I interviewed Mark Halsey in the Christie Cancer Hospital. He’d had an aggressive tumour the size of an orange removed from his throat.
So I didn’t join in the chants of “You’re not fit to referee!” to Halsey at Carrow Road. I never do, because I couldn’t pass the rigorous physical tests our elite referees take every season, but it is worth remembering that Halsey’s personal odyssey to fitness had involved life-saving surgery, six courses of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy.
None of that means that he cannot be criticised, but Halsey’s story is a reminder that the men taking charge of City’s matches this season are just that: men.
They’re not automatons and they are not involved in some Machiavellian conspiracy against the club I care about.
Nor are they are responsible for the fact that we’re still waiting for the first win.
I don’t expect anyone – not one person – to agree with this column, but if I only write populist stuff on this site, I’d there would be no point in contributing. You can get your fill of one-eyed jingoism on message boards.
So let’s go through the big decisions in this season’s four matches to date.
At Wigan, Ritchie De Laet was caught in possession and, in his desperate dash to catch up with Franco Di Santo, made contact with the striker’s boots and legs, from behind, in our area. The assistant referee signalled a penalty. Referee Stuart Attwell decided it was not an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and so didn’t send off our Belgian.
Yet our fans criticised him for the penalty call and not the leniency towards De Laet.
Later in the same half, Atwell took no action against Russell Martin for what looked like a rash challenge in our box. That night, after the long journey home, TV confirmed my thought at the time that it should have been a penalty. But that memory is airbrushed away by Canaries conspiracists.
Against Stoke, Neil Swarbrick’s opinion that Leon Barnett had fouled Jonathan Walters inside our area was a shocker. But it was a foul. And it was an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and a sending off. That is why City didn’t appeal against the red card.
Swarbrick’s error was to award a pen and not a free-kick. But that blunder had no bearing at all on the result, because John Ruddy saved Walters’ spot-kick.
And, for those who think referees are not held to account by anyone, take note that Swarbrick has not refereed a Premier League game since making his howler against us.
On to Stamford Bridge, when the decisive moment arrived as Ramires powered through the middle and Ruddy brought him down. But did he? Mike Jones thought he did and so sent off Ruddy and awarded the penalty which gave Chelsea the lead.
As soon as Ruddy and Ramires collided, I thought, with heart-thinking sadness, that it was a pen and a red card. Later, super-dooper slow-motion showed that Ramires had seen the goal-keeper coming, toe ended the ball away, and then pushed his own shin into Ruddy’s arms.
Even so, in circumstances like that, referees argue among themselves whether it is a foul. And, let’s be honest, if any goalkeeper had ended the progress of one of our strikers like that, we’d all be convinced it was a heinous infringement.
And, according to the guidance given to refs, it was not a dive. If there is any contact, any at all, between an attacker and a defender, then the attacker is entitled to “make the most of it”. That might seem ridiculous. But – let’s be honest once more – it has benefitted our captain a few times, and that guidance is not the fault of Jones or any of his fellow referees.
Finally, the West Brom game. Halsey was wrong to give a penalty against Steve Morrison. But, again, that decision had no bearing on the result. Declan Rudd saved the spot-kick and, if anything, that galvanised our chaps.
Of course, there was one other moment for which Halsey will be criticised by his fellow referees when they next sit down together and look at Prozone analysis of their matches. It was the moment when Gabriel Tamas gave James Vaughan the elbow. Halsey didn’t see it. Nor did his assistant.
The problem for the match officials was that Vaughan was clobbered off the ball. Halsey was watching play. The assistant was following instructions and concentrating on players closest to him.
At the time, from high up in the Jarrold stand, I saw Vaughan go down but didn’t know why. When he stayed down, and then started spitting blood, it was obvious he’d been bashed. But referees cannot make penalty decisions based on guesswork.
And if we use refs as an alibi for our lack of points, then the real reason won’t be addressed.
And the real explanation is that our young, hungry wannabes are learning on the job in this unforgiving division. They need to learn fast. In fact they need to start doing everything more quickly – quicker than they have ever needed to before.
They need, above all else, to stop making careless contacts with opponents anywhere near our area.
What worried me in the West Brom match was that Roy Hodgson had obviously detected a weakness at the heart of our defence. His players had been told to play balls down the channels between the centre-backs and the full-backs, or chip passes over the top.
The thesis seemed to be that De Laet and Barnett were vulnerable on the turn.
At the other end, their defenders pounced swiftly time and time again as Grant Holt or Chris Martin tried to work a shooting chance. Those defenders were also much quicker to every second ball.
It was the first time this season that I began to fret about our survival chances.
We outplayed Wigan for huge swathes of the match. We slugged it out toe-to-toe with a Stoke side who will finish in the top six. We unsettled a Chelsea team who are among the best in the whole of Europe.
But I thought Albion had more quality than us in most positions.
Yet – and here is the thing – City pinned them back in the last 20 minutes and, whipped on by the magnificent crowd, looked capable of seizing at least one point.
We CAN compete in this division. We can certainly earn enough points to finish above Swansea, Blackburn, Wigan and at least a couple of others .
I love the fact that Paul Lambert has deployed three different systems so far: the diamond at Wigan, three centre-backs at Chelsea and 4-4-2 against Stoke (who, without that system, would have murdered us on the flanks) and 4-4-2 again against West Brom.
Bradley Johnson is a real find. He demonstrated all afternoon against Albion that you need to press and harry to win possession in the Premier League and you need to be rapid and precise to use that possession.
Kyle Naughton is another excellent acquisition; everything he does is pure class.
Despite what Hodgson’s spies had told him, De Laet has sufficient speed of limb and mind to be one of the best defenders in the division.
And referees? Well, we’ll get some helpful decisions as we did last season on several occasions (remember Damien Delaney’s red card?).
But we’ll certainly get some calls that are hard to stomach. We can either emulate Kenny Dalglish and Arsene Wenger and rage against imagined iniquities or we can concentrate on those things we can influence rather than those we cannot.
As a fan, I vow to try to help make Carrow Road as intimidating as it was in the last 20 minutes against West Brom. It’s all I can do. It is what I shall do.
Keep the faith. OTBC.