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Sunday, July 4, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Blaming referee for England's loss to Portugal pathetic


LONDON -- When Urs Meier disallowed Sol Campbell's last-minute goal against Portugal last week the Swiss referee had no idea he was to become the latest recipient of the English media's revenge on a Johnny Foreigner who had, in the words of most tabloids, "cheated us" out of victory.

Christopher Davies

In fact, it is most sections of the media that should hang their collective heads in shame, not Meier whose sin was to decide that John Terry had fouled Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo which UEFA said was correct.

But what does the UEFA referees committee know about law?

We live in a blame culture and it was decided by the kangaroo court that is the media Meier was the one to blame for England's departure after a shootout loss to Portugal.

Not Terry who failed to jump when Helder Postiga scored and fouled Ricardo for the disallowed goal scored, or Darius Vassell who missed a penalty.

The guilty party was Meier, who found himself well and truly in the tabloid mire after the BBC had paved the way with irresponsible and inflammatory comments from Ipswich manager Joe Royle, former England striker Ian Wright, and current television big mouth and former Scotland defender Alan Hansen.

The following day the rottweilers of the English media took over the baton and went into action as only they can.

Meier, whose home phone number was published by one paper, was quoted as saying in various so-called exclusives: "England is looking for a scapegoat and is looking to blame me. Here, we are at Euro 2004, not playing in the English Premier League. There are different rules and I apply them."

In fact, Meier did not speak to any reporter. Referees are banned from speaking to the media at UEFA competitions except on designated media days. Without any words from Meier the rottweilers put them in his mouth. Serves him right for not speaking to us, they thought.

Telltale clues in the lack of authenticity of the "exclusives" include the scapegoat line which, by uncanny coincidence, is just the sort of thing the media pack would have wanted the referee to say.

Also, there are no rules in football, they are laws and every qualified referee refers to them as such. Oh, and the rules/laws are the same the whole world over.

Meier was called "the most hated man in Britain" which takes the heat off of Osama Bin Laden for a while.

The tabs then moved in on Franziska Meier, his estranged wife who told various tabloids: "Some say my husband has cheated England but I can certainly tell you he has cheated on me," -- exactly the sort of comment a Swiss woman would come out with, of course.

You can imagine the scene. "Hello Mrs. Meier, Daily Tabloid here, what do you have to say about your husband's performance at England vs. Portugal?"

"Some say my husband has cheated England . . . " Right off the top of her head, just the headline they wanted, lucky old newspapers.

Mrs. Meier "told" the tabs that her husband's affair with Nicole Petignat, a female referee, started six months ago. How time flies -- in fact, Meier has been with Miss Petignat for almost five years. An easy mistake for any wife to make, not knowing exactly how long she and her husband have been living apart.

One paper even got Meier to talk about this side of his life. "If my wife has spoken to you that is her right but I do not want to get involved."

Every word fabricated. News reporters never like telling their desks they have failed -- otherwise why are they in Portugal? -- so sometimes when a person will not speak, the rottweilers do it for them.

Even Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, prime ministers of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, respectively, jumped in on the act (a sure sign an election is coming).

They both said Meier got it wrong -- no doubt they would appreciate advice from the Swiss referee on how to run their countries, Meier being as qualified in politics as the politicians are in refereeing.

Meier may have few friends in England, but he was backed by Volker Roth, chairman of UEFA's referees' committee who launched a stinging counter-attack on the English media, saying their treatment of Meier was "completely unacceptable."

The problem was, no newspaper likes to publish a story that rubbishes its own story, so coverage was minimal going on non-existent.

"We are disappointed with their behavior," said Roth. "The way some of the English press have blamed Meier after a correct decision is completely unacceptable.

"They have gone into his private life, given details of his car, his wife . . . this is unacceptable.

"We are open, we think it is good for referees to speak with no restrictions. But if the press work in this way we may have to think again."

Meier, at an official media day earlier this week, said he had been badly disturbed by the reaction to the disallowed goal. "I feel it is not the right way to handle a decision, whether it was right or wrong," he said. "It is not right to go into the private life of the referee.

"The referee must be protected from the journalists, from all people. He is the only man in the field who is really neutral and I have not been protected from the English newspapers.

"You can see on TV it is a clear foul, it's not a discussion point. When you put the arm over the goalkeeper and he can't jump it, is foul play."

The real foul play came from the red tops who deserve a red card for their hounding of Meier.

NOT FAR BEHIND Urs Meier in the media lashing stakes is England captain David Beckham, proving how love can turn to hate in a short space of time.

There is a growing feeling that Beckham's celebrity lifestyle has finally caught up with him at 29. The Real Madrid midfielder admitted he was not as fit as he would have liked at Euro 2004, blaming it on the Spanish club's conditioning.

This is strange because the Real coach last season, Carlos Queiroz, was Beckham's assistant manager at Manchester United before his move to Madrid and Queiroz was credited with making the Reds as fit as any side in Europe.

It has been a turbulent year for Beckham with lurid revelations about his personal life and continuing stories in certain papers that his marriage is on the rocks. As no couple in living memory have used the media as much as Posh and Becks they can hardly expect the sympathy vote here -- when you sell your wedding photographs to a celebrity magazine you sell your soul to the devil.

Beckham is fortunate to have, in Sven-Goran Eriksson, a national coach who would never contemplate substituting his captain.

How badly does Beckham have to play to be taken off?

We have yet to discover, but Beckham can hardly be less effective than he was in Portugal.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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