VAR / Referee / Solution

VAR has come to The World Cup – which is an event staged to attempt to distract Bradford City supporters from their lack of a manager, which is failing – and it is all not as it seems.

Bradford City’s own Ryan McGowan was furious when VAR was used to The French looked needlessly poor in this match. The lack of pressing in this post-Klopp world was odd. team he had a half decent chance of being in while Iceland seemed to get away with a foul against Argentina largely because there was something amusing about Iceland getting away with a foul against Argentina.

Both tackles seemed to be penalties – if you watched the footage at a speed other than the speed in which it happened, and deliberately pretended that a 2D image can replace a 3D one at giving depth perception, and then squinted – but VAR was deployed for one and not the other and so one was and one was not.

If this seems to you, dear reader, to be business as usual that is because it is. Referees have – for the entirety of football – been giving decisions on the basis of what they may or may not have seen and while VAR gives them some more sight in which to give those decisions it does not change the nature of a refereeing decision, in that it is a decision.

Technology

A digression on technology in football. We – the supporters of the game – were promised for decades that VAR would solve the problem of wrong decisions in football and obviously it will not.

This contrasts with Goal Line Technology which does a single job well and highlights the problems that technology should be used to solve in football. The factual – the discussion of what has happened – is subject to technology while interpretation is not.

A system which gives accurate GPS positions of players and the ball would be excellent at telling a referee if a player is in an offside position but that would not make that player offside.

Technology in football is best used in that context.

Decision

Decision by referees are judgements made, hopefully, in as unbiased a fashion as possible and it may be worth recognising that. The opaque thing in Refereeing is not that a decision was made – one can see that – but the reasons for that decision.

The consensus from Football’s authorities from top to bottom is that Referees are infallible. This has led to a contortion of the laws of the game – and the interpretation of those laws – around the idea that the Referee is never wrong they are just perceiving a judgement you did not. Charlie Wyke’s frequent withdrawn sending offs for Bradford City always come with a side of some official insisting that the decision was accurate even when it is repelled.

The solution to this problem would seem to be simple. The Referee submits a report on the game he has been in charge of – this happens at most levels if not all – and those reports are kept by the authorities. It seems to be a merciful gift to officials to make those reports both more verbose and public.

More verbose in that one has to believe that in the case of Iceland vs Argentina the Referee may be of a mind to write about the missed penalty decision that he did not see a foul during the incident, nor did VAR, nor did the linesmen or other officials.

Public because find the reasons for a Referee’s actions might highlight to supporters the judgements involved, even if those judgements are wrong.

Because judgement calls are never going to get any better than they are now. Technology can tell us if the ball went in but everything else is interpretation of events and good Referees are the ones which interpret events correctly.

Which is the key skill in Refereeing. A Referee needs to know the laws of the game and apply them to the action they have seen which is an act of interpreting the abstract of the law into the practical of the game. To be a good Referee is to be able to do this and, as evidenced by years of watching Referees, this is not the trait selected for.

Broadening and opening up Referee’s reports to the public would highlight this, and make everyone in football better able to know the good Referees from the poor ones rather than wasting time and effort discussing technologies which can never address the main concerns.

Respect / Response

The Football League has a new set of rules to cope with the “unacceptable levels” of “intolerable behaviour” by players and managers in English football.

Ad absurdum these new rules mean that players can be booked for bumping into the Referee but more practically they give the officials the power send players off for swearing at them or insulting them.

Which is unarguable on the surface and few people would suggest that anyone should have to put up with abuse, insults and swearing directed towards them. Of course the Football League is not going to do anything within the context of the laws of the game to prevent players from being the object of this – racist abuse supporters is entirely a Police matter – and when it gets onto the field we they prefer to punish the victim.

The detail is more murky. Reading the list some of the enumerated offences are practically useful to stop match officials from being insulted and abused but, smuggled within those, are offences created to stop players from questioning or disagreeing with decisions.

Take the unclear working “visibly disrespectful behaviour to any match official” and imagine a defender who has seen a forward dive over his withdrawn leg to win a penalty. The double hand swallow dive mime is a direct question to the authority of the Referee who has given the incorrect decision but should it be a yellow card offence? It is now.

As is banging the floor hard when a forward is brought down and believes he should have had a penalty but sees the Referee wave play on. Smash the ground with your fist and of course what you are doing is questioning the Referee’s decision but is that a bad thing?

What is the ethical merit of never questioning Referees? Why is it virtuous for players to accept every decision as correct even when they may know better than the official that it is not? Everyone knows the practical benefits of an unquestioned autocracy but few welcome it in other areas of life.

It is not as if the match officials are never wrong. Ask the better ones and they will tell players they are often wrong but try to be right as often as they can be. Those Referees seem to be the ones which players respect.

Which is, in the end, the root of these new laws. The dual belief that match officials are drowned in a sea of disrespect and a misguided sense of how respect can be forced into players. On the former point one could be excused for thinking that events at Bradford City games are drastically different from the rest of football.

One struggles to remember any significant incidents of abuse of officials worthy of the name at City matches going back years. I’m sure they hear the odd bad word and that some of them are directed at them but nothing that stopped them doing the job as evidenced by the fact that no games descended into chaos or anything similar.

This idea that football is awash with disrespect of officials at the professional level to the point where it is obvious to supporters – and thus that it could make a difference as an example at other levels of football – is not true. Stamp out all disrespect from professional League One football and it would look exactly as it does now, unless you increase the definition of disrespect to include any questioning of a decision.

Which speaks to the idea that respect can be forced into footballers. It cannot.

Questioning a decision – and there are right and wrong ways to do that – is a natural reaction and one that a grown man is allowed to have. Football seems very much concerned with stopping this.

Referees seem very much concerned with stopping this as if stopping anyone showing what they consider to be disrespect means that there is no disrespect and, by extension, that they are respected.

But respect can’t be forced and if anyone in football wants to seriously think about respect as an issue then perhaps they should consider the inherent lack of respect with which football treats the players. They are told not not even think that that the Referee could be wrong.

Referees are not Headmasters. They have the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the game but that is where their role stops. They are not responsible for the behaviour of the players just for enforcing the laws when behaviour transgresses those rules.

From today they can be booked – told off – for banging their fists on the floor in frustration at a wrong decision.

Footballers are treated like children and these new guidelines smuggle in more ways to tell them off for questioning as if they were kids to an demanding father.

Maybe changing that is where respect should start.

On how the sending off of goalkeepers is a punishment without proportion

Imagine, if you will dear reader, a different scene on Saturday when Bradford City lost to Rochdale when Jordan Pickford was sent off for denying Matt Done a goal or goal scoring opportunity which had almost certainly gone. Imagine Done more central, no defenders, and Pickford taking the man squarely and cleanly.

Imagine that Pickford had unequivocally denied Rochdale a goal or goal scoring opportunity. The Referee would have sent Pickford off with the same haste and City would have faced the same situation of facing a penalty kick and playing a game with ten men.

Even though in this hypothetical situation Pickford would have been guilty of the offence the punishment given would still have been too harsh. The sending off of a goalkeeper for denying a goal or goal scoring opportunity is a disproportionate punishment for the offence and does not offer recompense for the offended against team.

Cold goalkeepers

In no other situation in football are you required to make a substitution in haste. If a player is injured you can withdraw him and bring on a replacement when that replacement is warmed up. You can take as long as you want to do this.

This includes goalkeeping changes which often result in close to minutes injury time rather than goalkeeper sendings off which are completed with such speed that the replacement keeper does not have the time to prepare and he is not in the flow of the game.

If a defender is sent off for denying a goal or goal scoring opportunity then the goalkeeper is warm when the penalty happens, if the goalkeeper is replaced he is cold. Why is the team punished extra by having a cold goalkeeper because of the identity of the sent off player?

And what about the risks of demanding a cold player come straight into action? What about when the cold goalkeeper pulls a muscle diving for the penalty? Is that to be an additional part of the punishment?

In no other situation is a player expected to play cold.

The ten men

Whilst considering the concept of additional punishment the penalty not considered reward enough for a denial of a goal or goal scoring opportunity offence and so the team must play with ten players for a spell of time which is decided by when the offence occurred.

If we put Pickford’s hypothetical offence in the last minute of a game where then the punishment is a penalty and playing a minute or two with ten men. If we put it in the first minute minute of a game then the penalty is faced but the team have to play with ten men for a full 89 minutes. What about a keeper sent off after fifty eight minutes in a final already lost?

It is impossible to say that those three situations represent the fair punishments. To play without a man for almost a full game is clearly a more harsh punishment to be missing a man for injury time.

Of course there is an argument that says that goals earlier in the games are more formative of the match and thus important than goals later in the game and so a player denying a goal or goal scoring should be punished more severely if he does it early in the game than late. Try telling that Asamoah Gyan and his Ghana teammates.

Reducing an opposition team to one fewer men is only sometime a punishment. For City at Wembley against Swansea City Matt Duke’s sending off was neither here nor there – the game was gone – but had the score been been 3-0 to the Bantams then it would have obviously had a different importance and be more of a punishment.

The formation

A football manager’s role on match days is to assess the ebb and flow of games and respond accordingly. When a manager sees a goalkeeper sent off for an incident that results in a penalty kick and he must make a decision on who to remove to bring on a replacement before the penalty is taken.

But he cannot make that decision. He does not have a vital piece of information. He does not know if the game is ebbing or flowing? He does not know what is going to happen from the penalty.

If the game is in the balance – say 0-0 – and he takes off a defensive player he assumes that the penalty will be scored and he will chase the game for an equaliser. If he takes of an attacking player and needs to score he is a man shy in achieving that goal. If the penalty kick is missed then his plans have to be rethought.

Again at no other point in football is punishment so disproportionate. If any other player is sent off the manager is allowed the fullness of time to decide who to remove and how to change his formation in knowledge of the score of the game.

Only in this specific instance does the manager have to make a decision before the game can continue knowing that the next action in the game has a great chance of rendering his decision wrong.

If the game is 0-0, and a player is sent off for a bad tackle in midfield the manager can decide if he will move defensively to try maintain a draw or press on and try win. If a defender is sent off for the denial of a goal or a goal scoring opportunity then the manage is able to make the decision as to a replacement knowing if any resulting penalty has been scored.

Why should the goalkeeper being sent off be given such a special and specifically disproportionate set of punishments which exceed the punishment given to a team when a defender commits the same offence?

What Phil Parkinson should have done against Rochdale

Ten minutes into the game and Matt Done has done what he had done and Jordan Pickford has been sent off. The first thing Phil Parkinson should do is to send Matt Williams to warm up but rather than removing Andy Halliday Parkinson should have given a green shirt to whichever of his players still on the field has even the slightest ability between the sticks.

Jon Stead is tall and agile. Stead gets the gloves and goes in goal while Williams warms up.

Rochdale take the penalty. Penalties are most often scored regardless of the quality of the goalkeeper.

85% of penalties which are on target go into the goal. 94% of the time keepers move one way or the other and when that way is the right way they have a 40% chance of saving the ball hit in that direction but when the ball is hit centrally, and the keeper stays in the middle, they have a 60% chance of saving the ball.

The best strategy for penalties, in other words, is to stand in the middle of the goal and hope the player misses the target. Which is what Parkinson should have told Stead (or whomever) to do. Probably he would not have saved it but probably all penalties go into the goal.

And so after the penalty is scored Parkinson would know that Halliday was the man to remove because there was a game to chance and remove him for a now warmed up Williams with Stead returning up front.

