Elton John once sang that ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’. I’m not so sure it is. In fact, I reckon I apologise with a similar ease to which I breathe or blink, asking for pardon countless times a day with a flippant spontaneity, often for the pettiest of minor faux pas. Sorry, Elton. See? I’m doing it again.
What is hard, however, is not screwing up in the first place. Life is tricky, and we’ve all felt the instant drench of panic as the realisation dawns that something has gone very, very wrong by our meddling hand. Guilt, after all, is what separates us from the animals.
Which brings us neatly on to Marco Silva, or ‘The Great Instigator of Old Trafford’ as he may henceforth be known. The Fulham manager was left gripping the smoking blunderbuss a couple of weeks ago when his team messily capitulated in an FA Cup tie against Manchester United. Of course, it was Willian who initially punched a ball off the goal-line with the sneakiest of fists, and nobody made Aleksandar Mitrovic unleash his best Hadouken on the referee, but there was an inexorable feeling that it was Silva’s rash infringement on the official’s personal bubble - and his subsequent dismissal - that really escalated the situation to a point of no return. This was less brinksmanship, more cannonball off Beachy Head.
Since then, Silva has openly expressed his remorse for the ugliness of the incident. Asked at a press conference on Thursday whether he and Mitrovic were aware of the negative precedent they were setting, the 45-year-old responded: “We know our responsibilities - managers at this level, players at this level. We know we should be an example for everyone that’s watching, on TV, in the stadium, supporting both teams as well. In some moments we should control our emotions better, but of course we know our responsibilities and what we should do or not do.”
Silva has also previously stated: “I should have controlled my own emotions better”. Cobbled together, there is an apology of sorts in there somewhere. But whether anybody will take any notice of it, who can say?
Compared to the rabid, frothing melodrama of the fracas itself, a sanitised, pre-rehearsed plea for forgiveness is, in a word, dull. It is just another quotes piece to throw on the ever-growing pile of gnawed bones and column inches - a dusty, forgettable carpet of rote discourse to be stepped on and over while we all look to the skies for the next big explosion.
That’s not to say it is unimportant. In truth, it is quite the contrary. But the blunt reality of the matter is that we thrive on chaos and histrionics. When we see a player put his hands on a referee, we all tut and murmur in performative, disapproving agreement that these are the kind of scenes that nobody likes to see. Deep down, though, we know that it is a lie.
Why else would every minute skirmish, every whispered hint of brawl, be clipped up and plastered all over social media for us to pore over in grim specificity? Why do rolling news channels dedicate such repeated and forensic debate to any kind of controversy? Hell, even I, an absolute neutral with no stomach for confrontation, rewound the Silva/Mitro debacle to rubberneck a little closer. Twice. I don’t condone violence, that goes without saying. But damn, isn’t it compelling?
And hey, at the end of the day, once the red mist has cleared and the villagers have come clambering out from amongst the smouldering rubble, you can always post a generically-worded club statement, serve a short ban, and then brush the shrapnel and brick dust from your lapel, pretending it never happened in the first place.
That’s why apologies are probably not enough. Unless they are amplified with the same ferocity as the incident which inspires them, they are always going to be operating at a net loss. And in the meantime, the example set by those in the public eye trickles down through the game like grubby water through rotten drywall.
There are two real options, then. The first is that we prevent any kind of unsightliness from ever happening in the first place. This feels naively aspirational, like tossing a penny into a fountain and asking for world peace or believing wholeheartedly that your pet baby alligator won’t grow up and try to eat you one day. After all, getting all riled up over nothing is a core facet of the human condition.
The second is that we stop giving so much attention to these scrimmages when they do occur. To some extent, this might be a more unrealistic alternative than the former. Drama and vexation make up the bulk of the fodder that feeds the media beast. They will never stop being lionised because it will never stop being hungry.
But there are certain choices that can be made. Maybe as consumers we can try to spend less time with our eyeballs fixed on the aggressive and the toxic, and more appreciating the good in a game that has so much beauty and joy to offer. Perhaps then, through a process of positive attrition, habits and attitudes will slowly alter for the better. Or maybe, just maybe, nothing will ever change and we will all be doomed forevermore. Sorry.