Graham Dougan was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.
He’ll write a column exclusively for the site and we hope you’ll enjoy his keen insight. This week he looks at the issue of players hugging each other in the tunnel.
I was delighted to read the thought of Phil Neville following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday when he spoke about players hugging each other in the tunnel before the game.
For a full-on United legend, up there with the likes of Best, Law, Cantona and Cruyff, to come out in such a no-holds barred manner should make everyone sit up and take notice.
Like me, he was disgusted at the sight of rival players embracing each other before entering the field of play. How can you be fully committed to your job when you’re laughing and joking with players you are being paid to hate with all your might?
That’s what we were taught back in our day, and it remains true now. Of course society has changed, we all understand that, but has it gone too far the other way? In my humble opinion yes, yes it has.
When the Sky cameras caught sight of Nacho Monreal randomly dispensing hugs and continental style kisses on each cheek, I was sick to my stomach. This is not what football should be about.
Back in my day, if you so much as looked at an opponent in the tunnel you’d have been clattered around the back of the head by your captain or the coaching staff – unless you were giving them a death stare and doing the ‘slitty-throat’ gesture with your finger that was so popular at the time.
I remember a game at Huddersfield when Tom Combes, our left-back, was up against his own brother, Billy. The pair never even said hello as the teams lined up. It wasn’t personal. Out on that pitch they were enemies for the 90 minutes, and Tom didn’t hold back in the first tackle, snapping into Billy’s knee with a good old fashioned over the ball challenge just to let him know he was there.
I can vividly remember the screams as he lay clutching the leg. I can only liken it to the noise made by a cat in heat when the male cat withdraws his heavily barbed penis from her cat flap. But at the end of the game, they were best of friends again, and Tom would visit Billy every day for the three months he was flat on his back in the hospital.
Even international teammates wouldn’t do ‘high fives’, as they’re known, but nowadays you have foreign players all speaking to each other in their own languages and who knows what’s going on there. They could be conspiring in match fixing for all anybody knows, and yet we accept this kind of behaviour as normal. What is going on?
The game’s authorities have to take some blame too. Making players shake hands before a match is killing the game. It takes the passion out of it, they’re all too chummy, and it’s little wonder that so many fixtures these days are like a damp squid.
If I were a manager and I saw one of my players hug the opposition before the game, I would fine him and make him play the rest of the season in the reserves. They’d learn pretty quickly not to do it again if you came on them that hard.
Phil Neville says he never hugged an opponent before a game, and I believe him. Not simply because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to ever hug Phil Neville, but because he was brought up the right way: by an authoritarian manager who himself came from proud working class roots and when a millionaire like that who owns racehorses tells you what’s what, you listen.
There is a time and a place to embrace other men, but I can assure you it’s not before a game of football.
In the bath afterwards? Fine. Or the shower. But tunnels are for two things only. One, escaping from the Nazis after leaving Papier-mâché models of yourselves so it looks like you’re still in bed.
And two, standing still in, looking straight ahead, and then emerging onto a football pitch from, because football is literally war, and you can be quite sure that Genghis Calm didn’t hug his enemies before he and his mongol hordes disembowelled them.
It’s about time footballers set that kind of example to the kids who watch this once beautiful game of ours.