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Another Appeal: Retain Referees For Retrospective Rulings

The language used changes each time, but almost every day for the past few weeks we’ve been informed the FA’s process of overturning a ban following an ‘incorrect’ dismissal, and issuing a suspension for incidents not picked up by the on-field officials, is flawed.

With the fire already warm from West Ham’s failed crusade to get Andy Carroll’s ban overturned following his red card for striking Swansea’s Chico Flores, the FA’s decision to ban Cardiff City’s Craig Bellamy for his petulant punch on Jonathan de Guzman in the South Wales Derby whilst failing to ban Manchester City’s Yaya Toure for kicking out at Norwich’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel has left many at boiling point.

Unfortunately, I had the displeasure of tuning into Sky Sports News last night just as the topic of debate between the panel of ex-pro pundits turned to the aforementioned disciplinary and appeal system.

Cheered on by his colleagues, Phil Thompson delivered an illogical rant about who should be involved in deciding whether or not retrospective action should be dished out.

That three former referees, who watch a tape on their own and decide objectively what fate the player would have received had they been officiating at the time, are involved was outrageous for ‘Tommo’.

In Thompson’s eyes, former managers and players should be involved in the appeal and retrospective punishment system. Former Premier League referees shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

Not only did those in the studio seem to agree with the former Liverpool defender’s wild concept, but I imagine it’s a view held by several others. However many that several are, it’s too many.

Managers, players and, to some extent, fans do have a clear understanding of most of the laws of the game; it’s not as if football’s manual is full of complex and quirky regulations.

But, despite working in football for their entire lives, managers and players won’t be able to apply the laws as successfully, knowledgably and objectively as qualified and experienced officials.

The best officials can take into account the atmosphere and context of a game, something that was mocked on Match of the Day 2 by Mark Lawrenson several months ago, to oversee an exciting spectacle whilst still sticking to the letter of the law. The most important part of a referee’s armoury is the common sense that allows them to decide when and how a law should be enforced.

Even those who have retired will have that judgement, and will appreciate that certain games, and ever certain players, will require a stricter brand of officiating. It’s no wonder that an incident, which appeared fuelled by anger, occurring in a South Wales Derby has been retrospectively punished, whilst a rather needless kick in a less heated game has gone unpunished.

When considering the Carroll incident, his strike on Cicho doesn’t look pretty. For me, as a rather dubiously qualified referee, I can see why a red card has been given and why it hasn’t been rescinded. There’s nothing to conclusively say it should be overturned; Carroll clearly strikes Cicho in an aggressive manner.

Many have spent too much time looking at the Swansea defender’s reaction, and not enough at Carroll’s actions. Had Cicho reacted in a rational way, I think more would have been of the belief that the dismissal, and subsequent ban, was and is fair.

As a partisan fan or pundit, it’s hard to disconnect yourself from Cicho’s actions, whilst any excuse to lambast officiating is taken up with glee. Referees are rodents, providing no good and plenty of bad.

If players and managers had been involved in those decision making processes, the outcomes would have been different. Toure and Bellamy would have both been banned, in the name of this bizarre concept of consistency which suggests every game and every incident should be officiated in the same manner, whilst Carroll’s red would have been overturned with the fascination on Cicho’s actions clouding judgments.

There’s also clearly a conflict of interests. A former player may well be forced to decide the fate of a former team mate, a friend or a rival. A ‘former’ manager may have ties to several clubs and players, swaying his decision one way or another.

A former, or current, official, who not only has that ability to apply the laws effectively, will view each incident with the objectivity their profession demands.

By no means am I suggesting the appeal process is perfect, and I’m certainly not suggesting referees have been faultless this season.

For starters, that a decision made by Howard Webb wasn’t overturned in a World Cup year is of no surprise. Politics of that nature are rife in the FA’s disciplinary procedures, the nature of which is explained in Mark Halsey’s excellent autobiography, ‘Added Time’. Some referees are given extra support, others are not.

However, I do think that referees, whether former or current, should have power, presence and responsibility in every stage of officiating and discipline. They are the objective controllers of our game. Giving more power to managers and players, whether former or current, would cause chaos.

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