A Coach and a Gentleman
When it comes to football, human beings are meant to be inclined to lose some of their basic social skills. In a sport that tends to focus on the result over than anything else, it is quite easy to get more concerned with pushing the ball into the goal and not on showing ‘a virtuous character’. In fact, for many people ‘virtue’ probably means ‘winning’.. Italy is not exception: rather, Italy is probably one of the main examples of this kind of approach to the ethics of football. We tend to get quite extreme (some would say simply ‘passionate’), though we are surely not too extreme.
So, what happened on last sunday during the Ascoli-Reggina match came as a surprise, and initiated an ongoing debate about what is right or wrong in football. At some point during the match, one player on Reggina’s side got injured: everyone, as it usually happens in cases like these, stopped playing so to let the guy come back on the pitch. However, one of Ascoli’s player, allegedly not noticing what was going on, kept running with the ball towards Reggina’s goal. He did not encounter any opposition from his opponents (the ref had not stopped the game though), so he carried on, and once in front of the goal he passed the ball a teammate, who scored. Reggina was not very happy with that kind of behaviour: a fight between the players started immediately after. Nonetheless, the ref validated the goal (which was, in fact, a valid goal).
But here is the coupe de theatre: after this dodgy goal, Ascoli’s coach, Bepi Pillon, told his guys to let Reggina make a goal, so to equalise the score. Thus, to the dismal of Ascoli’s supporters, the Regginians moved easily through Ascoli’s defence, the keeper did not move, Reggina scored. 1-1. A video of this surreal match is here.
Unfortunately this display of honesty did not help Ascoli win, and the match ended 3-1 for Reggina. Still, we were left with a somewhat refreshing message about the value of fair-play against what Weber called “the disenchantment of the world”. This was especially significant in this case, given that Ascoli is fighting to avoid relegation in Serie C and now, after this defeat, is closer to the abyss..
In fact the media are celebrating Ascoli’s act for its display of ‘fair play’. Even the Herald Tribune today dedicated an article to Pillon, suggesting he should be awarded the FIFA Fairplay Prize 2009. The only ones who were not delighted by Ascoli’s gesture were, unsurprisingly, Ascoli’s supporters.. Actually, they seemed to have been quite upset by the choice of letting Reggina score. When asked whether he would do it again, a sad Pillon replied “I don’t know”. Then he continued: “In Italy people make too much of these things. When I went abroad, I saw a different kind of football. Here, everything is so exasperated, too many interests, and too many situations that turn playing into pain, instead of joy.”
However, in a sport where you can qualify for the World Cup by openly cheating with your hands, and then pretend to be sorry, the case of Ascoli, a small team fighting for survival in Serie B, is to be praised.
Yet, I admit being happy that I am not an Ascoli supporter.. But I’m much, much happier, that I am not French.