05 March, 2008

Red Red Whine

A recent spatter of bizarre red cards throughout all the English leagues have shown once again the need for video replays and a removed fifth official to help advise the on-pitch referees and their assistants. The last ten days or so have seen one of the most horrific leg-breaks in recent memory, but aside from that we have seen several tackles that could easily have ended with the same result pass by without punishment, while considerably less threatening altercations have drawn dismissals. With referees only having one full-speed view of any given incident, no-one is asking for perfection at this time, just consistency, and it is this that is severely lacking at the moment.

Last year we ran a little piece talking about the abundance of horror jumping tackles, and how sooner or later, someone would suffer in a career-threatening manner. Now all of a sudden Martin Taylor has been scape-goated for breaking Eduardo’s leg with what was honestly not too bad a challenge in comparison to many we’ve witnessed this year. There seems to be double standards though because just a week after said incident, Claude Makalele escaped any punishment at all for what was a considerably more vindictive and aggressive attack on West Ham’s walking sicknote Julien Faubert. Has the FA signaled any intent to retrospectively ban Makalele? Of course not. The flipside to this coin was evident in Sunday’s Championship match between QPR and Stoke City, where referee Andy Durso simply saw Stoke’s Andy Griffin go full-length to win a 50/50 ball and gave him a straight red card. The fact that Griffin got the ball and didn’t even touch the man was evident to anyone watching, but the one man who’s opinion mattered failed to see it that way. Griffin’s card might have been rescinded now, but that doesn’t help the promotion-hopefuls Stoke does it? For both these incidents, an on-looking video referee could easily have spotted the truth, and rather than a reactionary jerk decision, justice could have been done in both cases.

Similarly in the last two weekends we have seen a slightly different example of this tremendous inconsistency, exposing the apparent vagueness of the FA’s hallowed guidelines related to violent conduct. Last weekend there was an incident between Javier Mascherano and Jeremie Aliadiere, where the Liverpool man seemed to grab Aliadiere’s face, to which he responded with a light slap. Mascherano received no punishment, but Aliadiere received a straight red card. In the same way, this weekend’s game between Chelsea and West Ham saw an almost carbon-copy of the altercation, this time with Frank Lampard on the receiving end of a ridiculous red card for barely touching Luis Boa Morte after being clattered by the Portuguese. Up at the other end of the country meanwhile, Habib Beye and Morten Gamst Pedersen engaged in what was essentially a full-on fistfight, with members of both teams’ benches getting involved to finally break them up. However, Beye actually holding Pedersen by the throat was deemed not as bad as Lampard pushing Boa Morte in the chest, so both players were simply booked at St James’ Park. I’m now saying all of the above players should have been sent off, or given no punishment at all, but the point once again is the sheer lack of consistency. To make things worse, Lampard has had his red card rescinded, while Middlesbrough and Aliadiere have been further punished for a co-called “frivolous” claim to the FA, and his ban has actually been extended from 3 to 4 matches! It’s crazy.

Allowing red cards to be appealed at all implicitly says that referees make mistakes, and everyone accepts that, but what does retrospectively rescinding these bans actually achieve? The damage has been done on the game day, so it has to be one or the other: either we say that what happens on the pitch is canonical, no matter how outwardly ludicrous, or we acknowledge human fallibility and install video officials for tackling and goal-line incidents, where the margins are so tight that one man can never be reasonably expected to be right 100% of the time.