Last weekend referee Roger East hit the headlines by sending off Wes Brown. An error that was later corrected when the red card was rescinded. On that same day I was covering Crewe v Swindon and witnessed a new record of 11 bookings, more than any other game I have covered. Two issues here but not entirely unconnected.
Gordon Strachan once told me, “referees know the rules but they don’t know the game.” A sweeping generalisation, yes, but more than an element of accuracy there. Crewe v Swindon later, but it was a major story last weekend when Roger East sent Wes Brown off in the Premier League game against his former club, Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Almost immediately there were protests that it was a case of mistaken identity and it should have been another former United man, Sunderland skipper John O’Shea, who should have been red carded. That indeed seemed to be the case.
Anyone who saw the incident, in real time, would have clearly seen that it was contact from O’Shea that sent Radamel Falcao tumbling to the floor, a fraction before Wes Brown arrived on the scene – shades of the old joke of a defender, when being penalised by a referee for arriving late saying he ‘got there as fast as he could’. When viewing any number of replays it does not take long to simply reinforce that O’Shea was the culprit and Brown merely on the scene.
The referee later said there were two fouls and he dismissed Brown for his ‘foul’. However it was clear that Falcao’s momentum was affected by O’Shea’s nudge and was on his way down before any – and it was no more than a brush – contact with Brown.
Had video review of the incident been available, then it is likely that the correct player would have been sent-off.
Having a qualified official sitting in front of a monitor would have removed all the doubts, a correct decision would have been made and the resultant post-match discussion would have centred on the football, not a poor refereeing decision. It was a poor decision and a wrong one because Brown’s red card was rescinded on appeal.
Ironically, and not widely reported, was something that occurred the day before. A FIFA committee rejected a Dutch proposal to introduce instant video reviews to assist referees in their job.
Other sports have a video ref and video review; Cricket, Tennis, Rugby League and Rugby Union. Although there is a different time dynamic to those sports, when compared with football referring such assistance would enhance the game, help referees become better ‘at knowing the game’, and would not take much time at all. No elongated and time consuming deliberation; just a more measured assessment of what the human eye has seen, or bringing to light what was not seen.
Back to Crewe v Swindon and of the 11 bookings, four were to the two players who eventually got a second yellow card, Alan Tate of Crewe and Jack Stephens of Swindon. That still left seven other individual yellow cards.
The performance of the referee brought the following comment from Swindon manager Mark Cooper;
“I thought the referee was terrible for both teams. He spoilt the game and left himself with no option but to send people off.”
Normally one just accepts a bad day at the office, be it player, manager or referee, but the striking thing about the referee at Crewe came in the first half and demonstrated the biggest criticism levelled at referees: inconsistency.
A Swindon player put his arms around a Crewe player and wrestled him away from the ball; the referee waved play on. Minutes later, exactly the same happened when a Crewe player put his arms around a Swindon opponent and wrestled him away, the Alex player was booked. Exactly the same offence but completely opposite result.
Even if video technology was introduced, the cost factor would probably mean centuries before it reached the lower leagues. However, extra officials, like they have in European competition, may help. Another set of eyes, or two, maybe. Although with the current set up of one referee, two assistants and a fourth official one would think that might be enough.
It wasn’t at Crewe.