Friday 15 December 2017

Referee Anthony Taylor denies timing of his stag-do to blame for high-profile blunder in fixture

Anthony Taylor wrongly awarded a penalty to Burnley during their contest with Swansea
Anthony Taylor wrongly awarded a penalty to Burnley during their contest with Swansea

James Ducker

Referee Anthony Taylor has insisted the decision to go on his stag-do to Spain in the days leading up to a Premier League fixture last month was not to blame for a subsequent high-profile blunder.

The head of the referee’s governing body, Mike Riley, has also said he would not stop a referee from embarking on a similar outing in mid-season in the future, even though he believes the adverse publicity the Taylor controversy attracted would deter colleagues.

Taylor received heavy criticism for wrongfully awarding Burnley a penalty for handball in their 3-2 defeat against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on March 4 after failing to spot that the ball had struck the arm of Sam Vokes, the Burnley striker.

The game came 72 hours after the Cheshire official had returned from his three-night stag do in Marbella. Despite the trip being sanctioned by Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, the situation was compounded by fellow referee Kevin Friend, who was on the stag do, also having a poor performance in a separate match the same day.

Friend failed to spot red card offences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings during Manchester United’s game against Bournemouth at Old Trafford that resulted in the players earning retrospective three and five-match bans from the Football Association for violent conduct.

Asked if he felt the stag-do had any influence on his decision-making, Taylor – who had admitted in his own post-match review that he made a “terrible” call - said: “Not personally, no. When my stag do had been planned, we planned it so that we were back in plenty of time. Training was still carried out when we were doing that. The preparation for this game was no different than for any other game.”

Taylor broke his silence on the incident in a wide-ranging new documentary on referees in which Sky Sports pundits and former players Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher spent a day in the life of the country’s match officials in a bid to show their human face and the difficulties they encounter.

As well as undertaking the fitness tests referees are put through, Neville and Carragher were given training as referees and linesmen, revisited some of the season’s most controversial decisions with Taylor and fellow referees, Mike Dean and Martin Atkinson, and discussed some of the big issues facing the profession with Riley.

Riley revealed that Taylor’s stag do had originally been due to take place last summer only for those plans to be ditched after he was appointed as an additional assistant referee for the Champions League final and European Championships.

Taylor had offered not to have a stag-do as a consequence but Riley said on a human level he believed it was wrong to deny the official that opportunity.

Riley said every precaution had been taken, with Taylor and friends travelling out on Sunday, returning to England on Wednesday and training while they were away, with the preparation no different from an ordinary week.

But he does not expect a similar scenario to arise in the future, even if he would not oppose it.  “If you look at the reality of it I’d say, ‘No, we definitely wouldn’t change’,” Riley said. “They’re human beings the referees, they have lives.

“We all know it was just a mistake, it wasn’t because of what happened. The publicity, then, doesn’t help. Probably I will never get asked the question again because if you are referee having seen what Anthony went through you wouldn’t want to put yourself there.”

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