It’s guest blog time again, and Alex Bain is back with his thoughts on refs, gamesmanship and VAR…
Firstly, I still can’t make up my mind whether to compliment the Aussies on retaining the Ashes or not – the simple reason being that one batsman has won it for them, no one else.
To me, and many others, three Aussie shouldn’t be playing. The ACB were so fast to react to their sandpaper/ball-tampering scandal they took the ICB by surprise. In recent years, Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan players have all received bans of between three and five years, and these were total bans from all forms of cricket.
The ACB gave their three ball-tamperers an international-only ban so they still played domestic and IPL cricket on full pay from the ACB. It was a paid holiday for them.
Now let’s look at the so-called Harry Kane incidents with ‘diving’ claims coming in from both Newcastle and Arsenal. If a defender lets a forward get in front of him then he is a fault, Kane was clever enough to get between the player and the ball on both occasions.
- Newcastle’s centre-back lost his footing and as he was going down and took Kane with him.
- Arsenal’s defender was in a similar position; Kane again got between him and the ball and he fouled Kane.
Anywhere else on the pitch, the referee would have given a free-kick for both incidents.
Many years ago Manchester City had two very good players: Rodney Marsh and Franny Lee. Marsh was the ultimate entertainer and Franny the goal scorer and never missed a penalty, unlike a lot of modern players.
Marsh was being interviewed by Jimmy Hill in the early days of Sky and was asked about the number of penalties that Man City were awarded. His answer was, firstly, you get into a position where the defenders need to block or tackle you and you go down and, secondly, if the defender doesn’t put in a tackle then you get close and trip yourself up. The big no-no was don’t go down looking at the ref or doing swan dive.
But is it cheating or gamesmanship to try and get an advantage over the opposition? Modern players are accused of going down too easily but there have always been the exponents of the dark art of conning the ref.
Many of these have been very skilful players – Marsh, Stan Bowles, Frank Worthington, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona – and when they do it for their national side it is fair game, yet do it for their club side and the media are all over it. That’s how it feels anyway.
Having grown up pre 24/7 sports channels and not having every move, pass, foul and on-pitch tantrum viewed 100s of times from every angle, I can only presume that similar things did go on but were not reported in the papers.
Or, maybe they were they blamed on the condition of the pitches. Unlike today’s bowling greens, back then they played on mud patches that cut up at the slightest sliding tackle. Rain and snow never cancelled or stopped a game being played, even in schoolboy football the game went on.
And on the subject of pitches, that leads us to another element of gamesmanship that has crept into the game in recent years. It was reported that Liverpool moaned about Man City over-watering their pitch last season, to make it to greasy for them to control their passing game and gave the ball away, and Spurs were also accused of having the grass too long – again by Liverpool – for the same reason, to hinder their passing game.
Now, of course, both teams have to adapt to the pitch conditions and, yes, the home side does have an advantage if the conditions are the same for every home game, but if the club does minor alterations for each home game that advantage no longer exists.
Another age-old question relating to home advantage is do referees, subconsciously probably, give leeway to home teams? Some call it the rub of the green, but fouls do seem to go to the home side more often. It has been said at Liverpool, an away team will only get a penalty when chicken get teeth, and a similar thing can be said of most of the big teams: that decisions seem to go in their favour more often than not.
Are referees biased, or do they gang up on clubs? In the recent Arsenal v Spurs match, Xhaka committed ten bookable offences, reported by both Sky and BT, and only got booked for the eleventh. They also reported that a Spurs player got booked for a second foul, with one pundit having the nerve to say that since Pochettino’s outburst against a ref after a recent game, many decisions have gone against them.
City will undoubtedly have, over the course of the season, some good, bad and really ugly decision go for and against, and we supporters already have a list of referees that induce a groan when appointed to our games.
We also now have VAR to contend with and the referral judges sitting in London watching every move but have been told not to overrule the ref, only to assist by telling him to look at the monitor. It is then up to him if he does or else he tells them he is happy with his decision.
Surely they should tell him that he has made a real screw up, not just agree with him. No one wants the game stopped every 20 seconds but for fouls, penalties, off-the-ball incidents he should be made aware of so that he can make the correct decision. Does it undermine his authority only if he is constantly asking for advice or going to the monitor? Should, like cricket, the team captain have two appeals for each half?
Appeals could, and would, possibly be used under the guise of gamesmanship. Being cynical, just maybe one team loses the ball in a dangerous area – how many captains would ask for an appeal over a minor incident just to stop the flow of the game?
Maybe it is just me, seeing things that are not there, and reading into comments made during games. Commentators talk of games being re-refereed, but they do it all the time.
Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Glenn Hoddle and other ex-players should know better, and the professional commentators watch the game through rose-tinted glasses and can give their opinions without any repercussions. The pressure they put on referees is intolerable and the rest of the paid media are the same. They have no recourse of reply.
Onwards and upwards and let’s hope for a good start to the restart of the season.