Issue Only one Grant Hegley

As told by Paul Firth

After defeat at The City Ground Colin Todd said he had no ‘qualms with the sending off whatsoever’ and was ‘not blaming the referee for us losing’. He was also quoted as saying ‘but we had six players booked and one sent off and I didn’t think it was that type of game’. In total these hardly seem like the rants of an unreasonable man. For the sake of completeness Forest also had three players booked, so ten bookings for not ‘that type of game’ is quite something. When did you last see ten bookings in a match for any type of game?

Could this have anything to do with the referee? Silly question, you may think, until you look at the F.A’s website. Remember the game was played on 29th October and the referee was Mr G.K. Hegley. According to a piece on the F.A’s website dated 26th October, ‘Following a meeting of the FA Referees Committee this week, referee Grant Hegley has been suspended for 14 days. Hegley was charged with less than proficiently applying the Laws of the Game after failing to send off Sheffield United’s Keith Gillespie after the final whistle of the match against Reading on 1 October.’

The first and perhaps most obvious question is ‘Are there two Mr Hegley’s?’ Can we perhaps assume not, especially since the man in the picture on the F.A. website would seem to be bear more than just a passing resemblance to the man in the middle at The City Ground.

So let’s look at the next question, namely ‘When is a suspension not a suspension?’ The answer might appear to be ‘When it’s for a referee.’ Just when did Mr Hegley’s suspension begin and end? He obviously wasn’t suspended three days after the date of the piece on the F.A’s website. Perhaps he was wearing a tag and was allowed out early.

So, assuming as we might that it was the same Mr H and that his suspension hadn’t taken effect three days later, can we find an explanation for the flood of cards (Darren Holloway’s excepted) that baffled Colin Todd? Look again at why Mr H was suspended – for not sending off Keith Gillespie. It may be recalled that Gillespie’s grouse at the end of the match was to do with a penalty or, rather, the absence of a penalty. I’ve only seen it on the TV two or three times and in slow motion, but I’d love to hear why Mr H didn’t give a penalty. At the end of the game Gillespie was joined by his manager in ‘an exchange of words’ with the referee, for which Gillespie should, it seems, have been red carded and Neil Warnock faces a disciplinary hearing. It was the same game where Paddy Kenny could rather easily have been sent off (compare that poor chap Flitney from Barnet) for denying a goal-scoring opportunity by handling the ball outside his area, only to be rescued by Mr H’s apparent view that the ball was going wide. Even Neil Warnock was quoted as saying ‘I thought he was gong to get sent off straight away.’

What we have, then, on 1st October is a referee accused by managers of being slow to give fouls and red cards, found guilty on 25th October of ‘less than proficiently applying the Laws of the Game’ and then on 29th October applying the same Laws to our game in such a manner that he brought out his yellow card no fewer than ten times.

Let us also remember the severe limits on appeals against cards, limits which seem to be based on the perceived need to preserve the omniscience of referees as far as possible. We need go no further back than Dean Windass’ statement that Mark Clattenburg, the Premiership ref who booked Deano at Doncaster, ‘admitted to me afterwards that he had got it wrong, but unfortunately he cannot do anything about it now.’ The suggestion is that refs can’t be seen to make mistakes, which is one way of saying that they can’t be seen to be human. Well, they may not all have fathers, but they are, so far as I know, all human.

So City cannot appeal any of Mr Hegley’s yellow cards or the £2500 fine we would have avoided if even one or two could be overturned. Mr H has come off a disciplinary for not proficiently applying the Laws by being too lenient and has jogged straight into a game where no one could accuse him of being too lenient. Wouldn’t it have been better to have started his suspension immediately, as would have happened with a player sent off or disciplined before a similar F.A. committee? Isn’t it only too human to react to an accusation of leniency by being just the opposite? Could none of this have been foreseen by the F.A? Ah, but to get an admission out of the F.A. might not allowed either. And we don’t really know that they are human, do we?

And a ‘by the way’ to finish with. There may be one or two people out there who think I’m being unduly harsh on refs and that they should be protected. Maybe I am, but I can only compare things with my old day job which I left on Monday. I was a District Judge. I gave reasons in public for every decision I made, even the most trivial decisions. The press came whenever they wanted and reported whatever they felt like. Almost every real decision – guilty or not guilty, prison, fine or whatever – was liable to appeal without further ado. Some times the appeal court came to a different decision. Some times even that decision was appealed. The judges there, like me, are only human. What’s so special about referees that their very human nature has to be so jealously protected? Answers in an e mail!