It’s All in the Game is back after an enforced sabbatical and there’s a lot to talk about. Plenty has happened in the weeks since the last post, even though the season is still very much in its infancy. There have been many talking points already, controversy reigns supreme in the, so called, “best league in the world” yet again and, with the season still so young, it seems as if it is rapidly becoming the by-word for the Barclays Premier League in the modern era.
Controversy isn’t a bad thing taken in isolation. I mean, referees can’t get everything right all of the time and, as we’re often reminded, these instances give us all something to debate and argue over. However controversy is rapidly becoming the norm and that is no good thing, in fact, it is threatening to undermine completely the good name of the Barclays Premier League and something must be done. Controversy must be the exception and not the rule!
So far this season there have been a plethora of “controversial” decisions which have decided the outcomes of several matches, seen players sent off, seen players let off and have, ultimately, helped teams to gain points and momentum at the expense of others. The level of consistency amongst referees is non-existent, the laws of the game are being administered subjectively as opposed to objectively, now more than ever and this is very worrying as it is continuing a trend which has come to the fore over recent seasons.
Let me just refresh the memory with some of the gaffes made by the officials so far in the 2012/13 season. We’ll start with Fernando Torres’s crucial third goal in Chelsea’s 4-2 win over reading. The Royals had battled well and, with the score locked at 2-2, looked, if anything, the more likely team to go on and win the game. However, with around ten minutes to go, Fernando Torres beats Federici from six yards to put Chelsea 3-2 up. The problem? Torres was a yard and a half offside when the ball is played to him. Lee Mason the man in the middle, although it was his assistant who let him down on this occasion. The goal broke Reading’s spirit and Chelsea went on to win 4-2; that piece of “officiating”, or lack of, cost Reading any chance of a point and helped Chelsea cement another early season three points, keeping them at the top of the table.
Staying with Reading, who’ve had more than their fair share of bad calls so far. Demba Ba’s late equaliser for Newcastle robbed the Royals of three points. However rather than heading the ball into the net, Ba misjudged the cross and clearly handled the ball into the back of the net. The referee, Andre Marriner, had a great view and neglected to rule the goal out which he obviously should have. The officials’ response was that very few Reading players appealed; replays show, however, that the closest Reading player to the referee makes a whole-hearted and clear appeal which is duly waved away.
Moving back to Chelsea now and Michael Oliver’s ineptitude as a referee, which will be highlighted again later. First off, Oliver fails to give Branislav Ivanovic a yellow card for a blatant dive in the box early on against Stoke. Later in the same game he drops another clanger. David Luiz’s “tackle” on Jonathan Walters is appalling, disgusting, without doubt the worst “tackle” the Premier League has seen this year. It’s a straight red if ever there was one and the fact that Oliver only administers a yellow is absolutely laughable, particularly in light of other tackles for which red cards have been produced, but also in isolation.
Oliver then followed up this shambolic decision with another doozy. This time it was in the League Cup match at the Hawthorns where West Brom. took on Liverpool. Mulumbu’s tackle on Jordan Henderson was similar to that of Luiz’s, perhaps made slightly worse due to the fact that it was from behind. The player left the ground, jumped in with a straight leg and all studs showing, catching Henderson on the back of his leg above the ankle; straight red all day long. However Oliver failed to produce even a yellow card for this horror lunge. The F.A should be looking at those incidents and deeming that Mr. Oliver is simply not up to scratch.
The following day saw Manchester United travel to Liverpool, Mark Halsey the man in the middle this time. First of all, he fails to punish Jonjo Shelvey for an early lunge, which should’ve seen the Liverpool man booked, then, having not produced a single card for forty minutes, shows the same player a straight red for emerging from a 50/50 challenge with the ball. Now granted it was a strong challenge from Shelvey but it was no worse than the other participant’s (Jonny Evans). Replays confirmed that Evans jumped in to the tackle with two feet off the floor and that, in fact, Shelvey’s first contact was with the ball. The punishment should have been equal, two reds, two yellows, a word with each-whatever Halsey deemed necessary- but equal nonetheless. The other point to make here is that if Halsey had done his job and booked Shelvey for the initial tackle, the entire incident would likely have been avoided. Both Shelvey’s tackles were similar, one received no punishment, one a straight red; consistency?
