Should we turn a blind eye to the football handbags?

No matter what level of football you watch, from Sunday league to Champions League, the same infringements occur. It’s true that at Sunday league level the fights can be a bit meatier and it’s also true that at the top level the diving is of a much higher standard, but nevertheless, all leagues have fights and diving and all round cheating. It has become a part of the game but that doesn’t mean it should be accepted.

The increasingly volatile matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid highlight the reasons why niggling and handbags and scuffles must always be punished. In Wednesday’s Super Cup final there was a 40 man brawl which must have contained about 3 slaps and one pinch, it was embarrassing and it marred a fantastic game of football.

Last season Real Madrid and Barcelona played each other 4 times in 18 days and one game in particular, (the first leg of the Champions league semi-final) was a total disgrace. Two of the best sides on the planet barely managed to play any football. Real Madrid tried to kick Barcelona off the pitch and Barcelona tried to get all Madrid’s players sent off.

Following this week’s shenanigans there is now a genuine concern that this ongoing tension and rivalry will move off the pitch and into the stands. Pep Guardiola voiced his worries after the game: “We must be careful, because one day we will cause harm, not on the field but off, and we’re all a little responsible for this.”

Whilst this kind of talk seems a long way from the slaps and face-clutching that we see week in week out in the Premier League, they are not so far removed. And it is easy to see how these things escalate. The constant little comments build gradually between players, these comments are greeted with little kicks and niggles and pinches until 2 of the 22 inevitably square up. When you play a team as often as Barca and Real, there are potential flashpoints all over the pitch from kick-off.

A similar escalation took place in last season’s Old Firm derby, when 3 Glasgow Rangers players were sent off and 34 fans were arrested inside the stadium. The Old Firm rivalry may have a brutal history all of its own but the players and managers would do well not to set that kind of example.

Whilst niggling and kicks and dives and insults will always occur, the more a referee can do to keep it to a minimum, the better, because in the end most people actually just want to play football or watch it and handbags just waste valuable time. There is a dangerous and clear line. Lots of niggling leads to a bad tempered, stop-start game of football. This leads to ugly challenges flying in and this leads to an all out brawl. The best sides in Spain couldn’t have displayed it better if they’d tried.