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You're pulling my shirt, sir!
By Simon Holzman
The thing that really pisses me off while watching footie is the shirt pulling. Oh, I know it's a Man's Game and we don't want a load of pink-knickered wimps whinging every time an opponent comes within ten yards of them. And I know that there are worse crimes committed on a soccer pitch, notably by Graeme Souness. My objection is purely aesthetic.

Put bluntly, Shirt Pulling stifles the game. It prevents fast strikers getting past slow defenders. It stops high-flying centre forwards winning the ball in the air from crosses. It lowers the standard of the game to the level of the worst player so long as he knows how to clutch a shirt discretely.

I didn't realise how bad it was until I went to some training done by my local Sunday side and was taught how to shirt-pull properly. This seemed more important than discussing tactics or planning dead-ball positions or how to tackle someone without bringing them down.

Now, I realise that I am an idealist and that a successful team has to play to win. What I want to see is the referees taking it seriously since it is against the laws of the game and should be dealt with.

I remember chatting with an old codger who mentioned that the Sunday team he had played for had once weakened the seams of their shirts. After zooming past startled defenders who were left holding bits of fabric, the referee had demanded that they put on new shirts or he would do them for ungentlemanly conduct.

The outright fouls and career-ending tackles are dealt with well generally but this is easy since they are so obvious. The shirt-pulling which can ruin a good game just as much is ignored. And then, after being yanked half way around the pitch, when the striker responds by pushing the defender away, he gets booked. This is something which has happened too much at Watford with the Gift and Wayne Andrews suffering the most. If the referee won't protect them, they have to do it themselves.

It is easy to forget that the whole purpose of a football match is to score goals. Shirt pulling prevents a huge amount of goal-mouth action. Players should not need to be built like Frank Bruno simply so that they can shrug off the limpet-like defender.