Had the penalty been missed or Stead have saved it Parkinson could remove a different player, probably Stead, and tried to grind out a victory with the eight players in defensive position as he has previously.

But what is to be done, part one

In the case of denial of a goal or a goal scoring opportunity Referees have to understand that they are handing out the single biggest on field punishment in the game – the A-Bomb of football – and perhaps consider if a player running away from goal with covering defenders who is – shall we say – brushed is really the situation that whomever framed the rules envisaged when this ultimate sanction was created.

Those Referees who do feel they have to send a goalkeeper off and that the punishment they are mandated to give is without proportion might want to complain to their superiors and try get the rule changed.

I shall not hold my breath for that.

But what is to be done, part two

Football needs to look again at what the role of Referees is and what he is trying to achieve. Football’s laws have evolved rather than been created and many of them do not achieve the aims we should expect them to.

The redress given for the denial of a goal – as Ghana attest to – is not on a level with a goal scoring opportunity. Consider the Luis Suárez handball in 2010 and the Jordan Pickford sending off on Saturday and reflect that Pickford’s punishment was massively greater than that of Suárez.

My brother and I have talked long into the night on the merits of awarding an unopposed penalty as redress for the denial of a goal. That is a way that the offended against team could have redress.

It is thinking like that which can start to level the injustice which is codified into football’s laws.

Throwing the game

Bradford City are almost certain to face FA action after referee Rob Lewis had a missile hurled at him on Saturday following his frankly rubbish performance in the game against Northampton Town.

The missile at Lewis comes in the days after City were told that they had to address the issue with things being chucked from the stands. The club have tried and been unsuccessful in stopping the problem which has occurred far too often.

Not that one would criticise the club’s endeavours in this area. They are proactive in trying to stop the missile issue offering an anonymous text line to report offenders but targeted one person in ten thousand is always going to be difficult.

The club need the help of supporters to condemn the action and tell the perpetrators that what they are doing in unacceptable. I’d sign BfB’s name up to that piece of paper without hesitation. All the criticism of Referees that supporters make is invalidated when someone lobs something at the man in black.

Rob Lewis’ display should have been the stuff of investigations – questions like “what did you book Kevin Ellison for?” should have been asked – but instead of that the blame has fallen on the supporters once more, for the misbehaviour of one in our midst.

I have my own issues with the way that Refereeing is approached and believe that those in power do no favours to the work-a-day League Two officials who are at the sharp end of the game. The fact that when Lewis disappears down the tunnel he is out of contact and unquestioned adds to the level of frustration fans feel, but does nothing to justify assaulting him.

In a better world Lewis would post his match report for us all to read and we could find out why Player X was yellow carded while Player Y was not but there is no feedback for the paying customer, no respect from the official side of Refereeing that the supporters deserves to be informed.

The lack of respect though that causes someone to hurl something at a man is a different, and more serious, matter. It is little wonder that the game considers fans as chattel if fans cannot police themselves to the extent that offenders are not outed as displaying behaviour which is considered unacceptable.

I’m in favour of a top to bottom review of Refereeing that includes changing the relationship between official and supporter to give the support a right to know how and why a decision was made.

That cannot happen though when Referees are dodging objects and City fans need to join the club in making it clear that this sort of small minded, small brained, big problem will not be acceptable behaviour for anyone who wants to call themselves a Bradford City supporter.

Give the man what he wants

At the start of the second half watching Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Northampton Town it became apparent that discussion of new managers in Peter Jackson and Gary Johnson or players like Jake Speight and Guillem Bauza who made his debut for the Cobblers that the only man who was going to be the subject of discussion was Referee Rob Lewis.

So lets give the man who wants to be the centre of attention what he wants. His own match report.

The game started quietly and Lewis got to make his first impact on eight minutes when a cross came into the Northampton boss from one of the Bradford City players and was handled by Northampton man Seth Nana Ofori-Twumasi.

Ofori-Twumasi’s arm was out and some might have said that there was no deliberate movement of hand to ball but the fact that the arm was away from the body probably justified the award of a penalty. Four minutes later when the trailing team attacked a strong tackle from Jon Worthington – the Bradford City midfielder – took ball before man but knocked the man over. It was a strong tackle but not an aggressive one so Lewis’ decision to give a yellow card seemed a mistake.

If Lewis were to have seen the tackle as not having made contact with the ball before the man then then the card would have been justified but if he did he would be mistaken.

Some of the tedious football stuff took up much of the rest of the half before Lewis could reassert his authority awarding a free kick against a Bradford City defender who headed the ball away while coming into contact with a Northampton striker.

Lewis’ decision was a curious one. Both players have to be allowed to contest the ball and neither went in with a disregard for the other. One has to arrive first and the other second but both have to be allowed to contest it. If Lewis is t give a free kick against either then one can only assume it is because he feels one has used his head illegally – ie head butted – so he should have sent off the offender.

The offender – it turned out – was to be booked a minute later for a badly timed tackle on a defender as he tried to clear the ball. It was a mistimed tackle and one which injured the the booked Luke Oliver but the yellow card was fair under the laws of the game. I’m never comfortable with the idea of booking mistimed tackles that lack recklessness but the laws suggest it.

Next in the book was Bradford City player Michael Flynn who was guilty of taking possession of the ball after a free kick which was attempted to be taken out of position. Flynn took the ball to a position on the field, Northampton tried to take the free kick from a different place, Lewis told them to take it from the position Flynn had suggested.

There is a technical argument that sees Flynn booked but moreover this seemed like Lewis being a petty man, booking Flynn for not doing as he was told, when he was told. The problem with booking players for technical offences like the “kicking the ball away” or “delaying the restart” is that if it is done once is has to be done every time – otherwise the referee is operating a system of favouritism.

So after Northampton scored later in the game Rob Lewis saw nine of the players leave the field without permission – a technical offence which requires a yellow card as a punishment – but opted to ignore that. Most referees would but few choose to ignore a goal scorer who celebrates by leaving the field of play. Lewis decided he would ignore that.

So giving the centre of attention can have the attention he craves one has to wonder why Rob Lewis watches one technical offence and decides not to book it and sees another and decides to? Either the laws of the game are to be applied in all situations or they are not and a defence of “common sense” is not relevant here. Technical offences are mentioned in the laws exactly because they are not the subject of judgement calls.

The second half and Guillem Bauza of Northampton put in a late tackle. The ball had gone when he contacted with the Bradford City and so the booking was deserved in the context of the decision to book Worthington earlier although that was Worthington for his first offence and Bauza had been given a verbal dressing down in the first half and seemed to give Lewis some attitude back.

Contrast that with Northampton’s Byron Webster who seemed to spend most of the second half avoiding Lewis’ attentions having at one point pushed a Bradford City player with two hands in the chest – an action which would seem to suggest discipline – and kicking the ball forty yards away from the corner flag after a corner. Lewis saw both these offences and decided not to book them. One is – once again – a mandated booking.

A penalty was awarded when a Northampton striker and a Bradford City defender came together in the box. It seemed that the Northampton Town striker jumped at he Bradford City defender who was the last defender and as such one might have expected a sending off but Lewis lacked the courage of his conviction to do that and perhaps the referee – should he not feel that a Bradford City defender had fouled a Northampton Town striker in a way that denied a goal scoring opportunity – might have felt that there was no foul and should have considered awarding an indirect free kick for obstruction.

Many, many yellow cards followed and the game was ruined as football match with free kicks given for very little and Lewis’ inability to maintain a discipline – having spend his credibility cheaply – failing to keep a flowing game. Having flashed yellow cards for little – or ignored them on an ad hoc basis – he decided that a knee high tackle by Jamie Reckord on a Bradford City player which was reckless and did not get the ball should only be a (another) yellow card rather than the red which the laws state.

The football match ruined the game petered out so the only thing on show was Lewis and his ego. He booked Jake Speight for reasons utterly unclear and let us make no mistake about this when the Referee is booking a player and no one has any idea what it is for then the Referee is in error pretty much all the time. Perhaps it was “decent” and considering with the resultant free kick being taken from where a Bradford City player had won the ball rather than where Speight was one would guess it is.

Lewis watches players commit the technical offences that the laws of the game he is empowered to enforce are broken and chooses to ignore them but he will not ignore someone talking out of turn to him. The schoolmasterly ego of the football Referee that can forgive anything but becomes zealous when someone talks out of turn to him never does not turn my stomach.

Bradford City’s Jon Worthington was sent off as he tried to clear the ball and caught a Northampton Town striker – only the second time he has caused the official to blow his whistle – which as a decision smacked against Lewis’ decision to avoid booking Webster. Why Webster (or any player, including some of the Bradford City player) can commit offences that go unpunished and Worthington is booked for the only two offences he is pulled up for shows Lewis being swept up in the emotion.

It is the late in the game, there is a foul and Lewis gets wrapped up in the excitement which is exactly what he is on the field not to do.

In the last minute Kevin Ellison was booked for stamping his foot on the ground perhaps out of frustration felt by the rest of us that he wanted to be involved in a football match but instead had to be a bit part player in the tiresome afternoon exhibition with one man at the centre of it. If only Lewis’ would tell us what exactly it was that Ellison did that he thought was the equal of the knee height tackle, the kicking the ball away, the being cheeky of previous bookings.

Rob Lewis – the man who once did not see Pedro Mendes’ goal at Old Trafford – made the afternoon about Rob Lewis and as a result ruined what could have been a good football match.

One hopes he reads this match report, it is all about him, because he made sure he was the centre of attention.

Just as the man wanted.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

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

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.

After Saturday’s refereeing horror show, look who’s in town on Saturday…

As the dust settles on Saturday’s controversial refereeing display from Mick Russell, a referee will again be the centre of attention this weekend as Bradford City’s home game with Macclesfield is to be officiated by Stuart Attwell.

The youngest person ever to referee a Premier League match, Attwell has been ‘rested’ since officiating a 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Sunderland in September. That afternoon Liverpool scored in highly controversial circumstances, after Attwell had awarded Sunderland a free kick in their own half.  Mackems defender Michael Turner laid the ball back to keeper Simon Mignolet to take the free kick, only for Attwell to determine the kick had been taken and allow Liverpool to run through and score.

Attwell was dropped for making such a blunder, and has yet to referee a game since. We have the dubious pleasure of his return on Saturday.

The 26-year-old is well known for a series of errors, most famously awarding Reading a phantom goal in their game against Watford in 2008. His list of controversies is long, and City were the victims of his whistle-happy antics at Morecambe last season where a truly horrendous performance was capped off by a ridiculous sending off for Gareth Evans.

At least we’ve been warned what to expect.

So City v Macclesfield is the first tentative step back for apparently one of the country’s brightest referees. No doubt the Premier League spotlight will make its way to Valley Parade as the powers-that-be judge whether his break has enabled him to improve his decision-making – but it is worth questioning quite why any Football League match should be used as a testing ground for an inept Premier League referee.

One hopes that this will lead to a low-key afternoon without any major decisions; because despite the presence of a famous face, there should be no doubt who is not the star of the show on Saturday.

Blackpool undermine the technology debate

To all Football League supporters but Preston fans, the performance and strategy adopted by newly-promoted Blackpool in the Premier League this season is something we should take pride in. True they’ve had a couple of heavy beatings, but their unwillingness to compromise on their attacking principles and refusal to break the bank on star players is a highly commendable approach that it would be heart-warming to see succeed – especially with all the usual pundits ridiculing them for it.