In the same game, which, after the sending off, Halsey lost completely, he failed to award Luis Suarez a penalty after he’d pipped Jonny Evans to the ball and drawn a clear foul from the Ulsterman. He then proceeded to award Valencia a penalty for what was a dive. These penalty decisions, both wrong, allowed Manchester United to win the game 2-1 costing Liverpool at least one, if not three, points. Staying with Halsey, it was he who was involved in another pigs ear of a penalty decision the following week. This time it was in the Fulham Manchester City game where he awarded the Londoners an early spot kick for absolutely nothing. Riise made a burst down the left and cut into the penalty area, past Zabaleta (I believe) and simply threw himself to the ground. Halsey duly obliged and Fulham were given the chance to go 1-0 up, which they took, a lead which was only overturned in the last ten minutes of the game.
On to Carrow Road and some of the worst “officiating” seen in recent memory, Mike Jones and his team were the culprits on this occasion. Luis Suarez cannot get a penalty, this is clear. Atkinson carded him for diving at Sunderland (a poor error) when John O’Shea tripped him in the box, a fact that was flagged up in ESPNs coverage at half time and full-time and Halsey missed Evans’s trip at Anfield, as stated above. These were poor decisions, of that there can be no doubt, however they pale into insignificance compared to Mike Jones’s failure to punish Leon Barnett’s elbow drop/karate chop/trip on the Uruguayan in the early part of Liverpool’s visit to Norwich.
Some decisions are hard to make at real time, which goes without saying, but not this one! Penalty clear as day, no doubt whatsoever and, of course, Barnett should’ve seen red, definitely, no questions asked. Quite absurdly, although quite expectedly if you follow Liverpool and Suarez, nothing was given and in fact the offender who practically assaulted the forward had the temerity to claim that his opponent had dived, trying to get him booked by the way; cheating?
In the same match Suarez was clattered by an elbow when jumping for a high ball, a collision which forced him to leave the field for treatment and was, again unsurprisingly, ignored by Jones. However, worse was to follow as the afore mentioned Barnett, who was made to look like a Sunday League player, came flying through the front of Suarez, over the ball with studs showing and smashed into the front-man’s shin. Another straight red offence, particularly in light of Shelvey’s red card the week earlier and other tackles which have been deemed worthy of red cards this year.
That brings us up to the most recent round of matches and some more woeful “officiating” and ineptitude shown on the part of the FA. Two incidents stick out like sore thumbs from last week’s games. The first occurred in the first five minutes when Stoke came to Anfield on Sunday. It is, of course, Robert Huth’s cowardly, deliberate stamp on the chest of Luis Suarez. It was disgraceful, behaviour like that has no place on a football pitch. It belongs on a rugby field, which is quite apt seeing as Stoke love to play old style Rugby Union, feeding off line-outs, up and unders, set-pieces and stramashes. It has gotten to the point where I half-expect Bill McLaren to be doing the commentary for their matches. This style (if you wish to call it that) is not giving the fans or the board much value for money when you consider that Stoke are up there behind Chelsea and City as the biggest net spenders over the last three seasons; I digress.
The stamp was not punished and the FA won’t be taking retrospective action as the “referee”, and I use that term loosely, Lee Mason apparently saw the incident and thought nothing of it. Nothing? Not even a yellow? How can this be when everybody with eyes can see this was a red card offence, even Graham Poll has come out and said so and refs usually stick together. The FA should be looking at this instance and reasoning that if Mason thinks that this kind of play is ok, he is either too stupid to referee or, much more likely, totally inept!
This was not the only instance of serious foul play from Stoke, far from it, for my money Dean Whitehead should certainly have gone and others were lucky not to pick up two yellows as well. It is the same week in week out, year in year out, they get away with murder, almost literally in some cases. Questions must be asked about the officials because they simply do not apply the same standards of fair play to the Potters, it is plain for everybody out there to see. Again the rules are being applied subjectively, if yellow cards were dished out to Stoke players early on in games for their bully-boy tactics (a form of cheating) they would inevitably have to change their approach (play some football perhaps) or have men sent off in every game they play, which would be no more than they deserve.
