MAN AT WAR Today, in Jamaica, and as it is in the world, football is the most popular sport. It is almost everybody’s sport and, although it is not yet competitive on the international scene, it is the sport of the people. Today, football is considered the “beautiful game” all around the world. Football, however, is running the risk of not being the “beautiful game”, the sport that Matthews and company, Pele and company, Maradona and company, and Messi and company, with their swaying hips, the dip of a shoulder, their deft movements from side to side, their passing, their acceleration, and their accurate shots, turned into the “beautiful game” for all to enjoy. Nobby Styles of England attempted it in the World Cup of 1966. He roughed up Pele of Brazil so much that England’s victory will forever be marred by the memory of his assault, and particularly in the last World Cup in Brazil, Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Liverpool, and later Barcelona, was punished for violent, unprovoked, and unbecoming behaviour on the field, for conducts which are considered dangerous to opponents. Diego Costa, however, from Spain and Atletico Madrid and now of Chelsea, is gradually earning for himself a reputation, not as a striker with the skills as a footballer worthy of making defenders and goalkeepers, tremble in fear at the sight of him, but as Chelsea’s one and only hit man. Last year, in his first season with Chelsea, Costa, was welcomed, as much as possible, everywhere he played. His skills were amazing. He was quick, he controlled the ball nicely, and his shots to goal were accurate and deadly. He was strong, He stood his ground regardless. He was a team man. This season, however, he is like a changed player. He has been like a man who is unsure of himself. He plays the man instead of the ball. He goes to ground every time an opposing player passes close to him. In fact, many times, he seems to be trying to get himself fouled and, like almost every footballer these days, seeking the attention, and action, of the referee. Last week Saturday, he was a man apparently obsessed, or possessed. He seemed intent on getting someone from the opposing team sent off, and he did succeed. The match against Arsenal was a fairly rough one, and in one play, Costa and Laurent Koscielny went up for the ball, Costa had both hands all over the face of the Arsenal defender, his left hand attacking his neck, and then he chested him to the ground before the referee, Mike Dean, got involved. By that time, Gabriel Paulista of Arsenal also got involved. He and Costa had a scuffle. After they were parted, the referee had a talk with them and the play was restarted. Costa continued his antics, however. He baited Gabriel and got Gabriel to back-kick him as he close-marked him. Costa then gesticulated and pointed to the referee, and the referee came over and showed Gabriel the dreaded red card. Gabriel deserved the card for getting involved and for retaliating. That is the way of football. It seemed strange, however, that Costa, the man who started it all, the man who chested Koscielny to the ground, and the man who kept seeking the attention and the interference of the referee, got away scot-free. Once upon a time, when I was boy and cricket was king in Jamaica, football was a distant second, or third, probably behind track and field, in the pecking order. Those were the days of Stan Matthews, Alfredo Di StÈfano, and Ferenc Pusk·s, before the days of Pele, George Best, Johan Cruyff, and Franz Beckenbauer, and also before those of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the maestros who transformed the once “ugly game” into “the beautiful game”. Those were the days, in Jamaica, also before the coming of men like Leighton Duncan and Winston Chung, who, in the 1960s, founded Cavalier and Santos, before the days of Neville Glanville and Russell Bell, who championed community football in Jamaica and got rid of club football, and before the days which saw the formation of teams like Elletson Flats, Duhaney Park, Rollington Town, Bull Bay, and the now forgotten House of Dread, which lasted for one season. Those were the days also of Reno, Wadadah, and Violet Kickers, Black Stars, Port Morant United, and a host of others that sprung up all over the country. There were also men like Jackie Bell and Dennis Ziadie, who, like Duncan, dreamed of Jamaica’s participation in the World Cup of football, who believed in the Brazilian way of playing football. Jackie Bell and Ziadie, like Duncan, had many “fights” with Glanville and Russell Bell over their respective ideologies of the structure of football. Jackie Bell and Ziadie died in a motor vehicle accident in Mexico in 1986, minutes after watching their beloved Brazil in action in the World Cup finals. MOST POPULAR SPORT Costa, who looked like a man in a war instead of a football match, who looked ready to take on anyone who came in his way, never did anything worthwhile on the football pitch. It seemed as if it was his job to get under his opponents’ skin and nothing else. Although it does not help Arsenal, who went on to lose 2-0, the Football Association (FA) has rescinded the three-match ban on Gabriel and it has issued a three-match on Costa instead. That is good. Costa deserves the FA’s attention, especially after all the referees seemed unconcerned all season, and especially that Mike Dean, on Saturday, appeared to turn a blind eye on Costa and his shenanigans. Regardless of what Costa, and Chelsea’s JosÈ Mourinho, had to say about the FA’s intervention, if this had gone unpunished, if such behaviour had been allowed to continue happening and nothing was done about it, the football pitches around the world were destined to become like war zones. Costa had no right to do what he did, and he must not be allowed to undo what Matthews, Pele, Maradona (even with his “hand-of-God” behaviour), Messi, and Ronaldo have done for football, now recognised the world over as “the beautiful game”. The FA has shown that it has some teeth. As far as I know, however, Mike Dean is not blind. His faculties all are intact, and he should share the blame. He also should answer to the FA for attempting to destroy “the beautiful game”.