But as manager Ian Holloway snarled into the interviewer’s microphone after refereeing decisions contributed to a 3-2 home defeat to Man City, it suddenly became difficult to muster sympathy or retain the fantasy that this was one of us sticking it to the Premier League elite.

Holloway called for the introduction of video technology, citing that three crucial decisions which went against his team – a disallowed Blackpool goal at 0-0, a borderline offside Man City opener and a foul in the build up to City’s second – would have otherwise been correctly called by the officials. He pointed out the ludicrousness of the fact TV viewers around the world had access to TV replays in seconds, while the referee has no such help in evaluating whether his decisions might be correct.

But he called for video technology to be introduced to the Premier League, and perhaps the Championship, only. He said, “It doesn’t have to go down to every bit of football, it doesn’t, just the top flight. If you can’t afford it for everywhere else it doesn’t matter…it won’t matter about the 1st division 2nd division, non-league, it won’t matter.”

Given this was only Blackpool’s eighth top flight match, it was disappointing to see how quickly the club appears to be turning it’s back on the lower leagues which have been the Tangerines home for the previous 29 years. Sure, the Premier League has the resources and the TV technology to implement the use of video evidence, but what about the rest of us? Are our games less significant? Is it right we play to a different set of rules?

As I’ve argued previously, to me it seems wrong that similar incidents in a game between two Premier League teams and two Football League teams could be subject to a different set of rules simply because one league is more prosperous. Contrary to popular belief, this sport is not all about 20 clubs and the actions taken over the past 18 years in pushing the focus so heavily onto the top flight has had damaging consequences in the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Other sports like Rugby League have been happy to operate under different rules; with Super League employing video technology during televised games and the National Divisions below it having no such support Super League and National Division games shown live on TV employing video technology, but non-televised fixtures having no extra support, but in many ways this is a sport which has had to sell out its core values in order to increase its popularity. There is not even promotion and relegation to and from the Super League anymore.

But above all that, the argument that Holloway made shows exactly why introducing technology could prove a bad mistake for the sport. Once the tap is turned slightly, it will be difficult to switch off.

The main argument put forward by the advocates of technology is to use it purely for settling debates over whether the ball crossed the line. But on Sunday Holloway was arguing technology should be used to settle offside calls. Fine, add that to the new rules too. But wait, he’s also upset that there was a foul in the build up to the second Man City goal, which TV replays could have highlighted to the referee. So do we allow technology to be used for such incidents too?

And it goes on and on. Because if technology is used for one aspect of the game, pretty soon every wronged manager will be telling the press it’s a disgrace if technology isn’t used to settle the type of controversy their team has just suffered from too. Suddenly the game is in chaos and the line between what is fair and not fair is blurred completely. The tap can’t be stopped.

Equally, both the glorious and worst thing about football is its subjectivity. I bet Man City fans would argue Carlos Tevez didn’t foul the Blackpool player in the build-up to the second goal, would video replays have changed the referee’s mind? We can all hold our own opinion over whether the goal should have been allowed or disallowed, but I bet we all wouldn’t universally agree.

How long, after technology had been introduced in this way, would it take for a losing manager to question the validity of the judgement? “I don’t care what the video referee says, that was never a foul. He’s clearly never played the game before.”

Finally, there’s the potential use of video technology in teams’ tactics, which could be to the detriment of the spectacle. If, say, managers were allowed to call for a video replay of a disputed decision, a team defending a lead could make it part of their time-wasting tactics which are aimed at disrupting the flow of the opposition and preventing them building attacking momentum. You’re 1-0 up in the 89th minute and you get a chance to stop the game by asking the officials to review a trivial decision, thereby disrupting the match. Imagine how frustrating that would be as a supporter.

We can all feel sympathy for how Holloway and Blackpool fans felt after their team was robbed of a credible point or even a famous victory, and we all know how horrible that feeling of injustice can be when our team is on the wrong end of bad refereeing decisions – goal line technology at Morecambe’s Christie Park in April 2009 when Peter Thorne’s effort appeared to cross the line, for example, and Bradford City might have achieved promotion. But video technology has assumed some form of idealistic solution in the minds of too many people, as though it would instantly solve all of the game’s problems and football would always be fair because of its deployment.

There has to be other solutions to the problems, such as more officials and closer alignment between the training of footballers and referees. Sure decisions will still be wrong, but this is a game played by humans not robots and if standards could be significantly improved it would be easier to accept fewer occasions where costly mistakes are made.

Bring in the technology for the Premier League only, and it’s almost as though football operates under two codes. It wouldn’t take long for a Football League manager to blame a defeat on the lack of technology, citing that, “if we were in the Premier League that decision wouldn’t have happened, how is that fair?”

And given the historic difficulties newly-promoted clubs have in staying up in England’s top flight for more than a couple of seasons, what price for that lower league manager complaining to one day be Ian Holloway?

Video technology deserves a sensible debate

Despite two entertaining second round games it has not been a good day for the World Cup. Frank Lampard’s shot for England which clearly crossed the line – wrongly not awarded a goal – and Carlos Tevez’s offside opener for Argentina against Mexico – which the assistant referee realised he’d got wrong after TV replays in the stadium, but which the referee could not reverse – have cranked up the volume on calls for video technology.

Every pundit, commentator and rent-a-quote manager has joined in with condemning FIFA and Sepp Blatter for not bringing in video technology. The spectre of Mexico players gathering to watch big screen replays before hounding the assistant referee, leaving the officials having to push through a call they now knew they had wrong, added to the farcical nature. TV replays showed in seconds the decisions were wrong, was the argument for both games, so why ignore the benefits? Sadly the standard of this debate has the hallmarks of much which is wrong with the modern game.

For one thing there seems to be no attempt to understand why the technology isn’t being used. Most pundits incorrectly believe the argument against is simply it will slow down the game, but it’s more a case of subjectivity and expense. Not every decision is as clear cut as Lampard’s ‘goal’ – hours of pundits arguing after games shows that – and the same rules should apply for every football match.

It’s all very well using video technology when there are 60+ cameras covering a match, as every World Cup match and the majority of top flight games is subject too. But football is more than just the Premier League and international tournaments. And during a period where the beautiful game has moved further and further away from ordinary people – witness the thousands of empty seats for more World Cup matches in Africa – it’s one saving grace we all still play the same game.

For while TV could quickly prove Lampard had scored and that Tevez was offside, it couldn’t prove the same in a match at Valley Parade and it couldn’t prove the same for the Dog and Duck on a Sunday morning. How can the pyramid football system be fair if at one level clubs get the benefit of extra help and other clubs do not? England are out the World Cup and it might be due to the lack of technology – though some woeful tactics and poor defending can’t be overlooked – but other teams have lost out of promotion or suffered relegation on similar occurrences.

At Valley Parade there are typically two cameras capturing the game from the Midland Road stand. Never mind the cost of linking up a monitor with a feed to the referee, for him to be able to make a proper call Valley Parade would need to have cameras around the ground covering all angles. As would every other stadium in England and around the world, and while the Dog and Duck can be ruled out on the grounds they are an amateur side, such large parts of professional football cannot.

Not that Alan Green or Alan Hansen or Harry Redknapp would bother to consider this. Modern football is all about the top players, the top clubs, the top competitions. But if technology was brought in just for the haves, there’s more reason for the have nots to feel further alienated.

Of course it’s frustrating Lampard’s goal hasn’t stood. It’s equally wrong when poor refereeing decisions have cost Bradford City. But football needs to find solutions that will universally work rather than thinking only of the few.

Which is where the players come in, not that anyone has considered this. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neur must have known Lampard’s shot crossed the line, why didn’t he hold his hands up? More realistically Argentina’s players knew their opener shouldn’t have counted and that the officals were compromised. Why couldn’t they allow Mexico to run through and score straight from kick off, saying we want to beat you fair and square so let’s go back level?

Winning in football is all that matters. But if the video debate is all about taking human error out of the equation, that other less than desirable human trait – cheating – shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

The emotional freeze

Supporting Bradford City has become miserable, gloomy and demoralising – and this feeling just isn’t going away.

Defeat at Bury this evening means it’s one win, one draw and five defeats since the start of December. We can officially decree that we’re undergoing a disastrous winter – with a run of form to match the Spring of 2008/2009 collapse and the Autumn of 2007/2008 calamity. Thank goodness we don’t play during the Summer. We’re desperate for an end to the despair, for now just the short term fix of three points will do to raise spirits.

But top of the ever-growing list of worries is the long-term effect of this disastrous run.

Tonight’s game followed a well-worn and familiar script. City were far from out-played by in-form opposition and yet again the evidence suggested the gap in quality between the Bantams and the majority of the League Two promotions is minimal. As per usual, City deserved more than they earned. Chances, possession and territorial advantage seem to be areas they win every week. Goals for verus against, a battle won less often.

And just like the last few weeks, it was a refereeing decision which ultimately cost the team. With the score 1-1 and half an hour on the clock, Stephen Dawson had charged into the area with just Matt Glennon to beat. The debut keeper rushed out to reach the ball, but pulled away from making a challenge after Dawson tapped it past him. The Shakers’ midfielder then hurled himself, untouched, to the floor and the referee Scott Mathieson – the man who awarded Rochdale two hotly disputed penalties when City were beaten 3-0 at Spotland last season – pointed to the spot.

It can perhaps be argued that, by initially attempting to make a challenge before pulling out, Glennon invited Dawson to make the tumble and ensured it looked a penalty to Mathieson and his linesman, both a fair distance away. Yet the lack of contact and obvious intent of Dawson to win a spot kick rather than go for goal cannot be considered anything but cheating.

Ryan Lowe converted the penalty and, as he wheeled off in celebration, began shouting towards the livid City fans behind the goal who’d reacted angrily to the penalty decision. It was as though Lowe was upset that supporters could have the temerity to question his team’s honesty. Well Ryan, I had a perfect view of the incident and your mate dived.

That moment was ultimately to prove decisive. Bury had taken the lead when Mike Jones was able to tap the ball home after Glennon had saved an initial effort. City levelled quickly when a scramble in the box lead to Efe Sodje scoring an own goal, and though Bury often threatened a nervous back four, the visitors – forced to play in old Bury white shirts due to a kit clash – gave as good as they got with Chris Brandon and Scott Neilson causing problems out wide.

But the penalty set back momentum and confidence, it wasn’t until the second half that signs of fight from the temporary whites returned. Numerous chances were created, the best a Brandon effort from a tight angle which smacked the outside of the post. Tellingly though, home keeper Wayne Brown was barely tested with efforts on target too straight and often tame.

Omar Daley came on and provided some spark, Rory Boulding was introduced later and looked anonymous. His older brother battled hard but his towering marker Ben Futcher was always going to have the beating of him in the air – how James Hanson was missed. Gareth Evans again disappointed, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn had some decent spells on top but at other times were outgunned. The possibility of a deserved equaliser remained up until an uneventful four minutes of stoppage time.

But deep down, you never really believed it would come. The players can put together some good moves, but confidence and composure is draining with each recent setback and it leads to possession too often been surrendered. The spirit and determination to get hold of the ball and charge forward was still there, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem as strong as it once was. Because of all these reasons and more, the Bantams look a team short on quality right now.

But the downbeat mood is not just evident on the pitch, within the away end there was a strange subdued mood to the evening. At times strong vocal support was offered to the players, at others there was an eeire silence and resignation. City supporters are split about the reasons for the season’s nosedive and, specifically, over Stuart McCall, and this seemed to manifest itself into a lack of atmosphere so unlike typically following City on the road.