Suarez himself escaped a yellow card for a comical dive late in the second half, there was contact from Wilson which caused the forward to lose his balance, he attempted to stay on his feet but when he realised he wasn’t getting to the ball he threw himself down theatrically. There are two possible reasons why Mason failed to card Suarez; perhaps he saw the initial contact and therefore was of the opinion that Suarez’s fall was not a clear dive or perhaps, he thought that having allowed Suarez (and other Liverpool players) to be battered all afternoon, producing a yellow for a dive would’ve been too much even for Mason to justify; who knows? Thanks to Pulis’s cynical misdirection, this incident became the talking point of the match, a damning indictment of the ludicrous hypocrisy surrounding the game in Britain. Diving/going down easily is cheating, stamping on players, thuggery and generally roughing the other team up as much as possible, is perfectly ok. Nonsense, utter tripe!
The other major talking point from the weekend is the Robin van Persie elbow on Yohan Cabaye during Manchester United’s trip to St. James’s Park on Sunday. It was, no doubt, a clear and deliberate elbow, thrown in anger/frustration as the Dutchman attempts to break clear from his marker. Howard Webb another referee who has shown his inability to act on/notice transgressions such as this in the past, missed this one too, or did he? Again the FA are not taking retrospective action, which means that Webb saw it and thought nothing of it. Ridiculous, simply ridiculous! Again the FA should be looking at that and thinking long and hard about awarding Webb a Premier League game in the near future.
Professional referees are now paid £170,000 a year to take charge of Barclays Premier League matches, a tidy sum in anyone’s book, over three times the national average and far more when you take London out of the equation. They simply cannot continue to referee in the way that they have been for the last few years. They must, must begin to apply the rules objectively across the board or they risk contaminating the game in England forever. The rules have to be the same for every player from every team. A yellow card tackle is a yellow card tackle, no matter who commits it nor who the victim is, whether it’s in the first minute or the last, in the centre circle or a penalty area. The same can be said for a red card tackle and for a foul of any kind for that matter. I am so sick of hearing that a foul outside the box is different to a foul inside the box. Pardon my French but that is a load of Bollocks!
Reputation is just that; bluster, nonsense, and totally irrelevant to the referee’s job on any given day. Referees should essentially be like jurors, they should not have their opinions coloured by gossip and speculation, nor previous transgressions which are again, irrelevant. They should judge the incidents of the day merely on their merits and nothing more, something which they are clearly and obviously not doing at the minute. Yes they are human beings but they are human beings paid a lot of money to do an important job which relies on their impartiality and objectivity in applying the laws of the game. Not only that, but also the entire fabric of football in England relies on referees being seen to be objective and impartial in applying the laws of the game. Referees should not have contact with managers aside from a chat after the game, perhaps, where decisions are explained. They certainly should not be sitting at top tables at charity dinners alongside Premier League managers, such as was the case with Mark Halsey and Sir Alex Ferguson recently.
Referees are the ones there to blame but there are more sides to this story as more and more often the Premier League is blighted by the officials’ inability to get the calls correct and not just the big ones, little ones too. How can the referees be expected to apply rules and hand out punishments objectively, with the same punishment for the same transgression, when the FA singularly fails to do so (Luis Suarez/ John Terry)?
Referees are paid well but they are not superhuman, so why do the powers that be ie. the FA, FIFA and UEFA, expect them to be. The game is played at a frantically fast pace, there is no way that the officials can pick everything up, process the information, consider, judge and act all in a split second, it’s absolutely impossible. Every other sport has employed the use of technology to aid officials. Why not football?
We’ve heard more lip service being paid to goal-line technology but still we await its introduction, amidst more controversy involving incidents in games between Everton and Newcastle and, more recently, between Newcastle and Manchester United. Rugby Union, as was mentioned above with reference to Stoke, has cleaned up its game a lot in the last decade or more with the advent of proper retrospective punishment. All players now know that they are being watched at all times by the cameras and that any incident of foul play can be picked up on with charges being brought at a later date. This still does not happen in football, where the ridiculous caveat of whether the referee has noted the incident comes in to play all too often.
Video assistance is absolutely essential for the Barclays Premier League, another point echoed by Graham Poll this week, and it must be used to pursue offenders regardless of who they are and what club they play for, whether a referee has seen an incident or not. Either that or we continue to grin and bear the consistent and important errors that are being made, the subjectivity of refereeing decisions which is blighting the game, the flagrant conflicts of interest which are laughed off and explained away and the sport eventually becomes a sham which nobody believes in or trusts anymore. It’s time for the beautiful game to show itself to be fair, clean and, above all, honest!
Mason pic by Ingy the Wingy. Webb pic by thetelf aka Patrick Telford.
Halsey pic by SparkyMark’s Aircraft.