Refs hung out to dry by lenient appeal system
Published 16/01/2013 | 05:00
Last summer the English Football Association, having consulted with the clubs, made a small but significant tweak to the benchmark for a red card to be successfully appealed.
Instead of a "serious and obvious error" on the part of the referee, it was downgraded to "an obvious error".
And ever since then, the clubs have had a field day getting decisions overturned that in the past would have stood: Jordi Gomez; Carlton Cole and Darron Gibson (both in the same game); Steven Nzonzi; and now Vincent Kompany have all had red cards rescinded.
Although the trend was edging towards greater leniency before the rule-change, there is now a totally different attitude. Where once it was virtually unheard of to have a red card overturned, it is now so commonplace that clubs would be foolish not to chance their arm with an appeal.
Of course, referees get things wrong. They do not have the benefit of HD slo-mo in endless replays. But a case could be made for Kompany's tackle demonstrating "excessive force" in his challenge with Jack Wilshere at the Emirates on Sunday.
The rules make clear that excessive force includes challenges that are made with one foot, not just those made with two feet. More pertinently, was it an "obvious" error by Mike Dean? It was not "obvious" at all, and many pundits and experts have been split over the decision.
While supporters like to see what they regard as justice, especially if the dismissed player is one of theirs, it seems a haphazard way of going about it. The panels are made up of three members, typically an ex-player, an FA councillor and another drawn from "the chairman's panel", and they are effectively re-refereeing games.
With morale low among some officials, it does nothing to improve matters when their decisions – many of which are marginal or questions of interpretation – are thrown out.
Referees are an embattled bunch. Criticised by managers, players and indeed the media, they must wonder at the lack of support from the authorities. Their careers can plummet on the back of a few bad decisions.
Of course, no one wishes to see a player banned unjustly. But the Kompany red card was on much finer margins. If the Premier League and FA wish to go down this road then it will chip away further at the reputation and standing of the officials.
Dean is a good referee who was castigated for not sending off Alex Ferguson on St Stephen's Day. To do so would have meant him not refereeing at Old Trafford for a long time, such is the attitude of PGMOL, the referees' body, towards referees who encounter controversy at particular clubs. Why should Dean pay the price for a wretched system?
In the meantime, John Brooks, the linesman who told Joleon Lescott to thank his own fans on Sunday, was removed from duty, to take him "out of the limelight" according to PGMOL. The best way to keep him out of the limelight was to leave him alone to do his job, instead of making him a back-page story.
He must also wonder what pressures are brought to bear on PGMOL that it takes such a tough line with its own officials, often for so little reason and with such consequences for their own standing. (© Independent News Service)