Tim Bancroft-Hinchey: WHEN FOOTBALL CEASES TO BE A SPORT

LUIS FIGO WAS THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION IN THE IBERIAN PENINSULA THIS WEEKEND. THE PORTUGUESE FIGO, NOMINATED BY THE SPORTS JOURNALISTS FOR THE AWARD OF BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD THIS YEAR, LEFT FC BARCELONA FOR ARCH RIVALS REAL MADRID THIS SEASON. THIS MADE HIM THE VICTIM OF A HATE CAMPAIGN NEVER BEFORE SEEN IN FOOTBALL ON THE EVE OF THE CLASSIC FOOTBALL MATCH BETWEEN BARCELONA AND REAL MADRID – IN BARCELONA Before Luis Figo arrived in Barcelona, there was talk of a team of private bodyguards and a bullet-proof waistcoat to protect the player from the public. Fortunately none of this was necessary and the player bravely travelled in the team bus with his colleagues, through the streets of Barcelona. It is normal for fans to barrack their opponents and obviously when a star player leaves for a rival club, there is a natural animosity by the fans who were abandoned. Yesterday, Barcelona won the game 2 – 0, calming the home crowd. After the atmosphere of war described in the press, one wonders what would have happened if Real Madrid had won. In the event, nothing happened to Figo but the point is that the hysteria, whipped up by an aggressive press trying to sell copy, created an atmosphere which was far from sporting. Bobby Robson, the former England manager, had mentioned this when he was manager of Barcelona three years ago. He wrote to me “Tim, I am enjoying every moment here at the club but the press is very aggressive…it is the worst kind of press you can imagine”. Sport is supposed to be recreational and is intended to provide healthy entertainment for the family. These days the spirit of hostility, aggression and war is many times caused by popular press reporters who are ready with the cameras when violence starts. It was reported that in Belgium this year, the England fans were provoked into action by English newspaper reporters so that they could get a good story. This is not journalism. This is not sport. On the contrary, a good example of behaviour was provided by Spartak’s fans this week during their magnificent display of tactical football against Sporting, giving Spartak a 3-0 victory away from home and (almost) a passport to the next round of the competition, if Bayer Leverkusen is not under-estimated. Vociferous, loud but never insulting, Spartak’s fans silenced Lisbon’s Alvalade stadium and they and the two teams presented Lisbon with one of the best sporting spectacles seen here for many years.

Tim Bancroft-Hinchey Lisbon