We’re all just miserable. We can’t agree on what the cause of the latest run of failure is, we certainly can’t agree on the solution. The mood seemed dark, the belief had slipped. Why are we here tonight? Because we want to be, or because we feel we should be? Suddenly watching City is becoming a chore rather than a pleasure.

So at Gigg Lane we sat in muted disunity. We were freezing cold with a ghastly wind further lowering the temperature at regular intervals. We watched our struggling team beaten by opposition which had cheated us to prosper. We’re fed up of this dismal predictability and, with failure such a typical feature over the last 10 years, we’re almost bored.

Of course this can’t go on forever and, when the pain of tonight dies down, those of us who were at Gigg Lane will be able to take comfort from how well the Bantams played in the second half.  City will eventually win again and we’ll all be able to start feeling better.

But the longer this run of poor form goes on, the greater the long-term damage is likely to prove.

Clarke says Leslie and Quinn have cheated him

City’s central defender Matthew Clarke has branded Steven Leslie a cheat after the Shrewsbury Town midfielder “fell to his knees” to have a penalty awarded in the game with City yesterday.

The Bantams defender said of his lightweight opponent

The first [booking] for the penalty was the most blatant dive I’ve ever seen. He just collapsed to his knees and I thought he was the one getting booked for diving.

Watching from the Kop stand in line with the incident one could only concur with Clarke’s view. The distance between Clarke and Leslie could be measured in feet, not inches, and many shared the City man’s assumption that the player was booked for a simulated fall.

That the Referee Peter Quinn sent him off Clarke continued

I’m absolutely disgusted. I’ve been sent off before with two yellows and felt that only one was justified but I’ve never been 100 per cent cheated like this.

Clarke talked of the second booking saying

I don’t think the referee even saw the other incident. Hibbert just touched me, clipped his own ankle and fell to the floor.

Even should one assume that Clarke fouled “diving” Leslie and later “falling” Hibbert then examples of both offences went unpunished with card or word later in the game leaving Clarke to conclude that Quinn simply cheated him – and by extension the club and the supporters – to give more harsh punishments against him than other players received.

It is hard to argue with Clarke’s opinions. That one player is booked for his every transgressions while a player such as Drew Broughton can be given one yellow card for four elbowing offences boggles the mind and asks serious questions about referees and the motivation of referees in giving their decisions but while Clarke lambastes Quinn I have to admit a level of sympathy for the diminutive official.

Quinn’s job is not made easier by one player who – in the words of Clarke – cheats by blatantly diving – and another who – Clarke’s words again – “falls over his own feet” to get another player sent off. That Quinn is not able to correctly see these ruses for what they are – cheating – does not excuse Steven Leslie and Dave Hibbert for (in the opinion of Clarke) acting in such a way in the first place.

Perhaps Clarke would join in a commonly heard statement on the way out of the game yesterday that if Rochdale were good at football then Shrewsbury Town are good at cheating and that players who behave in the way that Clarke describes are shoddy disgraces to football.

Clarke feels as if he has been cheated. One suspects that were he not wary of an FA charge he could easily name the three people who have cheated him – and by extension – us.

Bad Ref Afternoon

I’m becoming increasingly fed up with paying my money to watch games refereed by officials so one-sided you have to wonder whether they are cheating.

There is a problem in football and Andy Utley’s comment on the BfB report on the Rotherham United game sums it up. Tired from asking the question “bias or bloody rubbish?” supporters such as Andy – and myself – are frustrated at the inaction of the game’s authorities to these Bad Ref Afternoons are voting with their wallets.

Andy’s comments about contacting the Football League about a Referee’s performance are far from unique in the BfB post bag and a good few City fans after the Oldham/Blackpool/Southend/Shrewsbury games a few years ago wrote to the football authorities to complain about what they saw as bias in the officials and all got the same response of “say what you like about the Refs but never say they are cheating.”

Not that Andy’s comments – or my thoughts on the subject – are the only voice to be heard. Chris Barlow on BfB – late on an evening – added

To talk of conspiracy between referees against BCFC due to SM’s attitude even defies my current drunken state.

Chris has a valid point too and one which Tony Pulis the Stoke manager would agree with – he would not see Referees as against City but rather suggest that Lee Probert is just not giving the right decisions. The flaw in the idea that Referees are blighted by a bias against Bradford City is that they have seemingly been for Bradford City and while aspersion are not to be cast our chairmen are no whiter than any others.

This is countered by the idea that it is rare for a team who wins a game to have a lasting memory of any referee. Think back now to the last time City got what you could call a favour from an official. It is a much harder task than recalling the last time you stomped away in anger.

There is an attitude in football that any cheating in the game is always detected and thus the suggestion of cheating is always wrong. This is often and obviously untrue. In League Two Accrington players have been banned for betting on their own team to lose while at the other end of professional football the likes of Juventus were relegated for fixing matches.

We see that cheating is commonplace – certainly more commonplace than the Football League’s terse replies to genuine concerns suggest – with the Italian example being a very high profile collection of games in which teams had favourable Referees. One wonders if any Inter supporter trooping away from a game with Juve, AC Milan et al complaining about the offside goal that the Ref “just got wrong” was told that “referee’s don’t cheat.”

The word “cheat” has a strange set of connotations in football. It is a given that players cheat all the time – when Thierry Henry did it in the World Cup play-offs the reaction was a condemnation not for the player for blatantly abusing the rules but for the officials for not spotting the abuse – and in some cases plaudits are expected when players show any honesty at all. I recall being invited to admire Cristiano Ronaldo by a work mate because he had “cut diving out of his game” as if the fact that he no longer cheated was something to be celebrated rather than the fact he had condemned.

Managers tend to avoid the “cheat” word for fear of the FA sanction it brings although Stockport County’s Jim Gannon feared it not – and fell foul of it not – when he stated that he believed that having kicked up a fuss over one Referee’s poor performance officials were penalising County as a result. Gannon was never charged by the FA and the comments fizzled out after his move to Motherwell. He was last seen in colourful debate with Hugh Dallas about the standard of Scots officials.

The manager’s secret language though contains a number of phrases the heart of which is the asserting that the Referees have shown a bias. From “FIFA will be pleased” to “You don’t get those decisions at Old Trafford” they say meaning that bias has been shown against their side but stopping short of airing the words. Stuart McCall employed some Referee code saying that a recent official would find the decision embarrassing meaning simply that the man in the middle was wrong. As a result the people of Carlisle grew angry suggesting once again that anyone who questions the officials should be made to shut up.

McCall’s comments after the Carlisle United game echoed Andy’s as the City manager added that he felt sorry for Bantams supporters who had paid to come North on a Tuesday night only to see a game ruined by an official and his decision making. Tellingly in the spat between McCall, his old mate Greg Abbott and the local Carlisle newspaper the referee of the day – Tony Bates – kept his mouth shut.

Therein is the problem – and perhaps the solution – in Refereeing. For ninety minutes a week officials issue edicts to players which ripple through to managers and to supporters but once that ninety minutes is up they walk away from the ground never to utter a word about the game again (stopping only, perhaps, to summarily judge that someone has sworn at them in the car park).

Managers talk about games, players talk about games, fans talk about games but referees will not. Indeed it is in the Laws of the Game that officials are not to use body language as signals inform supporters of the reasons for decisions so the generous Ref who points to his palm to signal handball is risking the wrath of his superiors who would have him make, but never explain, decisions.

With that in mind Bates could not mime a second tug to show all why Simon Ramsden was sent off at Carlisle and Lee Probert could not make the dive motion he obviously though the Bantams defenders were doing when the Rotherham’s Broughton’s elbows were flying around. Perhaps this is for the best. Referees already seem to be falling into Pantomime, we do not want it to be mime.

Referee do make a detailed report for the FA after every game but trying to get a look at that report is out of the question. A polite mail to the authorities, a raging demand as a consumer of the football product, a pleasing begging letter. No matter what you are not seeing why the man who ruined your trip to Cumbria did what he did. It is a policy which is supercilious to the point of an insult.

Supercilious and utterly unnecessary. It is well within possibilities that a referee could fill in his report online with the ability to add a note on every yellow card or goal given, to make general comments on the game and give reasons that on a Monday morning every fan who had spent good money going to a match could log on and read.

So if Lee Probert had made a couple of notes on his match report: “44 mins – I felt that Ramsden was injured not the contact from the player and not by an elbow” and “3-2 Rotherham – I thought the Free Kick was taken from within an acceptable area of the offence penalised” then at least supporters would have a reason for the decisions. Communication is important in increasing respect and trust. It is good to talk, I know I heard it on an advert.

Sadly though the line from officials is not that they want respect – as the campaign is titled – but rather fealty and this is a problem for football. Supporters have past being tired with this position and have moved into an action of inaction.

Me, Andy and many others are fed up with paying money (and spending a day of the weekend) watching referees that behave in the way we so often see and knowing genuine worries will be summarily dismissed out of hand by the FL simply which only serves to thumb the nose of the footballing authorities at the supporters. The outcome seems to be that more and more supporters decide against a trip to Barnet or Exeter because of the risk of one of these “bad ref afternoons”.

There are other reasons why football trips are less enjoyable now that they were ten or fifteen years ago but no matter what list one draws up the quality of refereeing is a significant reason why a fan can’t justify spending the thick end of £50 on an away trip.

The culture of secrecy that officials live under not only leaves supporters asking the “bent or bloody rubbish” question but also creates a set of conditions in which cheating referees would be allowed to prosper. Start to address the issue with refereeing by creating a feedback loop in which fans can at least find out why decisions are made and one shines a cleansing light into the world of officials.

Failure to address this issue and the game carries on turning off supporters by tiny, significant and avoidable increments.

Where does the truth lie anymore as Carlisle newspaper calls for Stuart McCall to be fined

McCall is choosing the lazy route of attacking officialdom when he would be wiser to deal with the indiscipline of his own players.

In the wake of Bradford City’s 3-0 defeat to Carlisle United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this week, Carlisle’s local paper, Times & Star, has run a sports opinion piece calling for Bantams boss Stuart McCall to be fined for his post-match comments that the decision to send off his full back Simon Ramsden was an “embarrassing” one.

Stuart was upset with referee Tony Bates after a second yellow card was issued to Ramsden on the stroke of half time for tugging on the shirt of home winger Matty Robson. With the game evenly poised at 0-0, it was clearly the decisive point of the evening and one would assume it was fair both managers were allowed to pass their judgement on it, yet with McCall disputing it and home manager Greg Abbott arguing it was a just sending off, it seems the paper has ruled one opinion is correct and one opinion is wrong – so Stuart should be fined and censured.

It’s become an increasingly frustrating aspect that, at lower league level, managers so often disagree on the way key decisions go and the local media falls in line with sticking up for their own. Within the Times & Star piece it even admits it is “easier to throw flames at an opposition manager rather than the blokes we speak to every week.” Imagine if the boot was on the other foot and it had been a Carlisle player controversially sent off, would the Times & Star be calling for their manager to be fined if he’d labelled the decision “embarrassing”, or would they be issuing opinion pieces calling for video technology to overturn travesties of justice?

The sad fact is that a discussion about the rights and wrongs of Ramsden’s dismissal becomes almost impossible as both sides feverishly stick up for their team. Looking at the moment on TV again, it’s clear Ramsden holds back Robson as he tries to run forward. Yet crucially, Carlisle don’t have the ball after Scott Neilson, a few yards away from Ramsden and Robson, fairly wins possession and is running the other direction as Ramsden grabs the shirt. It is therefore not clear if it really was a free kick, and it certainly isn’t clear if a yellow card is deserved. This is a highly subjective decision, so how anyone from Carlisle can rule it cut and dry and attack anyone who questions it is beyond me.

