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Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009
F.A. playing it for laughs with ruling in Bellamy case
LONDON — The Football Association has rarely shown much backbone when it comes to discipline, but this week English football's governing body underlined how spineless and rudderless it is.
It is just as well it doesn't have to explain the reasons behind decisions that defy logic and go against video evidence, because it would be impossible. Arguing black was white would be easier than putting a credible case forward on why Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy was let off with a warning when a charge of violent conduct was the only reasonable option.
The F.A. is happy for the buck to stop with the referee, but for the game's credibility it should ensure there is always a natural sense of justice. It has the power to do so but too often chooses not to use it.
After last Sunday's pulsating Manchester derby, when United beat City 4-3 with a last gasp goal by Michael Owen, a fan ran onto the pitch and was restrained by stewards. The supporter was arrested for entering the playing area "without lawful authority."
Why Bellamy ran toward the fan and appeared to lash out at him only the City player knows. The best the rest of us can come up with is because he is Craig Bellamy.
City manager Mark Hughes' version was: "The guy made an aggressive move. Craig just put a defensive hand out to push him away."
Hughes did well to keep a straight face when he said that.
Assistant manager Mark Bowen said: "My take is that he thought the fella might spit in his face or something. He came very close and moved towards him. Craig, with an open hand, just pushed the fella away."
How might Bellamy have thought he was going to be spat upon?
What facial expression or body language precedes giving someone the worst kind of mouthful?
The fan would have needed to have broken the world spitting record and television footage shows Bellamy moving toward the supporter, who was being held by stewards before clocking him in the face with a clenched fist.
Referee Martin Atkinson appears to have been central to Bellamy escaping punishment after the official told the F.A. he would not have sent off the striker had he seen the incident. It will be very interesting to see what Atkinson does the next time a player runs 10 meters toward an opponent and lashes out at him.
Atkinson is one of our better referees, and I have no idea if he was put under any "political pressure" to reach his baffling conclusion, but he has made a huge rod for his own back.
But apparently Bellamy's actions did not constitute violent conduct, and had he done what he did to Wayne Rooney then Atkinson presumably would not have shown the City striker the red card.
Had he not dismissed Bellamy under those circumstances Atkinson would have been hauled over the coals by Keith Hackett, general manager of the select group referees.
It is impossible to escape the feeling that there have been too many controversial incidents in the early weeks of the season and the F.A. decided to sweep this under its carpet, which must soon be reaching Mount Everest proportions.
Two seasons ago the F.A. suspended Middlesbrough's Jeremie Aliadiere for four games after touching the face of an opponent — it was so light it barely constituted a slap, though the recipient acted as if Floyd Mayweather Jr. had taken up football. What Bellamy did was far, far worse in the eyes of everyone except City, which pays the Wales international's wages and does not want him suspended, and the F.A., the so-called guardian of the English game, which in its own way brings football into disrepute as much as anyone obviously guilty of violent behavior, but is merely sent to the naught step.
On Thursday came the news that the F.A. was taking no action against Javier Mascherano after the Liverpool midfielder swung an arm and caught Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford on the back of the head during the Reds' 1-0 League Cup win at Elland Road.
Referee Alan Wiley did not see the incident clearly at the time, but after studying it on video ruled that it was not worthy of a red card. The laws state that striking or attempting to strike an opponent (or anyone) is violent conduct.
While the nation seems obsessed by diving, which cannot be condoned but in my view is far less dangerous than whacking someone, the F.A. and English referees appear to have decided that what seems to be nailed on violence is in fact OK.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.