Friday, 22 March 2013

Men in Black in the dark

Over the past weekend, the Premier League saw two of the least desirable refereeing performances of this season in the accumulated time of four hours.

On Wearside, Chris Foy and company had three hand-ball decisions to give at the same end of the football pitch in Sunderland and only got two of them right.  The first one was the most clear cut one with Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn racing out of his area to stop Danny Graham from giving the Mackems the lead.

Although the ball hit Bunn's midriff before hitting his underarm and tricep; the decision to dismiss him from the field of play for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity whilst on the face of things may seem harsh was by the letter of the law correct.

Norwich had to play for nearly an hour without a full quota of men, not helped 10 minutes later by the award of a penalty against Sebastian Bassong for handball.  This was one of those that you have seen given and not given, a skidding ball hit the turf hit Bassong's chest then brushed his left bicep.  The decision to give the penalty fell onto the assistant referee, who did not hesitate.

Sunderland converted the penalty to level it up at 1-1.  However, more drama was to follow when in the second half, Norwich City were denied a penalty of their own when a clear handball was awarded but as a free-kick on the edge of the box and not a penalty.  The fallacy continues in replays when defender Danny Rose is shown to be inside the box when airborne and still inside the box when he lands.

The refusal to award a penalty makes it a bizarre double bill of wrong when you recall Marouanne Fellani's handball versus Manchester City at Goodison Park, when the Belgian blocked a Carlos Tevez shot a full three yards inside the box only for referee Lee Probert to award a free-kick.

The discussions between the referee and assistant referee's would be interesting and this is where I feel the need for transparency and the broadcasting of the dialogue needs to be a healthy step forward for officiating.

At my level, I am told by my match official whom I am assisting to help with matters regarding if it is or is not inside the box; on both of these occasions the referee can give the penalty and then look across to the assistant for clarification.  We are always told we also have more time than we think.

Ten days ago, Mark Clattenburg took the time to ask his assistant referee for clarification about a last minute penalty award.  Clattenburg blew for the foul, looked across conversed with his assistant and then pointed to the spot.  This upset the Southampton players (who have since been charged by the FA for failing to control themselves) because the penalty award was not instantaneous - the fact that the end result was correct was by the by.

Then in Wigan, we witnessed the most horrific tackle in recent memory as Calum McManaman launched himself over the ball to 'tackle' Newcastle midfielder Haidara who it is feared has sustained left knee ligament damage.  The most worrying thing about the whole incident was the award of not even a free-kick to Newcastle, let alone a booking for McManaman where a red card would have been the mandatory enforcement.

Yet the FA chose to not charge the youngster with violent conduct due to an agreed stance by the PGMO to not re-referee games in retrospect.  Ultimately, one official did see the tackle but did not bring it to referee Mark Halsey's attention.

So instead of getting the decision right at the end of the day, the FA have chosen to respect the referee's decision is final even when it is wrong.

It is fair to say that we are learning more and more that the referees in the Premier League need to be younger and fitter, both of the guilty referees are the wrong end of their 40s in the twilight of their careers and yet whilst the referees do do an excellent job.  For me at Level 4, such decisions are difficult to defend when talking to colleagues and the average fan.

The English game has been at the forefront of many things and in terms of refereeing we are regarded as the best in the world, yet the governing body is not helping matters and in some respects the referees are not helping themselves by remaining behind this veil of secrecy and pride - if you stay in the dark too long, you may become that what you want to be, invisible.

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