It’s also worth pointing out the backdrop of poor refereeing McCall went into the game still seething from. Imagine if Bates had been in charge for City’s game against Rotherham three days earlier? Lee Probert decided to allow Millers striker Drew Braughton and defender Pablo Mills off the hook for a series of crude and highly physical challenges that left home defenders lying on the floor in a daze and Michael Boulding on crutches for the Christmas period. Rotherham got away with it and won the game, then in the next game McCall sees one of his players sent off for something minor in comparison.

In the Times & Star piece it is ludicrously argued “Mr Bates was doing the game a service by dismissing Ramsden, not ruining it.” Perhaps McCall should post them a DVD copy of the Rotherham game to find out their opinions on elbows. Funnily enough the Rotherham Advertiser didn’t feel it fit to mention their team’s questionable methods.

Which sums up the sheer hypocrisy of local papers. The Times & Star can climb on its high horse and write that, “Stuart McCall should know that “embarrassment” is what the rest of us feel when managers swap decency for unjustified venom”, but soon after they’ll be devoting column inches to their grumbles of their own manager – as they have before. Local papers are, to be fair, only replicating the behaviour of their manager, but they are writing for an audience of their own supporters and trying to stay on friendly terms with the boss so they can keep selling papers in their area, the moral high ground is not theirs to claim.

Ultimately, it’s time their was more honesty in the lower reaches of the game. Why managers can’t admit to have benefited from unjust decisions is a question officials should be pondering, why local newspaper hacks can’t form their own opinions instead of what the manager says is another readers might want to bring up.

The Times & Star accuses McCall of “laziness”, the Bradford City manager would be within his rights to throw such an accusation firmly back at the finger pointer.

As Seen On TV

I’ve got a bad throat. That means I can’t shout at the referee, which would normally take all the fun out of going to a football match. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

In a game where six goals were scored by five different players, it may seem churlish to spend much time discussing one man, even when that one man comes straight to Valley Parade from the Premier League. So, for a while I shall leave all mention of the referee. But you have been warned.

City were forced into one change from last week, with Steve Williams failing a fitness test, Simon Ramsden moving to centre back and Jonathan Bateson coming in at right back. What looked like a fairly predictable 4-4-2 showed rather more fluidity than might have been expected, albeit frequently at the cost of depriving the team of any width.

Simon Eastwood had a mixed game. As early as the fifth minute he was saving with his legs to send a shot over the bar and two or three other excellent first half stops kept City in touch. The benefit of one of those saves was, however, very short-lived once Kevin Ellison put home the rebound for Rotherham’s equaliser. Lee Bullock had reacted first to an earlier rebound off a Simon Whaley free kick – of which more in a moment – to give City an early lead. But another Ellison goal following some neat, but defendable, build-up play saw the visitors go in at half-time with a 2-1 lead.

Whatever the team talk had been, Luke O’Brien’s surging run and Michael Flynn’s crashing shot in the first minute of the second half looked to have set up an exhilarating pre-Christmas cracker. Andy Warrington in the visitors’ goal (who is nowhere near the superannuable age he may seem) had had little to trouble him in the first half. Now he had to make one save at the foot of his near post to beat out an Evans pile driver; another to tip over Bullock’s shot after an Evans run and cross; and a third, toward the latter stages, when a 30 yard thunderbolt from James O’Brien looked a certain goal.

Meanwhile, at the other end, the now largely unemployed Simon Eastwood was tasked by nothing worse than the occasional back pass to his left foot. That is until the 78th minute when he was beaten by a quickly taken Roberts free kick from just over the half-way line. The lob went over him as he scrambled back to his line, entering the net via the cross bar to put the visitors 3-2 in front. Their fourth goal, two minutes from the end, was a tap in for Drewe Broughton, which brings me back to the start of the game and all the bits I’ve so far missed out – each and every one of them featuring Lee Probert, our star visitor from the Premier League.

Only a few weeks ago everyone at Valley Parade was bemoaning the woeful performance of the referee against Accrington, one Mr Cook. Bad as his display was, City still had only themselves to blame for not sending Stanley home empty handed. Mr Probert showed how it should be done. He’s a Premier League ref and they do things a little differently. They’re on first name or even nickname terms with the players; they know who has a reputation for diving and who pulls shirts all the time; and they are more likely to play the advantage rule, as Mr P did, to his credit, several times.

However, they also like to talk – and talk and talk and talk. Mr Probert illustrated this perfectly in the first five minutes. He adjudged, quite correctly that the aforementioned Drewe Broughton had struck Simon Ramsden with his elbow. Broughton must have considered himself well and truly told off, judging by the length of the lecture. The rest of us judged him extremely fortune not to be shown a card of either colour, despite the early stage of the game. (What difference, by the way, does it make if you commit a bookable offence five or thirty-five minutes into a game? I bet Mr Probert can answer that one.)

Broughton, however, had clearly not been sufficiently well told off, because in the ninth minute he swapped defenders and Matt Clarke felt the power of his elbow. This time even Mr Probert had to produce a yellow card and leave us wondering what might have happened if he had done the job right four minutes earlier. Playing with ten men after nine minutes tends to have its effect on the game.

But within four more minutes Mr Probert set an entirely different standard for what constitutes a bookable offence. Lee Bullock hung a leg out just outside the centre circle. It wasn’t a dangerous tackle and it was his first foul. Perhaps 13 minutes into a game is acceptable for a yellow card to be produced for an innocuous offence. Bullock shrugged his shoulders at the waving referee, while others tried in vain to point to the disparity with the much more serious and dangerous offence which had previously resulted in a telling off.

But, having set the 13 minute standard for innocuous fouls in midfield, Mr P had changed his mind by the 17th minute. Michael Boulding, with his back to goal and the ball at his feet, attempted to turn Pablo Mills. Mr Mills is not noted for his gentility, as the City physio will be able to confirm when Boulding’s injury has been fully assessed. For hacking Boulding to the floor from behind, a few yards outside his own penalty area, Mills’ punishment was a free kick. Not a card; not a lecture of even the shortest duration; not even a firm stare from the ref. It could, in fact, be argued that Mills won his side a distinct advantage for the rest of the game, given that Boulding remained on the pitch for just three more minutes. The standard had changed back again. The only justice was that this free kick gave City the lead.

Lectures, bookings, goals and other stoppages produced just two minutes of added time, but that was enough to see Simon Ramsden flattened again after yet another leap from Broughton. Neither Mr Probert nor his fourth official, who must have been within a very few yards of the incident, saw anything wrong and play was restarted with a throw in, but only after Stuart McCall came on to the pitch and Ronnie Moore troubled the referee with a few words of his own.

Just five minutes into the second half, Gareth Evans was away down the right flank, outpacing Pablo Mills with some ease until, just in front of the assistant referee, Mills took both his legs, ensuring that the threatening run came to an abrupt and illegal end. So, for his second blatant offence of the afternoon, each depriving a striker of a run on goal, Mills had to be punished. And aren’t Mr Probert’s talking-to’s severe? You just ask Mills, because that’s exactly what he got. In another part of the pitch Lee Bullock must surely have been wondering what he had done wrong.

Within five minutes of that Mills lecture, Michael Flynn was late with a sliding tackle and there was a holding of breath from the City faithful. Anything might be about to happen to Flynny, but the actual result, a yellow card, while entirely correct, came as a great relief.

Which brings us back to that third goal from half-way and another difference between League Two and Premier League officials. We are used to ‘the correct blade of grass’ syndrome with our refs; perhaps we should watch more TV to spot how far away from the foul you can take the free kick if you have a Premier League ref. This one was so far away that it brought Stuart McCall on to the pitch again, this time without the excuse of an injured player.

A pretty obvious hand ball, so clear that even the handler, Nicky Law, almost gave himself up, produced nothing and Michael Flynn being pulled back brought only a theatrical wave of the arms from Mr P. Two very decent penalty claims, either of which could have changed the course of the game, were not seen. The additional five minutes, which became six, brought another booking. Matt Clarke must have spoken out of turn, unless, of course, Mr Probert had by now reverted to the Lee Bullock standard for yellow cards.

The game ended in stunned silence from the home crowd. City had not deserved to lose and this time the standard of refereeing really had had a major impact, many times over, on the outcome of the game. I almost (but not quite) could wish for the return of Mr Singh.

But I should end on a positive. There were some splendid displays in claret, with Bullock, Flynn and Ramsden to the fore, but none more so than the man who never missed a header all day and made sure his clearances were definitively cleared. He has his detractors and is not the most cultured of players, but Matt Clarke deserved any Man of the Match award. Not that I heard who was actually given it, so furious was I with our visitor from on high.

One plus one equals, erm, one?

The lawyer still inside me – I’ve been retired nearly four years now – can’t resist a quick look at Lee Bullock’s suspension. It’s not the rights and wrongs of whether he should have been given his two yellow cards against Hereford – Bullock himself is quoted as saying it was his own fault he was sent off. It’s not even the rights and wrongs of any of his earlier yellow cards, especially that one from Mr Attwell at Morecambe for an innocuous foul on the half-way line, when Mr A didn’t wave his piece of plastic after several more serious offences were committed in more dangerous areas of the pitch.

What gives me pause for lawyerly thought is the received assumption that Bullock will be serving just a one game suspension, despite having been sent off and, in the same game, having been given his fifth yellow card of the season to date. I pause further to wonder whether this ‘received’ assumption might yet be changed by a letter not yet received from the Football Association, perhaps one of the thirty million somewhere in a Royal Mail sorting office. More likely, these days, even the FA have access to e mail and fax machines. So there’s still the possibility of a different length of suspension.

But let me carry on with the one game assumed ban and quote a passage or two from the F A’s own disciplinary procedure. Paragraph 6(a) (i) of that procedure covers five recorded cautions – ‘suspended automatically for a period covering one first team match’. Nice and easy, then.

Although I shall need to come back to paragraph 6(a), let us move quickly on to 6(b), which deals with ‘players sent off under law 12(7)’ – two bookings in the same game, to me and you. The player ‘will be suspended automatically from FTCM commencing forthwith, until such time as his Club’s First Team has completed its next FTCM.’ (FTCM is a first team competitive match)

Now they may look identical provisions, but I assure you they are not. The reason they are not identical is back in paragraph 6(a) again. As far down as 6(a) (viii) the procedure says that ‘Any period of suspension arising from recording cautions will commence on the seventh day following the date of his last offence.’ (It says ‘recording’, but it must mean ‘recorded’. The lawyerly instinct for looking at individual words also survives, I fear.)

So, now let’s put the two pieces together and see what happens. The two-yellows-in-one-game suspension starts ‘immediately’ and the five-bookings suspension doesn’t start for seven days. No problem there, then, since our next game just happens to be seven days after the Hereford game that gave rise to both suspensions.

But just think how it might have been if the fixture list had been only a fraction different. Suppose we’d been playing Port Vale in the JPT during this midweek. If that had been the case, the two-yellows-in-one game suspension, starting immediately after the Hereford game, would have ruled Bullock out of the midweek fixture. But the five-bookings suspension, commencing on the seventh day following the date of his last offence, wouldn’t have kicked in until seven days after Hereford, i.e. at Macclesfield. The fixture list and the FA’s procedural rules would then have combined to ensure that Bullock served a two game suspension.

