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All Things Footie | Tuesday, September 14 | Jordan

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With Arsenal winning again, and both United and Chelsea slipping up, all the talk last weekend was about the actions of a couple of referees. For a change.

Mark Halsey had an eventful afternoon at Craven Cottage, first awarding Fulham a penalty, then changing his mind, denying Fulham’s backwards monikered striker Collins John a goal and denying Arsenal’s Thierry Henry a penalty. Lets look at these incidents one-by-one:

Fulham ‘penalty’: Most pundits and commentators (including myself) are in agreement that it’s irrelevant whether it should have been a penalty or not (incidentally, I think replays show it wasn’t), the controversy comes over Halsey’s decision to change his mind—something referees are not known for doing (much to the criticism of most spectators). Let us be 100% clear from the start that according to the laws of the game, the referee is perfectly entitled to change his decision. Halsey admitted in a post match interview that as well as his initial doubts following the decision, the reaction of both Arsenal and Fulham players affected his change of mind—the question-mark hangs over whether this is right or wrong.

In every single game, players try and influence every official’s decisions, from awards of throw ins and corners to penalty claims and offsides (surely the most pointless); but does it ever work? No. Why? Because every referee is so conditioned against it that it falls on the most unattentive ears imaginable. So what was different on Saturday? Well, just like when making any other decision on a football pitch, the referee read the unintentional gestures and body language of the players—the look of calm on the faces of Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole and Kolo Touré and the lack of even a half-hearted appeal by Andy Cole—and then thought it prudent to reassess his decision by consulting his linesman. Simple! And as far as I’m concerned it will have next to no bearing on future decisions made by referees in similar situations. Furthermore, it’s an encouraging sign that referees are starting to realise that they’re human, and can make mistakes.

Fulham ‘goal’: I didn’t see anything wrong with it myself, it looked perfectly legitimate, and once more, the players’ body language told the story. While Collins John celebrated, Touré and his defensive collegues trapsed away looking disappointed at conceding the goal. No appeals, no moaning. It should have stood, but I really don’t think you can accuse the referee of any kind of bias—he just got a decision wrong. I was disappointed to hear a manager I’ve got a lot of time for blaming anything other than the performance of his players, but I think everyone can muster some sympathy for how it must have felt to have both these decisions go against you at 0-0.

Arsenal ‘penalty’: A stone-waller if ever I saw one. Thierry Henry breaks into the box, Moritz Volz stamps on his achilles, Henry goes down. Penalty!

To be fair to Halsey, he didn’t have a good view of the incident, and there was no way he could tell how obvious a foul it was. That said, if he didn’t think it was a foul, then Henry’s theatrical (for it would have been had no contact been made) descent should probably have earned him a yellow card for diving. Perhaps Halsey was just being pragmatic, and acknowledged that because of his lack of a good view he could neither punish Henry or Volz and had to let the entire incident go. Again, good refereeing as far as I’m concerned.

People reacting to incidents will always happen, but it’s part of a referee’s job to use his or her judgement to filter out the phoney reactions from the true ones. It’s not always possible to see all that goes on and the pressure is always on to make an instant decision. David Elleray wrote in his Times column yesterday that he once blew for a foul before it happened—and the challenge ended up being a marvellous tackle. He reversed his decision and gave a drop ball, the best thing he could do. I’ve seen plenty of refs over the last couple of years blow their whistles or make a decision only to visibly regret it a second or two later, if Mark Halsey’s actions have made it easier for refs to admit their mistakes and give us a fairer game then I’m all for it.

It’d be easy to lay into Steve Bennett for sending off Tim Cahill for his celebration against Everton. The idea of sending someone off for simply being happy and getting a bit carried away seems unbelievably harsh. He’s not hurting anyone, and it’s an absurd FIFA ruling that despite what the senile old fool Sepp Blatter has had to say was applied correctly by the referee. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that it IS against FIFA rules to show your torso like that, and it’s a directive that every player IS aware of (or if they’re not it’s their own lookout). Cahill simply paid a (fairly heavy) price for doing something that he should have known he wasn’t allowed to do. Let’s not forget that it would have only been a yellow card if he hadn’t already gotten himself booked.

I’ll stop short of saying he deserves what he gets, but ultimately it’s his own fault he walked. Referees don’t always do a good job, they need to become more accountable, less rigid, and more involved in the game; but last weekend they didn’t do half as much wrong as most ‘papers will have you think they did.

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