I remember a game against Everton where it appeared that the referee was hopelessly inept if not biased. That referee was Lee Mason and he was a victim of ferocious ire from a vitriolic crowd. Later that day I watched the highlights on Match Of The Day and it transpired that everything I had leapt in the air to deride him for with the veins in my neck bulging he had actually called absolutely correctly. I felt a little humbled by that and made a bit of a vow to be more controlled in my criticism of referees in future. Lee Mason was told he was not fit to referee by a huge proportion of the crowd at the Stadium of Light that day and the subsequent match highlights showed that he was perhaps more fit than most of those in the stadium.
My vow lasted a fair length. Tested of course but largely my disdain for refereeing performances paled in comparison to my disdain for the ineptitude of the players on the pitch so I had an entirely different outlet for my rage. Rage turned to apathy and I accepted refereeing decisions with little more than a resigned sigh. Before this season started the ALS writers talked feverishly about what life would be like in League One whilst in ALS HQ. We all came to the same conclusion. League One would be tough, physically tough. There will be big beasts to kick our young squad around. There will be niggles and a fair chance of seeing a 22 man brawl on the pitch. We also came to the conclusion that refereeing standards would drop and they may be in the wrong half when young Maja gets studs scraped down the back of his calf. We expected it. Nobody, and I mean nobody, predicted just how bad it would be.
The first sign that we weren’t in Kansas anymore came in the Oxford game really. There were a few questionable decisions in earlier games, but Oxford was the watermark, the portent of incompetence if you like. Everyone can make mistakes and we have benefitted from those in years past. If those mistakes happen more regularly you have to consider ability. So if a Premier League referee were to make several high profile errors in the space of three or four weeks he may be subjected to the indignity of refereeing a Championship match for a week or two. The Oxford game showed that in League One you can display a complete lack of knowledge of the rules of the game and it’s entirely acceptable. Put aside the Power red card which, being generous, is debatable the Oxford game was littered with marginal fouls being awarded against us and tackles nigh on assault being waved on when committed at the feet of Oxford. Once is an error, twice is an oversight, 20 times and something doesn’t seem right. When Honeyman was scythed down no foul was given. He received lengthy treatment. He was not asked to leave the pitch and then return. That is a fundamental display of lack of knowledge from all three officials.
Fast forward to the Rochdale game. Lyndon Gooch hassles his opponent who blocks him off. Now far be it from me to say that what followed was deliberate but rather than a diminutive Gooch managing to find just the right height to run into a sharp elbow it appeared to me that there was a movement of the elbow towards Gooch’s eye. The fact that a red card was not shown to the Rochdale player can mean only one thing, an elbow to somebody’s eye socket is not reckless or dangerous in League One. When I saw him after the match with a black eye I did wonder about the logic of this a little.
And then Peterborough. I don’t even know where to start with this one. Suffice to say that there were so many errors from the officials at this match that I came away thinking they were grossly incompetent. My language may have been a little stronger at the time. A night’s sleep however allows the brain to digest. The morning after I found myself running through all the fouls I could remember that were given against Sunderland. Many if not most were for minor trivialities. The very trivialities that were waved on when committed against a Sunderland player. I have no defence for Oviedo, what he did was lunacy and absolutely deserving of a red card. What you have to ask though is would he have kicked out like that had the referee correctly awarded a foul against the recipient of the kick seconds before. I would argue not. Oviedo is a professional and should have kept his cool. In that action though all the frustration at the incredibly poor refereeing burst out. In the dying embers of the game Kimpioka had the ball. He was pushed, no foul was given but he retained the ball. He was pushed again; no foul was given he retained the ball. He was pushed again, he pushed back and a foul was given against him. It’s moments like this that make you wonder if it is incompetence or something more malevolent.
Every team that visits the SoL will be playing their cup final for the season. They will be absolutely up for it. What if the referees are as well? What I the referee sees that vitriolic fan base as an opportunity to make a name for himself? What if the referee feels sorry for the “underdog”? What if the referee doesn’t want to be seen to be bowing to pressure from a big crowd and so gives more the other way? A referee should always officiate the match rather than the occasion but in this league, I have begun to see evidence that the occasion is as big for them as it is for visiting teams. There is nothing we can do about that of course. Referees will always do as they please and ultimately we shouldn’t have had to worry about the ref against Peterborough as we should have been out of sight at half time. One thing is for certain though, my vow is well and truly broken.
All 2,628 tickets for Bradford City away, on Saturday 6 October, are now sold out. You can book transport for Coventry and Bradford via ALS here…