So, I ask myself, can it be right that the length of suspension is determined by a quirk in the fixture list? Well, to me the obvious answer is ‘No, that can’t be right.’ And that takes me and my judicial mind right back to where I started. I was used to dealing in what legally speaking are called concurrent and consecutive terms. In short, three months and three months concurrent still add up to three months; three months and three months consecutive add up to six months. I would only use concurrent sentences where the offences arose out of the same circumstances. By definition four of Lee Bullock’s cautions arose out of different circumstances in different matches.

Does one ‘first team game’ and ‘one first team game’ add up to one or two? If the answer is ‘It depends whether you have a first team game in less than seven days’, then the rules are pretty poor and, I would say, unjust. I doubt if the answer does depend on that, although I may be being kinder to the F A than they deserve. I believe the rules should mean that one plus one equals two, no matter when your next first team game is due to be played. I doubt if the F A deal in concurrent sentences. And that means that Lee Bullock should miss Macclesfield and Notts County. But the FA are the only people who really know the answer – unless, of course, Lee Bullock knew all along and deliberately got himself that second yellow a few minutes from the end!!

It won’t be long before the FA tell Bradford City either that their own rules are unfair or that Lee Bullock will miss two games. Anyone ready to place their bets now?

Valentines Cards

No matter what they do some people will never be popular. They will watch as others are given plaudits and get few of their own. On birthdays, at Christmas, they will get few cards.

It seems that few of the Bradford City squad will count amongst these unpopular ranks with a series of performances this season suggesting that the players contrast to those who took the field in claret and amber last season by virtue of that fact that they seem to like each other. In this 1-0 victory over Hereford United the kind of spirit – of collectiveness – was evident and proved telling.

City have a side which works hard for each other. It is raw and mistakes are made but those mistakes are viewed as team errors rather than the dagger staring which followed problems last year. Stuart McCall talks about how the mid-eighties team he played in still keep in touch because of friendships which transferred onto the field.

Stuart probably gets lots of cards at Christmas but if rumours are to be believed one of those will not be from Chris Brandon who it is said does not get along – does not like even – the Bantams Gaffer who got his team back to winning ways following two defeats with chief complaint from the City fan number eleven being that the manager will not play him in central midfield.

So perhaps Brandon’s favour was earned as he started the game in a three man middle alongside Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn in a Bantams midfield to go to battle with a Hereford United side who were expected – and did – drop two lines of four behind the ball and try play on the counter attack.

Any ire Brandon has at McCall – and the same rumours suggest that the midfielder maintains that he only remained at the club because of his boyhood support rather than a lack of interested parties who would match his never lessened wages – would be more appropriate if the playmaker put in the type of performances that made him undroppable rather than seemingly adopting an attitude that if given a chance to excel in the midfield he would excel.

How would McCall look Flynn, Bullock, Stephen O’Leary or James O’Brien in the face – how would the team ethos be effected – by cementing Brandon into a side that cried out during the second half when the Bantams needed the game taking by the scruff of the neck while he continues to be a frustratingly capricious player.

That City needed the game neck scruffing came after a first half in which the Bantams near total dominance came that produced only a goal when Gareth Evans followed in a fierce shot that came in from Michael Flynn’s right foot at the edge of the box following a series of corners City won and attempted to take short.

Evans pushed the ball into the goal five minutes before half time and celebrated on his knees shaking a fist up at the visiting Hereford supporters which left one wondering what the away fans had done to deserve the number nine’s ill advised displeasure and why the Referee did not issue him with a yellow card.

For this question was on the lips of all when Referee Colin Webster looked at a two feet off the ball lunge by Ryan Valentine on Scott Neilson that left the City winger hobbling for the rest of the game and should surely have resulted in a red card – considering that Lee Bullock was booked five minutes before for returning the ball to the corner taker when Webster had decided that a City man got the last touch from the previous cross – and only gave a caution.

It seemed obscene that minor infringements are given the same punishment as tackles as bad as Valentine’s and one had to wonder why the left back piled in on the right winger. Nothing thus far in the game had suggested bad feeling and unlike Graeme Lee’s hatcheting of Michael Boulding last month there seems to have been little chance for the little winger to have amassed enemies from former clubs. Perhaps Neilson had done some especially poor plumbing at Valentine’s house at some point.

Either way Neilson seemed to have not been especially popular and Valentine had received something approaching the benefit of the doubt and it was that sort of doubt which City ended up cursing in the opening ten minutes of the second half after Kenny Lunt dribbled the only shot on target of the game from the visitors at Simon Eastwood from twenty five yards out and the Bantams had the ball in the goal twice with Webster’s linesman ruling out both goals.

Firstly Neilson – not popular with the linesman next closest to Valentine either, perhaps it was his aftershave – was hit by a Gareth Evans and ended up with the ball at his feet to pop into the goal once balance was regained but the flag ruled the goal out despite appearing (from my position, which it has to be said was better than any of the officials had) to have been onside.

Minutes later more excellent pressing had Luke O’Brien – who has really stepped up his performance this season and looks a very able player – cross for James Hanson to dart in front of his defender and diving head home only for the same flag to rule the goal out and the same impression that City’s number seventeen was level or behind the defender when the cross was made.

Apologies for being so boring as to refer to the Rules of Football – worth a read although I do wonder if League Two games are played under these auspices – but the instruction is that the attacking player is given the benefit of the doubt in offside decisions and I simply cannot believe that that has been the case in both these decisions. Unless the linesman can say with certainty that one of both players were offside – and I could not – then the rules say he should not flag for an offside. Is he has that certainty then he is wasted in football and should be telling us what happens in the Zapruder footage.

Hanson had a second header brilliant pushed over the bar by away keeper Adam Bartlett but after the strangeness of the Valentine decision and the two goals chalked off the Bantams players looked for inspiration rather than suffering under the toils of unfair Refereeing. The excuse was become crafted in the minds of the players that should the Bulls snatch a goal – and the closest they got was a backpass that Simon Eastwood struggled with – then City would have been hard done to despite doing their best.

If Chris Brandon wanted to press his claims to be the undroppable man then this was the moment the game needed to taken by the scruff and for ten or fifteen minutes City dropped back and allowed the game to be played in their half. What should have been a good few goals to nil was in danger of becoming an obnoxious draw. Brandon was withdrawn for James O’Brien, Stuart McCall off the Christmas card list, although the win that probably resulted in the switch to a more robust middle three will maintain the manager’s popularity which after two defeats was being tested for a few.

McCall ended the game furiously confronting Referee Webster after a last ten minutes which saw the Bantams galvanised by a red card for Bullock which was in no way deserved and seemed to come out of some dark corner of Webster’s mind rather than the rules of football.

Bullock was involved in a tangle with Lunt and pulled down the former Crewe man in the middle of the Hereford half. Webster allowed the payer to wander away and then – on seeing the number perhaps – sent off Bullock who from his fifteenth minute booking had committed not a single offence and given away not a single free kick.

The rules of football – yes those pesky things again – have this to say give the referee seven reasons to book a player: unsporting behaviour, dissent, delaying the restart, not retreating at free kicks, entering the pitch without permission, leaving the pitch without permission and “persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game”.

Bullock had committed not a single offence and given away not a single free kick since being booked after fifteen minutes and the single foul that followed – and Bullock seemed convinced that Lunt had made more of the offence but regardless – does not merit a yellow card through any of those seven reasons outlined above. “Persistent infringement” cannot – by definition – be a single offence and unless he has not read the rules of football then Colin Webster knows this but decided that he would make up his own rules.

This was a disgraceful Refereeing decision which had no justification in the rules of football. They say that winning teams never complain but Stuart McCall should raise Hell over Colin Webster and his Refereeing using his own rules.

That Ryan Valentine was allowed to dive in for another bad tackle on a City player and walked away without a resultant red card was perhaps justified by the word “persistent” above but there are no way of running a football match that say that Bullock should be sent off and the Hereford number three should not have been.

Edrissa Sonko roughly handled Webster as the game petered out and was only yellow carded but the sending off which will cost the Bantams a player who is putting in the performances that Brandon needs to if he is to demand a place in the side pushed City over the finishing line. The Bantams had dug in but only after feeling a second type of injustice at the hands of the man in the middle who – for whatever reasons – went to great lengths to apply a different set of rules to the two teams on the field as best illustrated by Bullock committing one trip and being sent off and Valentine hacking once and fouling while remaining on the field.

So what should have been a comfortable victory for City was an unenjoyable slog of a match and became the opposite of the defeat to Crewe to be proud of. The chase is rarely fun in football.

Webster left Valley Parade unpopular as he no doubt will leave many grounds until he starts to referee on the basis of the rule book rather than his own whims and fancies.

No Christmas cards, no birthday cards and certainly not enough Valentine cards.

Weekend preview part two – I believe that Northampton vs Southampton is a local derby

Belief is a funny thing.

When I was a kid it was my belief that Northampton and Southampton was a local derby in the same way that Manchester City vs Chester City or West Ham vs West Brom was.

One former footballer – for example – believes that The Queen is secretly a lizard.

It is a curious view point but looking at how this ethereal thing that is belief rules footballers lives it is probably not hard how one could convince himself that what he decides is, is. The Bradford City team that lost 5-0 to Notts County trudged off the pitch believing they were going to struggle – one suspects they did – but that was the last home league reversal because the belief that courses through the veins has come from seven games without defeat.

The belief is now that Bradford City can go to somewhere like Northampton – as we do on Saturday – and win the match. Belief that is distinct from expectation levels. The players believe they are a good team, a team who deserved to win in the week against Morecambe in the week, thus they are a good team.

That is belief in football.

Disbelief in football was Tuesday night’s sending off of Gareth Evans which goes down as one of the poorest decisions in a Bradford City game ever. There are so many reasons why Stuart Attwell got the decisions wrong that to enumerate them is almost cruel – like pointing out the poor quality of a child’s painting compared to Mona Lisa – but while Attwell continues to foul up football matches his misunderstandings rather than his mistakes should be highlighted.

It is not that Attwell just saw the wrong thing – we could argue about what did or did not happen for eon – but it what he choice to do with the offence he perceived. Evans and Morecambe goalkeeper Barry Roche both contested a ball outside the penalty area. When dealing with goalkeepers the rules of football are based around exceptions so they do not state “A goalkeeper can handle the ball in the box” but rather “no player can handle the ball aside from the goalkeeper in the box”.

They are written this way to ensure that the goalkeeper – once he leaves his box – is not treated any differently from any other player. Watch the Evans/Roche again and imagine the Morecambe player is not a goalkeeper and try picture a situation where it would be a red card.

Evans goes in to the challenge from the front and with a single foot sliding along the floor. It is not violent conduct for sure – that covers punching and headbutting – and it is almost impossible to interpret it as serious foul play which covers things such as two footed tackles. Once again imagine the tackle between outfield players.

So either Stuart Attwell thinks that Evans’s slide was some serious foul play – and if he did then he missed many similar red cards in the game – or he saw that a goalkeeper was involved and decided to ignore the rules of football he is there to apply. Or he did it for some other reason tied into the fact that he is the sort of Referee that gives goals when the ball does not go in the net but he has a belief it did.

The Attwell’s rubbish – which is what the red card incident should be known as – means that Gareth Evans will not be eligible to play against Northampton, Notts County in the Cup or Crewe at home on the following Saturday and frankly the only reason I can see what the club is not screaming to the rafters to have the decision overturned is out of a fear of a Red Riding style corruption that haunts Refereeing.

