Saturday 18 January 2020

Hearts rule heads in fan-fighting controversy

In what can best be described as bizarre or comical, depending on which way you look at it, a goalkeeper was sent off for kicking out at a spectator who came on the field of play.

This most unusual incident occurred in the 36th minute of the first half in a league game between Dutch rivals AZ Alkmaar and Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday night. So disbelieving was the AZ coach Gertjan Verbeek at the referee's decision to dismiss his player that he took his team off the field of play in protest. All of this happened and they hadn't even reached half-time.

The goalkeeper, Esteban Alvaro, was so incensed by events that he lashed out at the unfortunate spectator. Now it can be argued that the spectator had no right to be there in the first place, which is true, but the referee, Bas Nijhuis, was perfectly correct in his decision. Law 12 of the FIFA laws of the game states that violent conduct directed at an opponent, a team-mate, the referee and his assistants and -- this is the important point -- spectators, is punishable by an automatic red card.

Referees are being scrutinised more and more these days, with slow-motion action replays from several different angles. Their decisions are debated and conclusions arrived at by people who should, but don't appear to, know better. I'm referring to pundits on various radio and TV channels, and in some cases, the written media. The comments made by these so-called professionals leaves one baffled at times. They are presented as 'experts' and unfortunately their comments are believed by an equally unknowledgeable public as far as the laws of the game are concerned. In many cases, these pundits are ex-players and coaches themselves. Perhaps, this is the problem.

One of the modules which aspiring coaches are examined on is the laws of the game. A leading coach at the English FA once told me that most coaches fail their badge on the laws of the game. They can teach players how to bend a ball and to pass a ball. They can teach players how to shoot and to tackle and so on, but they don't know the very basics of the game itself -- the rules.

If you don't know the rules how can you teach your players? If you don't know the rules how do you expect your players to know? If you don't know the rules, then ask someone who does.

It is my opinion that when Gertjan Verbeek realises what he has done he will be highly embarrassed. Not only that, he is likely to be severely punished by the Dutch FA for a serious breach of discipline. One could argue that he acted in ignorance by not knowing, but is that a defence for someone who is, in fact, a teacher and should know better?

Finally, I have to compliment the referee Bas Nijhuis for his excellent decision. He was perfectly correct in his decision and I hope it will be an inspiration to other referees to do what is expected of them. Apply the laws of the game firmly, fairly and without bias.

Errol Sweeney is a former League of Ireland and South African Premier League referee. See

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