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Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Referees an easy target of blame for managers, players, media


LONDON -- Last weekend was such a bad one for referees that the man from the Daily Mirror was desperately searching for someone to speak up on behalf of the off-form officials.

Christopher Davies

When a red-top tabloid gives the men in black the sympathy vote then refereeing is in the intensive care unit.

Referees are traditionally the favorite and easiest scapegoats for losing managers.

Why blame yourself or your players when it was someone else who actually cost you the game?

Your center-forward missed a goal your grannie could have scored, your goalkeeper went down in installments as a shot went under his body, but never mind all that, the referee didn't see the opposing center-half tug your player's shirt in the penalty area.

Most times referees' decisions are subjective. Some you win, some you lose.

The weakness of managers' arguments is that few have little or, in some cases it seems, no knowledge of the laws of the game.

Managers criticize referees for making a correct decision, their ignorance of law shared by supporters who are subsequently brainwashed into believing that officials don't know what they are doing.

Whatever one's view of Premiership referees they know the laws inside out.

The most farcical scenario was at Manchester City, where Steve Bennett showed Tim Cahill a second yellow card for his celebration after scoring Everton's winner, his first goal for the club.

Cahill pulled his shirt over his head, not total removal but under the guidelines a cautionable offense. The Australian midfielder had to go and if Cahill was unhappy then so was Bennett, aware of the criticism he would receive.

The International Football Association Board, the sport's law-making body, decided last February that the removal of jerseys in goal celebrations would be outlawed from July. Their feeling was it had become boring, players were using it as a way to give sponsors free advertising on a T-shirt, while in Muslim countries a bare chest is considered offensive.

The English F.A. voted against the proposal but was outnumbered.

However, its interpretation was that pulling the shirt over the head was not removal and therefore permissible.

FIFA subsequently sent all national associations a power-point video outlining what was and what was not allowed, while the F.A. delivered posters to all clubs to be displayed in dressing rooms.

Clubs were visited during the preseason by a referee to explain all the law and regulation changes and, just to be 100 percent sure before the game last Saturday, Bennett told City manager Kevin Keegan and Everton assistant manager Alan Irvine, as they handed the team-sheets in, to remind their players not to remove their shirt in any way after scoring a goal.

It was therefore remarkable that Keegan claimed after the match he was unaware of the rule. Ditto David Moyes.

Cahill's ignorance was even more staggering as the player on the poster with his shirt over his head (with a big X through it) was the former Millwall midfielder!

The situation reached almost Monty Python proportions when the next day FIFA president Sepp Blatter came out with the following belter: "A referee should never expel a player just because he pulled his shirt over his head, he should just have a word with him. If you take off your shirt and wave it over your head that's a different matter."

Blatter was, in effect, undermining his own organization's directive on the matter.

And just when you thought the mess couldn't get any worse, the IFAB will clarify what can and can't be done when it meets on Sept. 23rd in Zurich.

It is likely that Blatter will get what he wants (no change there then) and pulling the jersey over the head will be allowed.

And in case you are asking why this wasn't done when the law was changed five months ago by the IFAB -- there wasn't time then.

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


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