The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

A good laugh about bad refs

Having watched a Referee try restart a football match unaware that a player was receiving treatment in the penalty area on Tuesday night I had some sympathy for Anthony Bates, the man in black as City played Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.

Bates might have got some calls wrong on the evening and lacked an authority, but his job was made a much harder by what seemed to be a campaign of gamesmanship by the visiting team. That the Accrington staff were sneaking onto the field to delay the game is something that Bates should have dealt with, but the fault lays more with the Physiotherapist in question then the man who could not curtail his actions. Bates might not have showered himself in glory, but his job was made harder and we should all recognise that.

Nevertheless, and utterly predictably, BfB was contacted by a Referee from Bradford complaining about what he saw as (para) “another one dimensional article having a go at Referees.” And there was me thinking my articles were one dimensional defences of Stuart McCall, another dimension and I might have started looking at things from multiple angles.

(A note here on comments. If a comment starts with the name of the writer and then goes on to talk directly to the writer it is treated as an email and not a comment for the public to read. The writer may choose to reply by mail or may not. Comments for publication need to be relevant to the readers, not just the writer.)

Joking aside the Referee in question got in touch with BfB and gave some “corrections” to my opinions – often dealings with referees send my mind back to being at school – on the basis of the BBC highlights he had seen. Watching the BBC clips made it clear – I was told – that I “haven’t a clue.”

I paused for a moment to consider the idea who would say that having watched a football match live your view on it would be less valid than someone who watched the highlights.

Opinions are great, especially those that come from experts, but frequently the tone of communications from Referees is troublingly authoritarian. The phrase “I’m a Referee and this is what happened…” features often as if those of us who have spent decades watching the game were incapable of making a judgement on incidents. There is a high-handedness in Refereeing which does them, and the rest of football, no favours at all.

Scotland, where the Referees roam wild

This weekend the SPL games are – it is hoped – to be refereed by guest officials from foreign leagues after the home Refs declared a strike in a demand for more respect. The Scots situation is unique in world of football – any other place where such raw religious fundamentalism is allowed to go unchecked is usually associated with a deadly numeric – but as Celtic manager Neil Lennon turned on the officials after the now infamous game with Dundee United he did so in full knowledge that as the manager of one of the teams involved he would not be invited to any sort of dialogue with the man in the middle.

Of course one might wonder how much managers would welcome increased contact with Referees, and how they would respond to it. A Premier League experiment with increasing officials communication back in 2003 reached a point where after a game with Manchester United the then Southampton boss Gordon Strachan accused the Referee of being too scared to show his face.

Strachan’s reach neatly deflected some attention away from his team’s defeat for sure but the damage done in the press seemed to end the experiment. These days referees are making their decision in a sea of analysis and their voice is unrepresented in that conversation.

Respect the rules I lay down, the system say, and question nothing. Default respect without communication is something that some can give and other cannot, I know I am in the latter group.

The structure of football demands respect for the Referee and largely is right to do so but seemingly there is a need for this respect to be granted and never earned. The Referee wants your respect but he will not address you in the same manner.

All of which is a great shame. Referees are experts and they have interesting and fascinating opinions on football and they are people with emotions who want to do a good job. Yet the FA would rather we did not know this. The Referee is famously silent after a game and the report which he submits on that match is not available to the paying public.

Anthony Bates was no doubt not happy with his performance and furious with the gamesmanship which made it harder for him, but having watched the game one would not know it. I would like to read his views on the handball, on the elbow, on the pitch invasions; but in the most autocratic way the game offers I am not able to.

As a supporter I’m expected to pay my money, accept the Refereeing I get and shut up about it. And so are you.

I believe that it would advance the cause of Refereeing to allow the man in black to have his say. To humanise the guy with the whistle who might say after a game that yes, he has seen something again and thinks he got it wrong but he made his decision at the time and while people might not agree then at least they would understand.

We shall not, dear reader, at this point talk about the less then glorious history of bias in refereeing which is proven – only four years ago Juventus were relegated for fixing games using “favourable referees” – and concentrate on the officials trying to do a good job in difficult circumstances. I would love to read Bates’s views on the Accrington antics, but I’m not going to get to, so I give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his job was made harder. For all I know he might have thought that there was nothing going wrong.

The high-handedness though continues.

There was no complaint from the defence and City scored. Move on! I realise that ref baiting is a national if not world sport, but your reports are becoming unnecessarily one dimensional Michael – A Referee Speaks.

Moving aside from the fact that there was complaint from the defence – although that did not show up on the highlights – and to the idea that Referees feel that they are part of a jokey “national sport” as if the mistakes they make are only highlighted as a part of a comedic campaign and because the losing team is upset at the result. It is not the case that the only reason that Sir Bobby Robson’s England were upset about the Maradona handball is because they did not win the game.

It is judged to be a good laugh and “part of football” that the quality of refereeing is often so low that supporters are left complaining about games being ruined is not a reason to continue it.

Over the ten years of BfB the same theme has come from Referees both in my postbag and in the wider press that any complaints are the result of disgruntlement on behalf of fans and that moaning about officials is something which as part of the “fabric of football” is some how enjoyable. It is not, bad refereeing is like a poor pitch, it gets in the way of the game and should be rolled out.

