards fellow professionals laid low by illness without them telling me so via the medium of printed cotton.

A better tribute, surely, would be to show more respect to those fellow professionals still lucky enough to be playing the game.

That, however, may be too much to ask. This weekend's Premier League fixtures were jam-packed with the usual cynical antics.

In Bolton's match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, for example, Mark Davies won a penalty by flinging himself to the ground after minimal contact from Roger Johnson.

The "soft" penalty - as we call those won by cheating nowadays - was converted by Martin Petrov. He celebrated by displaying a T-shirt honouring his friend and countryman, Petrov.

That, apparently, is what he would have wanted.


Masters could be too soon for redemption in the Woods movie

Just think: as you read these words, Tiger Woods may be engaged in the Montage Sequence.

You know what I mean by the Montage Sequence. It is the part in any good sports movie where the fallen hero dusts down his battered pride, gathers his strength and throws himself into a training regime with an enthusiasm not seen since he was that talented kid with fire in his belly and dreams in his heart, all to some suitably stirring soft rock music.

So, at this very second, is Woods punching frozen beef carcasses, chasing chickens or jogging through Philadelphia while being chased by hundreds of children? Or at least the golf equivalent?
Sadly, we do not know.

Even Woods may not know. You see, that is the thing about Montage Sequences. They are made with 20/20 hindsight.

If Woods wins the Masters this week then his classic, three-act sports movie life will be complete: rise, fall, redemption.

But what if he fails? Worse, what if he fails spectacularly: some epic choke involving bent irons, four-letter tirades and injured bystanders?

Well, then we will know that we remain in the depths of Act Two, the dark period, and can assume that any training he undertook was devoid of energy, belief and soft rock. So, which one do you think it will be?

From a golfing perspective, victory is possible. Woods has got his A-game back and looks predatory once more. From a movie perspective, however, it feels too soon for the redemption. Yes, he has tasted humiliation but has he really hit the rock bottom required for Act Three to begin?

Maybe he has. But that would seem like an awfully short movie.


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