Jim Gannon said that because his Stockport County side showed up a Referee they were victimised and City’s dealings with Joe Ross seemed to start a good few years of frankly bizarre Refereeing that included a five match ban for Dean Windass for being cheeky. Indeed The Owl and The Badger of the corrupt West Yorkshire Police of Peace’s novels would find it hard to justify that incident where accused was not allowed to speak in his defence and the only witness was the case for the prosecution.

I digress. Maybe appealing is City not making waves and maybe in the long run that is the right thing to do. Certainly I would not trust the FA, the Referees or the appeal process. That is my belief.

I have another belief though which may not be given much regard by most but as Evans sits out and Michael Boulding returns to the side I utter my belief that Boulding is – well – not that useful.

We are told he works tirelessly but Evans and Hanson’s graft put the signing from Mansfield Town to shame. We are told he is a goalscorer but the evidence of last season suggests that Boulding’s big goal tally for Mansfield came from attacking on the break which City seldom get to do with deep sitting defences. If the Bantams play a certain way Boulding will bang them in – or so I’m told – but players who force a single way of playing from the ten men around them always make me think of Ashley Ward and that is never a good thing.

None of which to say that Boulding is not a good player just that he is not as useful as Evans is and as he is paired with James Hanson in the forward line City lose the strength and effort they would have had and gain a forward who occasionally does something superb but often, well, does not. The current Bantams squad is made of consistent performers of which Evans is a leading light.

Also leading is Michael Flynn who with Lee Bullock and James O’Brien form a midfield that protects the defensive line which has not conceded in 180 minutes and as Scott Neilson beds into the side there is a bursting power out of the middle.

The backline sees Jonathan Bateson continue to deputise for Simon Ramsden – no goal past the defence in the 180 minutes Bateson has started says much about the unit Stuart McCall has assembled – while Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien seem to be shaping into the best Bantams defence in ten years.

Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is improving too. That is belief again.

…starring Stuart Attwell

The final scoreline at Christie Park failed to do this fierce encounter justice. Despite the best efforts of the 25 Morecambe and Bradford City players involved over the 90 minutes, it was the guy we’re not supposed to notice who carried the weightiest influence on the outcome.

Referee Stuart Attwell came, blew his whistle frequently and seemingly did his utmost to ensure everyone’s attention stayed firmly focused on the man in blue. Perhaps he was a little peeved off that the ticket stubs had advertised a football match between The Shrimps and The Bantams, rather than his star appearance.

The most telling moment in a truly wretched display of refereeing came 14 minutes from the end when City striker Gareth Evans quickly latched onto home keeper Barry Roche’s failure to grasp hold of a loose ball by challenging for possession. Succeeding in diverting it further from the keeper’s palms, Evans attempted but failed to turn the ball into an empty net as defenders rushed into help clear the ball, Attwell blew his whistle for a foul and raced over to dish a red card to a stunned Evans. Given Roche had failed to securely claim the ball, the decision to rule Evans’ harrying attempts illegal was badly-judged at best. The pathetic subsequent claims of injury from Roche, who began rolling around the floor in apparent agony only to make a miraculous recovery within seconds, should not escape condemnation either.

Attwell’s view of the incident was hardly as good as the 1,000+ City fans behind Roche’s goal, but there can be no excuse for charging in to issue the red card without taking any time to seize up the situation. One can only expect City to be successful in contesting such a ridiculous decision and for Evans to be in action at Northampton on Saturday. If anyone should be serving a suspension, the FA might consider dishing one to a referee with a reputation for high-profile mistakes.

Indeed the validity of Attwell’s ability to referee professional football is highly questionable. A year ago he made headlines as the youngest referee to officiate a Premiership match at a time when the FA’s Respect campaign was in its infancy.  With a national shortage of referees, Attwell’s meteoric rise was a good PR story, but a series of incidents – look here, here and here for just a flavour – have attracted media coverage of a different kind. Through no fault of his own, perhaps, Attwell seems to have become a minor celebrity in a football world of big egos. One can imagine him readily volunteering to appear on the next Celebrity Big Brother so the nation can see what a great guy he really is, all the while telling himself not to issue a red card to Lindsay Lohan.

Certainly the manner in which Attwell strutted around Christie Park offered strong hints of a self-belief we’d turned up only to watch him referee. In a lively contest which both sides enjoyed spells of domination, one of the biggest concerns was the timing between Attwell suddenly awarding every decision to one side and their periods on top. Morecambe started the game brightly, receiving a number of highly-dubious free kicks along the way. City progressively got better and were on top for the final 10 minutes in particular, by which time it was the Morecambe supporters’ turn to be exasperated by the number of decisions which went against their team. Lee Bullock was bizarrely booked for a harmless trip on a home player on the quarter hour mark, but a number of stronger challenges from both sides then went unpunished by way of a card until Wayne Curtis’ awful lunge tackle on 72 minutes. It was a night of  refereeing inconsistencies.

When the whistle wasn’t in Attwell’s mouth, both sides produced some decent football, with the shot and corner count backing up the feeling the Bantams had the better of the game. Phil Jevons rattled the bar early on and their two wingers posed some tough questions of Jonathan Bateson – caught out a little to often but continuing to look dangerous when attacking – and Luke O’Brien. With former Bantam Paul Mullin always a threat in the air and others hungry to latch onto his knock downs, it was a testing night for Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams, who both looked largely assured.

City’s midfield three continued to look effective and managed to control the middle of the park for lengthy periods. Bullock’s performance is especially commendable given the early caution left him walking a thin line, while Michael Flynn bossed proceedings and was the engine behind many attacks. It was in the final third of the field that City were not at their sharpest, with many promising moves spoiled by a poor final pass or a lack of conviction to shoot early which afforded home defenders the time to close down space. James Hanson was not as effective as he can be, but still won more than his share of headers. Evans battled hard and saw a cross-shot bounce off the bar.

After Morecambe had again come quickly out the blocks after the interval, City began to assume control with territorial advantage and corners and free kicks piling up. Scott Neilsen continues to impress and was a useful outlet for quickly turning defence into attack, with some teasing runs threatening to leave defenders tied in knots. The best chance came after a James O’Brien corner was met well by Evans, but his header was fired straight at Roche to make a point blank save he knew little about.

And after Evans and Roche’s clash which saw the Bantams reduced to ten men with a quarter of an hour to play, Roche piled further frustration on City with two brilliant saves to keep out efforts from Luke O’Brien – following an excellent surge forward – and Neilsen, the latter should probably have scored. With his every touched booed by away supporters, the subsequent repeated announcements Roche was the sponsor’s man of the match came across as a somewhat pathetic attempt by Morecambe to ‘send us home in a tantrum‘.

As four minutes of injury time was indicated, painful memories of previous late agony at Christie Park came flooding back; but Simon Eastwood was on hand to make a solid tip over from Mullin’s header to earn a first away clean sheet of the season. It also meant no one had been able to break the deadlock and thus make the morning headlines.

Stuart Attwell will be delighted.

All heart

It’s at moments such as these – with the clock showing 10 minutes to go, with the chant “City till I die’ emanating from all four sides and with those who run the club having put the books to one side to join 12,689 people in watching City ultimately triumph 1-0 over promotion rivals Wycombe – that you wonder why we’re even bothering to consider leaving Valley Parade at all.

This was an afternoon where I hope I wasn’t the only person to feel the hairs on the back of his/her neck stand up through been part of such a superb atmosphere. City have won a corner and I look fondly over to fans in the Kop climb out of their seats to help suck the ball into the net. Behind the opposite goal, supporters in the Bradford End are keeping up their non-stop chanting efforts which began before kick off. The final whistle was met with huge cheers and triumphant home players hugged each other. An important three points, a potentially pivotal moment of the season, another special afternoon in our home.

Sure I’m being sentimental and romantic, but then it is Valentines Day so why not? Of course the fantastic atmosphere could be replicated – who knows even bettered – in another ground a few miles up the hill. But just like our Claret and Amber colours, fanatical supporters who will even come to the game on their wedding day (hope you didn’t miss that at half time!) and players who aren’t the greatest but who we love in our own way – Valley Parade is a much a part of the Bradford City experience. We need to use our heads when considering the potential move, but yesterday we got to follow our hearts.

Heart that was apparent on the pitch too as both City and Wycombe gave their all to produce an absorbing contest. With Brentford, Bury and Rochdale all expected to and managing to win their games, for City this win was for self-preservation purposes in their interest of a top three finish. They started in the same confident manner which has characterised their previous two victories with Omar Daley and Steve Jones stretching Wycombe down the flanks and Dean Furman and Nicky Law again pulling the strings in the middle. Both look too good for this level with Law’s vision and ability to produce killer passes a huge asset and arguably something City have not had in their armoury since the manager himself was out on the pitch.

Wycombe, who lost central defender Mike Williamson to Watford in the transfer window, defended deeply but struggled to deal with crosses from which City came close to scoring a few times. Matt Clarke should have done better with a header from a corner and Peter Thorne – captain for the day – headed wide, Law’s long range shot was deflected wide and a Wycombe defender almost turned one cross into his own net.

Yet the Chairboys, who until Tuesday had led the table since November, got back into the game and showed what a good side they are. Their movement off the ball when on the attack was impressive with players marking late runs from deep and in the centre Tom Docherty was excelling by playing deep and pinging some probing passes forward. Furman excellently cleared off the line from striker Jon-Paul Pittman’s header, Matt Harrold air-kicked a great chance after which Matt Bloomfield wastefully fired wide and Chris Zebroski’s overhead kick attempt sailed narrowly over.

Arguably against the run of play, City struck the all important goal just before half time. It was yet another example of the devastating football this team can produce. First Jones did well to win possession before being tripped after releasing it to Furman. Referee Carl Boyeson allowed advantage and the ball was with Law to charge over half way. His pass to Daley lacked pace, but the Jamaican beat his man and cut inside before squaring to Luke O’Brien. The full back’s cross was intended for Michael Boulding but squirmed through to Thorne who beautifully laid off the ball to Jones to fire home on the half volley.

It continued to be end-to-end stuff in the second half with Wycombe inserting strong pressure in the early stages and Rhys Evans having to make some good saves. The defence in front of him was lacking their usual leader Graeme Lee and Zesh Rehman, switched over from left-back, struggled a little with his ball control though was generally solid. Clarke was outstanding and seemed to revel in the more senior responsibility while Paul Arnison’s performance could be best illustrated by the fact the usual full-back ‘experts’ in the crowd weren’t on his back. The clean sheet they would go onto earn was a seventh in ten games and only Evans and Clarke have figured in all of those; something which Clarke’s army of critics, who seem to be ignoring his recent upturn in form, might want to mull over.

Boyeson’s bizarre style of refereeing took more centre stage in the second half. He let a series of fouls from both sides go and at one stage left the impression he’d forgotten his cards – Arnison should have been booked – while displaying an anal-like determination to ensure all throw ins were taken from exactly the right spot. Frustration of the officials and from losing seemed to get the better of Wycombe players who began to self-destruct with a series of poor challenges. None more so than Docherty, who’s coolness in the first half had given way to recklessness and who should have been booked long before he eventually was.

Boiling point was reached after Zebroski’s ludicrous high challenge on Clarke which saw boot connect with face. The red card was quickly issued and the final 12 minutes were that little bit more comfortable for City. A second goal might have come before that with Boulding volleying over, but in the final stages Law and substitute Joe Colbeck went agonisingly close to ensuring Wycombe would not be able to produce a sucker punch at the other end.

