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JEFF IN THE SUNDAY SUN
FOOTBALL NOT MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE OR DEATH


The world of football was saddened by the passing of Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery, whom the nation had taken to their hearts as he battled against his cruel illness.

Footballers often receive bad press but Jermaine Defoe has shown the other side with his unstinting love, support and affection. An absolute credit to his profession and a shining example to all. The famous Bill Shankly quote that football is important than life really sounds stupid when you weigh up what really does matter.

Like most Boro fans, following the club has provided more failure than success but it pails into insignificance when compared to the loss of human life.

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Twenty four hours before the news broke of Bradley's sad passing we heard that Wolves keeper Karl Ikeme had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. It appears that abnormalities had shown up on a blood test after the players completed their medicals after returning to training.

The discovery highlights the incredible progress that has been made at clubs with the introduction of sports scientists and thorough monitoring of player's health. Long gone are the days when players returned a couple of stone overweight and ran on Saltburn beach and up Eston Hills to shed the unwanted pounds. Treatment was the 'magic sponge' and a few anti inflammatory tablets.

At the end of last season I spoke at the FMA (Football Medical Association) dinner following their annual conference. It was educational and enlightening to learn exactly what these professionals bring to the game and how much detail and planning goes into ensuring nothing is left to chance.

Preparation and planning of individual training requirements prevents problems before they occur and in the case of Ikeme enables early diagnosis that could be a life saver.

It is certain that Boro fans will join in with their Wolverhampton Wanderers counterparts on the opening day of the season to show support to the man who kept six clean sheets in ten appearances for the Boro before a hand injury forced him to return to Molineux in 2011.

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A new season will undoubtedly see the return of bad habits in the game. One of the worst aspects of the modern game is the penalty area holding and grappling that along with diving (simulation) is always a major talking point as fans complain about referees and their apparent inability to stamp it out.

The authorities have it within their power to instruct match officials to get much tougher but the question is do the club's players and indeed supporters really want the consequences of a culling of holding offences?

Whenever there is action taken then the card count rises and then clubs complain, fans complain and the refs are branded villains of the peace by making themselves the centre of attention and ruining games. Well you can't have it both ways!

What we all see in the TV isn't always as clear on the pitch in real time, especially when it's happening all over the penalty area. It would be easy to award a penalty or a free kick to the defence at every corner, throw in or attacking free kick. The formal lecture to a couple of players doesn't really work and players persist even after a warning.

The answer is quite simple - caution the players! That puts them on a knife edge for the remainder of the game and will inevitably lead to more dismissals.

Whilst unpopular initially, if it were applied consistently then hopefully the penny might drop.

To be honest a more sensible solution would be the introduction of sin bins where instant sanction is afforded for certain offences. Too radical? Well if it cuts it out then for me it's an innovation well worth pursuing.




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