If you’ve ever stepped foot on a football pitch in the British Isles, you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “They don’t like it up ‘em”.
Born from the classic BBC sitcom Dad’s Army, it’s a phrase uttered on Sunday league pitches from John O’Groats to Cork when one team knows the other are more skilled than they are, but probably don’t fancy the more physical side of the beautiful game.
You could never accuse Việt Nam’s national side of being afraid of getting stuck in, which is why Thai star Theerathon Bunmathan recent comments about physical play have captured a lot of attention.
According to Thai League Central, the fullback recently opened up on how he prefers to play in Japan as opposed to the AFF Cup.
“I played in the J.League for four years and never got as frustrated or injured as I did playing in the AFF Cup. This is because in the J.League they focus on football. In AFF, when they know it’s Thailand, they aim to kick you,” the online publication quoted him as saying.
Theerathon clearly doesn’t like it up him then, and I think his complaints miss the mark for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, a lot of us like the physical side of football.
There are few things more exciting to watch than a blood and thunder derby with hard but fair challenges flying in and seeing which side is braver.
Matches like these also make the moments of skill that some players pull off all the more impressive, which is part of why some fans still rate Diego Maradona far more highly than Leo Messi, as he had to perform in a much more physical environment.
Physical play is also a great equaliser for the less-skilled teams, and football is all about the underdogs. If the point was just to see which team is better on the ball, we may as well give every trophy going to Manchester City now.
Football is also about hunger, desire and passion to some extent, no matter how cringeworthy it is when English pundits wheel out those buzzwords over and over again.
All that being said, physical play can sometimes go too far and this is where I think Theerathon has a point, but it seems his anger is misplaced.
When a team is “aiming to kick you” as Theerathon alleges and is doing so outside the rules, the onus has to be on the referee to put a stop to anything beyond the bounds of fair play.
Anyone who’s watched the English Premier League in recent weeks has seen some shocking officiating, so I’m by no means saying the referees in Southeast Asia or anywhere have an easy job, but stopping persistent fouling should be the simplest part of their task.
A few swift yellow cards and a commanding presence should be well within a professional referee’s abilities, but sadly that doesn’t seem to the case in the AFF Cup. VNS