Bucking bronco

Proposal: Release the bulls

Written by: Rob Conlon
Sam Allardyce standing next to the fourth official at the Etihad, angry about something, holding his arms out as if trying to measure his anger

Such is the nature of the Premier League, Leeds were told to accept their fate against Manchester City. Ignore the fact that Everton, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa (under Steven Gerrard!) and Southampton (under Nathan Jones!!) have got results against City this season — Leeds weren’t getting anything other than beaten. Nothing. Nada. Nowt.

I’ve spent a fair few hours watching sport recently and lamenting the missed opportunities for more enjoyable alternatives. The night before Leeds went to the Etihad as willing participants in Man City’s training rondo, I was at Headingley, standing through Leeds Rhinos’ turgid defeat to Salford, counting down the minutes until I could go home and get on with my life. It wasn’t Leeds losing that made me regret my choice of a Friday night, it was simply a bad, boring game of rugby league. It also meant I missed another rugby league team, Catalans Dragons, accidentally introducing a way of making such occasions way more exciting.

While the Rhinos were preparing to face Salford, Catalans were warming up ahead of their fixture with reigning champions St Helens. As part of the pre-match festivities, Dragons owner Bernard Guasch decided it would be a good idea to parade three bulls around the pitch. This turned out to be a bad idea.

Despite being subjected to Jesse Marsch’s football for a year, I’m no taurine expert, but I’ve always thought bulls are inappropriate animals to walk on leads. They’re massive, for a start, never mind the horns on their heads and their reputations for short tempers. If you’re going to walk a bull on a lead, I’d probably avoid walking them past a load of blokes running around in red training shirts. I imagine that was dawning on the bull’s handler as he was being dragged along the turf in front of thousands in the south of France: this is why people walk cockapoos on leads instead.

Thankfully, nobody was harmed, although I’m not sure the same can be said of the bull. As well as running a rugby league club, Guasch is the owner of a meat processing plant. The bulls – and two cows from the same Gascon breed — were there in the first place as a crass cross-branding exercise celebrating the slaughter of animals, or as a club statement put it, they were there ‘to perform a lap of honour’ highlighting the quality of beef reared in the Pyrénées-Orientales region of France. No wonder the poor thing was spooked.

I’m not a vegetarian, so I can’t get all Morrissey about this. But if only to assuage my millennial guilt, if we’re going to bring bulls to sporting events, I suggest the kindest thing we can do is set them free.

If the Premier League is powerless to prevent the petrodollars of Man City from building a team that won’t let teams like Leeds have a touch of the ball, then why not let some dangerous animals loose on the pitch to level the playing field? Football is said to contain a larger element of chance than other sports, but that’s being eroded by the financial might of state-sponsored ‘superclubs’ cattling all the best talent. If it’s so easy for Erling Haaland to find space between Rasmus Kristensen and Max Wöber, let’s see what happens to his xG while he’s trying to do a stepover on a bucking bronco.

Given Catalans have an unhealthy contingent of players who used to play for Wigan — the Manchester United of rugby league — we can trust the bulls have a fine moral compass when choosing their targets. Perhaps the threat of being trampled is what’s needed to stop Jack Grealish and co falling over to win free-kicks so often. Maybe Ilkay Gundogan wouldn’t have been so composed on the edge of the box if he was worrying about being impaled by a horn up the arse. You never know, it might even be the answer to introducing some urgency into Marc Roca. ⬢


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