I GHOSTED referee Graham Poll’s autobiography and a second book, about football issues. We’re currently writing a novel together … except that I’ve stopped talking to him.
He thinks Grant Holt should have been red-carded for the lunge at Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet which earned a yellow card.
Another book what I have wrote (anyone else remember Ernie Wise?) is an adult literacy tome of 11 interviews with football folk. The young prospect I included for the 2006 publication was a kid called Craig Gardner. I’m not talking to him either, after he converted Sunderland’s penalty.
But arguments about events at the Stadium of Light are not helped by silly conspiracy theories. The idea, propagated on a message board, that Chris Foy and his assistants were corrupt is as daft as the one about the Americans faking the moon landings.
The ignorant bleat of newly promoted clubs is: “The authorities don’t want us in the Premier League”. But come on, think that one through. What do the conspiracists think happened? Richard Scudamore sat down with referees and said: “Make sure everything goes against Norwich”? It’s barmy.
So let’s start a rational debate by getting the Laws of the Game right.
Despite the widely held belief that if a goalkeeper handles the ball outside his area it is a mandatory red card, it isn’t. Like any handball, it isn’t a mandatory card of any colour.
Bunn was sent off because Foy believed he had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity by committing an offence (handball). He will be banned for one game.
As with the handball ruling against Sebastien Bassong, for Foy to be right, the handball had to be deliberate. Handball is now the only offence for which intent is necessary.
So, with my obvious pro-City bias, I’d say that there was no possibility that either Bunn or Bassong wanted to make illicit contact with the ball. But… here’s the problem. Guidance to refs says that if a player jumps with his arms up or out, to make himself bigger, he has made a deliberate movement and so, if the ball then strikes an arm, it is handball.
And, if I am honest, if Mignolet and Cuellar had done what Bunn and Bassong did, I’d want two handball verdicts. And, in the case of the goalkeeper, I’d be screaming for a sending off.
Before the Bassong incident, Steven Fletcher was in an offside position. But he wasn’t committing the offence of offside, and the assistant referee was entirely correct not to flag.
Since 2005, interfering with play has meant touching the ball. Interfering with an opponent means stopping the opponent from being able to play the ball. Both definitions are set out within the Laws of the Game booklet. There are other, common sense, meanings of the word “interfering”, but the only ones which apply are those I have stated.
It is astonishing that so many don’t know the Laws. Even Chris Hughton talked about Fletcher being offside. I blame pundits like Alan Hansen, who has spent the eight years since the definitions were changed moaning: “Nobody understands offside these days”. Well, Alan, it’s your job to understand it and inform your viewers.
Assistant ref Peter Bankes was the man who got that decision right – before deciding that the ball rolling off Bassong’s chest and along his arm was handball. Then, in the second half, it was Bankes who did not tell Foy (on their walkie-talkie system) that Danny Rose’s handball was inside the area rather than outside.
I must be the only Norwich fan who can understand that error. Rose was jumping forward when he handled, and landed outside the area. Bankes, in his first season on the Premier League list, just made a mistake or wasn’t sure enough to say “penalty”.
We all see refereeing decisions through the prism of our passion. But, no matter how much we instinctively wince (or worse) whenever a decision goes against us, the fact is that refereeing has improved markedly since officials went professional.
Match assessors now use ProZone analysis of incidents. The latest figures vouch that refs are getting 96 per cent of major decisions – goals, penalties, red cards etc – right. That’s up from 92 per cent earlier in the season and a much higher rate of accuracy than any manager, player, pundit or message board moaner.
Aberrations like Mark Halsey not seeing Callum McManaman of Wigan clattering the left leg of Newcastle’s Massadiao Haidara are just that – aberrations, deviations from the norm. Most games, even last weekend, pass without a major refereeing controversy.
Anyhow, the important thing about the match at Sunderland was not that big calls went against Norwich, but that the manager and team did not let those decisions derail our season.
Instead of railing and ranting, our buttoned-up manager concentrated on the job in hand and ensured his team did too.
It must have been some half-time team talk, because with ten men and a third choice keeper, City produced one of the greatest defensive displays of all time. The discipline, concentration, effort and execution were exemplary.
I’d put it alongside the implacable defiance demonstrated by Darren Kenton, Malky Mackay, Craig Fleming and Adam Dury at Molineux in the play-off second leg in 2002.
And perhaps Sunday’s significance was greater, because we are living through a period which could determine City’s status for a generation.
If Sunderland had won, Norwich would now be 15th, with confidence crushed. As it is, it is Sunderland who are 15th, four points above the drop zone and with belief of supporters and probably players deflated.
As I have said on this site, Norwich will always have to chisel out every point in the Premier League and must treat every point won away from Carrow Road as a triumph.
I hope and pray City never again have to fight for a point in such daunting circumstances, but I take enormous pride and assurance from the fact that, collectively and individually, they stood so steadfastly and carried the club we care about one giant step closer to the finishing line.