DAVID MOONEY: Referee’s Foam Is Nothing to Be Excited About

In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder used the milk of the tithymalus plant in his Natural History to create a secret kind of ink. In the second century AD, Publius Ovidius Naso – known usually as Ovid – referred to a secret ink in his Art of Love. Greek scientist Philo of Byzantium described the juice of the gall nuts only being visible under a specific solution, which we now call copper sulphate. By the fifteenth century, Egyptian Ahmed al-Qalqashandi described several kinds of invisible ink.

I know you came here for a football blog and not a history lesson, but I did all that research in order to make a point and I’m damned if I’m not including it after that.

Invisible ink has been around for a long while throughout human existence and we don’t feel too impressed by it. We’ve known for thousands of years of substances that will disappear in normal light and only re-appear under specific conditions. Disappearing things don’t impress us any more.

So – and I feel this is a very valid question – why in the name of God’s left testicle do thousands of football fans feel the need to cheer when a man in a fluorescent shirt sprays some foam across the toes of footballers worth millions of pounds, because the bubbles will evaporate into thin air in a few minutes’ time?

“Hooray!” they must think. “Humanity has come up with a chemical formula for something that soon won’t exist! How novel! We’ve NEVER seen anything like this before! Or, at least, if it does still exist, it’s been transformed into a compound of chemical elements that no longer reflects light into our retinas at a pitch our brains can interpret!”

Maybe I’m missing something.

I’m a bit confused. We have millions of pounds worth of talent on the pitch – often on both sides in Premier League football, except when there’s some of the lesser teams playing… Burnley, QPR, Manchester United… – and they’re producing moments of football and tactical play that so many of us watchers would never be able to do, even with thousands of hours of training and thousands of hours to perfect it. When they pull off these pieces of skill that so often get edited to awful music on YouTube, they get a quick ‘wahey!’ from the supporters and maybe a clap or two.

Then they’re featured on some horrible compilation on Soccer AM or suchlike.

Yet, when a man whose job involves spraying some foam onto the floor from time to time sprays some foam onto the floor, he’s greeted by a thunderous rapture of cheers, stunned by a wall of sound rolling from the stands. All for foaming the floor. How easily pleased are we?!

I, as a man with no formal training, who can barely tie a tie and is capable of cooking just three meals, possess the ability to spray some foam on the floor. If I was a little bit fitter to be able to keep up with a Premier League game, I could get myself a round of applause for doing what I used to do in the bath as a four-year old: Get bubbles on the floor.

What I could not do, however, is take the ball around a Premier League defender – with the possible exception of an aged Rio Ferdinand, who, for some inexplicable reason, has decided NOT to bow out of the top level with dignity and instead chooses to continue ploughing on through his career like a man completely oblivious to the criticism he’s receiving in what the history books may one day refer to as his darkest hour.

I am at the peak of my footballing ability and I’m not even good enough for Sunday league. I’m astonished by some of the things I’ve seen City and (all too frequently down the years) opposition players do. Those sorts of skills should be what the average person in the stands appreciates.

We’re a race who’s put a man on the moon. We’re a civilisation that has saved lives by learning how to successfully perform a heart transplant. We’re people who invented a way to get around the world in about a day, by propelling a huge metal bird-thing through the sky. Humanity has achieved some amazing feats, yet what impresses us most on a Saturday afternoon is when a bloke in yellow or green or turquoise sprays a liquid on some grass – because when we look away and look back again, it will no longer be there.

God forbid how we’ll react when we start making that vanishing foam a different colour. There’ll probably be parades or something.

Don’t get me wrong, here, the actual foam itself is a brilliant idea. Its usage in the Premier League makes total sense, stopping encroachment from free kicks. It’s a very simple solution to a problem that has been so inconsistently dealt with down the years (anyone else remember Geovanni getting six attempts at shooting from a free-kick for Hull against City in a 2-2 draw at the KC Stadium in 2008-09?). Any arguments players have about moving the ball forward or the wall moving closer are instantly nullified with a check of the foam – and then a “no, it’s not” from the ref.

It takes, what, two or three minutes for the foam to evaporate…? I don’t think even a Tony Pulis side could delay a free kick that long to be able to have the opportunity to edge the wall forward.

However, as impressed as I am with the idea, I’m not bloody impressed by the fact that it goes away after a bit. I was only just about intrigued by that as I was splashing around in a bath full of lukewarm water mixed with Matey. There’s not a chance it’s getting me now. In fact, I’m willing to get so unimpressed with it, I’ll happily pen a 1000–word column on it.

That said, there is one more grievance I need to air with this bloody foam – and this one’s directed at everyone on Twitter. The whole ‘bet [player] wishes [referee] had sprayed him with magic foam so [fans] couldn’t see him!’ isn’t your joke. It was made about a different situation ages ago and just because you made it about an entirely new scenario doesn’t mean you wrote it. And, on top of that, it’s not a very good joke.

If you’re going to plagiarise material, at least nick some good stuff.

Written by David Mooney

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