So now then

It is the “Move on!” comment though which strikes me as insidious. Anthony Bates allowed a situation where gamesmanship ruined a football match and rather than recognising that we are to “move on”? Ignore the faults, protect the weak Referees and, in doing so, harm the game.

Protectionism that keeps weak referees close and protects them, stopping them from improving and inflicting them on paying football supporters later is disgraceful and people involved in carrying it on should be ashamed.

There is no good laugh about bad referees.

That red card, this red card and the enemies of football

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Richard Eckersley, Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Leon Osborne, Tom Ademeyi, Tommy Doherty, Lee Hendrie | Jason Price, James Hanson | Omar Daley, Gareth Evans, Robbie Threlfall

If one were Referee Anthony Bates one might probably like to forget this cold night in Bradford and one would do well to hope that other did so too.

Indeed in a 1-1 draw that saw little in the way of impressive football and much that stood in the way of it one might have looked at the much talked about advertisements for season tickets which were plastered around the ground and wondered if any sale of what was on show on this evening might have been a hard sell.

Accrington Stanley’s commitment to the unlaudable aim of getting a point from the game was initially laudable and in a packed midfield they did much to frustrate a City team which was hampered by a poor selection of players by Peter Taylor.

Omar Daley exited the side to allow Jason Price and James Hanson to lead the line but without Daley dropping between the lines, and with Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne too far on the flanks to provide outlets for the midfield, the Bantams were troublesomely squared off. The midfield central two survived an uneven first half by Tom Adeyemi but whenever he or Tommy Doherty looked for an outlet the attacking unit were unjoined, and thus ineffective.

Adeyemi’s unevenness, and the character he showed to recover from some poor spells, should have been truncated after 21 minutes when Accrington’s first serious (or frivolous) attack when lone striker Terry Gornell picked up a loose ball and tried to flick it around the City midfielder only to see the top of Adeyemi’s arm sweep the ball away.

It was a penalty – scored by – Phil Edwards but for Anthony Bates to award a penalty for handball he had to have decided that Adeyemi’s offence was deliberate the rules of the game making it clear that only deliberate action is to be considered handball and thus the City man had denied a goalscoring opportunity and should have been sent off.

Bates gave the penalty as a statement that the offence was deliberate, then failed to send the player off saying that the offence was not.

That Accrington Stanley enjoyed the better of the next fifteen or twenty minutes in which they mustered four shots at Lenny Pidgeley’s goal perhaps suggests that at the time they should have been attacking City’s ten men and perhaps manager John Coleman will be fuming over that decision which may very well has cost his side a win.

Peter Taylor decided that his team needed to step up to earn a win and slipped Daley on for Osborne with instant results. Daley made a nuisance of himself and Accrington struggled to cope with a now three man forward line. A well worked ball into the box saw Jason Price leap and take an elbow to the face but as the ball bounced towards one time City keeper (and narrowboat owner) Ian Dunbavin James Hanson stuck his foot in where the ball bounced and after a keeper striker smash the ball fell to Price who tidied the ball into the goal.

Penalty? Foul on the keeper? Nothing? Something? Anthony Bates might want to skip over that minute of football and just note, as we do, that Jason Price equalised for Bradford City.

The Bantams on top now and a Richard Eckersley ball over the top bounced for James Hanson who took the ball into his body and was pulled down by the last defender Kevin Long and once again Bates was left having given a decision which mandated a specific punishment – Long having committed a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity – but opted to give a yellow card.

So City, on top of the game, should have been facing ten men but for the non-decisions and Law ignoring of Bates. Taylor’s switch had given City the edge and caused problems which took Accrington twenty-five minutes until they threw on Luke Joyce to plug the danger from. One might be tempted to suggest that two wrongs made a right but these wrongs were not errors of judgement or mistakes – this was not a Ref seeing one thing and it turning out later he was wrong – it was him seeing offences and then ignoring the mandated punishments.

But as the blood boiled at Bates one could not help but feel some sympathy for him at the end and trudging away from the draw into the kelt of Bradford that sympathy stretched to whomever had blighted my sight with the so horrible season ticket advertisements.

As City pushed for a winner there was – seemingly – a campaign of gamesmanship involving the Accrington Stanley players going over too easily and staying down, and involved Accrington Stanley Physio invading the field without Bates’ permission, staying on the field too long, using no urgency to leave it.

This reached a nadir when as O’Brien looked to take a free kick Anthony Bates’ attention was draw to the fact that Accrington’s Physio had been on the field – again without permission – for sometime and delayed the restart for minutes giving a defender treatment. The momentum lost and the game dragged out without much interest.

Playing for a draw might be dull, but using gamesmanship to drag it out harms football and people who do it in the way it seemed Accrington’s staff were – are the enemies of football. Supporters, and anyone who had come to watch a football match, needed referee Anthony Bates to stamp his authority on the evening. They needed him to send the Physio away from the bench (Yes, he can do that) for entering the field of play without permission but what other tools does he have in his arsenal to cope with such obvious gamesmanship?

What control does the Referee have over a team which goes from playing for a draw to simply trying to avoid playing at all? What authority would he, or could he, take?

Sadly Bates, however, seemed to be determined that he would show no authority at all.

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