It’s rare, almost as rare as Dave Whelan forming a diplomatic and sensible opinion, but sometimes all football fans, apart from Mr Whelan, agree on a controversy. Whether you thought it was a malicious assault or a piece of poor technique, next to none of you will think Wigan’s Callum McManaman’s outrageous lunge on Newcastle’s Massaido Haidara wasn’t worthy of a red card. Mark Halsey and his officials got that one wrong; a genuine mistake that even the best officials can make. With Newcastle fans left to feel bitter and aggrieved as eleven men Wigan snatched a late winner to secure a vital 2-1 win, they hoped some retribution would come from the FA punishment. A retrospective ban of three games was deemed suitable, even if McManaman doesn’t have a ‘nasty bone’ in his body, as manager Roberto Martinez suggested following the game on Sunday.
But it didn’t. Unbeknown to many (including your writer, a self-proclaimed know-it-all of laws and rulings) the FA had implemented a policy at the start of the season by which retrospective action could only be taken if the officials had missed the incident. Missed completely, that is. Halsey, or at least one of his assistants, saw the coming together, but didn’t gage the severity of the incident. Bafflingly, that means no retrospective action could be taken.
Rules are rules and the FA are in one sense correct to stand by their policy, but why couldn’t common sense prevail? Referees are instructed to apply common sense where they see fit, so why not the body that governs them and every aspect of the English game? The way the policy came about has a lot to do with that. According to the FA statement, the ‘game’s stakeholders’ agreed to tis ruling at the start of the season. These ‘stakeholders’ include the Premier League and League Managers Association, along with the body protecting the interests of referees, the PGMO. It does seem ludicrous that Premier League clubs and their managers would agree to the implementation of the retrospective action policy; a player is able to get away with murder because the officials’ views were obscured, but they did. With so many bodies in apparent support of this procedure, it would have been impossible to ignore it. As a result, the FA were unable to hand out a punishment to McManaman, even though common, and not so common, sense suggests it’s more than fitting for the severity of the incident.
The FA justify this rather questionable policy by suggesting it’s to prevent ‘the re-refereeing of incidents’; protect the integrity of referees when you remove the euphemistic jargon. But as a referee myself, I can’t agree with this at all. Even in the slow paced, scrappy and uncoordinated youth Sunday League football I officiate, mistakes are very easy to make. Your view of a tackle may have been partially obscured and neither of your officials saw it; you can only be sure it’s a foul, not of the extremities of the offence. It can also be the case, more so with Level 7 Kyle Andrews and less so with Level 1 Mark Halsey, that an incident worthy of a red card can happen right at your feet and, for whatever reason, you don’t send the player off. It’s a mistake. An honest mistake, like a goalkeeper letting a ball slip through his fingers or a striker missing an open goal, it’s certainly not corruption, bias, a sign of poor refereeing standards or any other label those most cynical of referees may have.
As a referee, I’d like the player to be punished even if I’d seen the incident and my name is now tarnished. The game isn’t about referees and their integrity, the best referees are the ones that can make themselves go unnoticed for 90 minutes and thereafter, it’s about the players and the game of football. It’s about fairness and playing to the laws of the game. Forget whether or not giving retrospective action might alienate the referee, it alienates the football clubs more. The club of the offending player are allowed to carry on playing him when he otherwise should be sitting out a suspension, whilst the next three clubs the offending player comes up against would undoubtedly deem it an injustice to see him in the starting line-up of the opposing side, not to mention the anger of the club who the incident was committed against in the first place. Supporting one man, who would certainly be aware of the mistake he’s made, at the expense of the integrity of the game feels very wrong.
There is of course a point where the line has to be draw. I’m by no means suggesting all contentious incidents should be ‘re-refereed’, nor should referees have their integrities questioned any more than they do, but for honest mistakes on serious incidents, common sense can and should be applied for retrospective action.