It was close, but City just about edged the game and three wins in a row provide great confidence ahead of another vital encounter on Tuesday. The team is finding form in all areas – Thorne for example was outstanding leading the line and contributed more than he usually seems to – and one only has to look at who can’t get in the team to see how well the players in it are doing. Lee will presumably join Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Barry Conlon and Colbeck on the bench Tuesday with the clear message to those on the field that they must keep producing.

Or should Lee go back in and Arnison be dropped? Should Colbeck start on Tuesday and Daley be rested? Yesterday conversations on such matters will have filled the air instead of whether to pack up and do this all someplace else. Maybe we’re on the final chapter of Valley Parade’s history and such occasions will shortly be over, though as we listened to the radio on the journey home we heard of renewed hope that a deal to buy Valley Parade might be reached.

It was good timing, for yesterday at least the head had no chance of winning over the heart.

The game that was never going to be

This is not easy for me to say, but for once I actually support something the Football League have said. Worse still, I have to say that I don’t think that the club I have supported through thick and thin (mainly thin) for the better part of fifty years has given sufficient thought to its fans. I can get out of the second difficulty by blaming the ref. That usually works in any event. But the evidence also points to the club and I can’t ignore it.

Back on 6th January, under a heading ‘It’s Snow Joke for Travelling Fans’, the Football League said ‘It is important that clubs do everything they can to prevent supporters making wasted journeys to postponed fixtures.’ The League’s guidance was perhaps primarily intended to meet the needs of away fans, but even in the fourth division some home supporters travel quite a distance. Especially when your home ground is so near to The Pennines, a club must expect a number of fans to have to encounter steep hills in even local journeys.

The postponement of the Darlington game was announced somewhere after 6.20, less than an hour and a half before kick off. I say ‘announced’ because I saw it on Sky Sports News. Sky, of course, were on the spot, ready for a live broadcast. The club website a few minutes later still said nothing more than a further inspection would be held at 6.00 and that team news would be posted at 7.15.

As it happens, my decision had already been made. Even on a fine midweek evening I have to set off no later than 5.30 for a 7.45 kick off. Kind friends who live much nearer were sending weather updates from early morning. I was checking forecasts on the internet – wonderful tool, isn’t it? – and by 10.30, once I’d read that the club wanted volunteers to shovel snow, I’d sent an e mail to my mates saying this would be wasted effort, since the forecast for Bradford was heavy snow by 6.00 p.m. and for the rest of the night. Whichever site I looked at for the next few hours, I got the same message. I mention that specifically because the Football League guidance does indeed allow for ‘the unpredictability of the British weather’ and the prospect of late postponements.

This weather was entirely predicted. Whichever internet weather forecast you used, they all said the same. City, I gather, have two supporters who are actually weather forecasters for television stations of the terrestrial type. Maybe somebody should have asked them! But, whoever it was the ref consulted, Mr D’Urso explained in a pitch side interview that he had been told there would be a small amount of snow before 6.00 and then nothing until 10.00. With the customary vision some of us expect from referees, I could do a better job from 75 miles away!

What troubles me about the whole business is the lateness of the decision compared with several other matches, not due to be played for a further 24 hours, where postponements were announced hours earlier. None of these other games was due to be televised, but I’m sure that’s purely coincidental. One of my informants tells me that Mark Lawn was heard on local radio as late as 4.35 asking for more volunteers. Was that a live request or a pre-recorded interview that should never have been repeated at that time of day?

The whole affair smacks of insufficient regard for travelling fans. It ignores the fact that those fans have to get back home from a game scheduled to end at 9.40 or so and that, even on the ref’s laughable version of a weather forecast, by that time there would be heavy snow. Or perhaps the Football League’s guidance is meant only to prevent wasted journeys to games and does not take into account return trips. I do hope not. At this time of year it is often the return journey that is the more hazardous.

The Darlington game will have to be re-arranged, of course. It may well be that Sky will try again next time and the income will not be lost to the club. Whether it is or not, if Bradford City really wants to be seen to care about football’s fans, wherever they are travelling from and whichever side they are supporting, they will have the chance to sell tickets at no more than £10 a head to all fans. Those of us with our season tickets will gain nothing personally, but the club will gain the respect of thousands, especially those who do not live within easy travelling distance of Valley Parade.

City leave with a point and much more for the journey ahead

How to make sense of this one?

Six goals, two red cards and the frustration of a poor referee were shared out between Luton Town and Bradford City on an afternoon of unpredictable twist and turns. City were feeble but also fantastic, woeful and wonderful at the back, slow then scintillating going forward and, though the point gained makes it six draws in eight, the players and management should have taken far more from it than they have from any game so far this season.

Twice the match seemed to have been lost by City. They couldn’t have made a worse start after going behind on three minutes when Asa Hall headed home a corner which had as much to do with clever off-the-ball running from Chris Martin (not that one) as it did poor marking. That had been Luton’s first attack after City started well with Steve Jones, moved up front to partner Peter Thorne with last week’s strike partnership of Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding relegated to the bench, causing problems and Nicky Law and Thorne going close.

The pattern of play continued after the goal with City pressing forward but not threatening enough with their attacks. The best chance fell to Matt Clarke – who never scores and rarely even threatens to – when dismal marking from a corner left him with a free header which he sent well over. Thorne and Jones also had attempts saved but the slow and laboured build up to City’s play and failure of Omar Daley and Jones to make an impact left players unsure at times over what to do. This was emphasised when Graeme Lee attempted a wild shot from distance with almost his entire team in front of him, which flew well over.

But then it kicked off. City were again on the attack when the ball was cleared to Ian Henderson who charged down the flank only to be stopped level with the edge of the area by a superb tackle from Luke O’Brien. Unfortunately a linesman with a perfect view begged to differ and flagged for a free kick which provoked an angry response from City players and led to the referee Trevor Kettle issuing a warning to substitute Mark Bower for yelling at the linesman. O’Brien was booked with the linesman trying to persuade Kettle he was the last man and the resulting free kick was met by Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who tapped home. Not good marking from a defence distracted by the falling out over the decision, but it should also be noted it was poor goalkeeping from Rhys Evans who was upset enough with his first half performance to spend the interval on the pitch practising.

By then his manager had been sent to the stands, not for arguing with Kettle about the decision to award a free kick, as angry as he was about it, but from encroaching out of his technical area in an effort to speak to him. I read and hear lots about the Respect campaign and have tried not to believe, like others, that it’s simply a load of PR buzzwords with no substance; but if officials are confident enough in their decisions why shouldn’t they be prepared to talk them through with those who question them? As City trooped off at half time 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong, concerns about which direction the season was heading were raised. City had done okay, as they have all season, but now they had to find that extra something and show their credentials.

Which they did.

A quick goal was essential and came when a Law corner caused panic and Paul McLaren, former Hatter, was on hand to prod the ball over the line. What followed was near total dominance from the Bantams with Lee forcing a great save from Conrad Logan after a trademark thunderbolt free kick. The pressure told when Law received the ball on the edge of the area and rolled it back to the recalled Dean Furman, who took a touch and then fired home a crisp shot for his first ever senior goal.

There was no letting up as City, well in control, produced wave after wave of attack. Jones came alive up front with some clever runs, Daley was back to his blistering form and left a trail of defenders in his wake as he cut inside and set up attacks and Law, occupying Daley’s usual left wing spot, was a revelation out wide. Free from the defensive responsibilities of playing in the centre, he stretched Luton by taking up some excellent positions to be fed the ball to and had the vision and confidence to set up chances for others. Furman and McLaren were easily winning the midfield battle and Luton were reduced to sporadic attacks on the break, which were mostly mopped up by a much-improved defensive effort superbly led by Lee. The only time Luton got through saw Evans make a brilliant save, the half time training session appeared worthwhile.

And the chances created. Daley went on a magnificent run from inside his own half beating players for fun before shooting just over, Thorne nodded just wide, Law flashed an effort just wide, Furman went for goal again and was just over, sub Conlon headed just over, Jones’ half volley just saved. The only thing that wasn’t just was the scoreline as City deserved to be out of sight.

They also missed two easy chances when first Daley’s brilliant attempt to steal the ball off the full back and quickly cross left Conlon with the sort of chance Harry Redknapp’s missus could have scored and then a great run from Jones saw the on-loan winger get to the byeline before shooting from a difficult angle when pulling the ball back would have left City players queuing up to tap it in. Such profligacy appeared to have come back to bite when, as the 4th official held up the board to reveal how much injury time was to be played, Clarke gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area from which Kevin Nicholls whipped the ball onto Hall’s head to send into the far corner. Absolute heartbreak.

As many City fans streamed out of the grotty away end there were still further twists to come. First Luton keeper Logan decided to celebrate his team’s ‘winner’ by running up and gesturing towards City fans before going into a dance routine that was not so much provocative as embarrassing. Cue many fans rushing to the stewards to complain. Personally I have no problem with a player making gestures to us as long as we can do it back, so I’ll take this opportunity, having missed it at the time, to insult and pick on his personal features in a way which will upset him the most – Logan is terrible dancer.

The game restarted. City tried an attack which was cleared and the ball went up to a Luton player, who was offside. Cue a long wait for the free kick to be taken as Kettle lectured a home player and when Arnison finally pumped the ball into the box you stood there believing you’ve seen this sort of moment at the end of the game so often before and ultimately it will end up in Logan’s hands and he’ll probably wiggle his backside at us as he lies on the ground clutching the ball for five minutes. But it squirmed into the area and as Jones went for it he was faintly clipped from behind and rolled over and Kettle pointed to the spot.

Cue massive protests and a sort-of-brawl between both sets of players which ended with Martin receiving a red card. Meanwhile Logan was all over penalty taker Conlon whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how the Irishman was going to miss. Four minutes later Conlon finally got the chance and showed remarkable coolness to convert the penalty and prompt wild scenes of celebration. Don’t let any of Conlon’s critics tell you his 10th goal of the season was “only a penalty.”

The final whistle blew and as we struggled to get out breath back Stuart came over to applaud us and gestured towards the players to signal they deserve our appreciation, which we did. Meanwhile the referee and his officials had to run a gauntlet of abuse from home fans as they leave the pitch and it was distressing to see them try to protect themselves from a shower of objects thrown at them. Some arrests were made and outside there was also trouble. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 30-point penalty such a response was shameful and any Luton fan who didn’t throw an object but disagrees is just as bad. If the Respect campaign is going to work the FA must not be shy in punishing Luton Town Football Club.

I received a text just before the end of the game from a Leeds fan saying he had sympathy for Luton’s plight and we often hear how it wasn’t the fans fault, so why should they be punished? The actions of a minority of their supporters yesterday, not to mention their behaviour at Valley Parade earlier in the season, leaves me waving them cheerfully goodbye on their route to the Blue Square – and I hope they take their dancing keeper with them.

But the focus of this report is on City and what a fantastic game of football, easily the best since that afternoon at Prenton Park in October 2004. They looked down and out at stages but showed tremendous character to keep coming back – character which needs to be bottled up and used during the second half of the season.

In keeping with the craziness of the afternoon, City have dropped from fourth to seventh while moving a point closer to second and first. There was much which didn’t make sense yesterday, but one thing I do know is that if City can reach the heights of their second half performance for the rest of the campaign they will be celebrating promotion come May.

City stumble as fingers are pointed – Bradford City 1 Accrington Stanley 1 Match Report

City stumbled through their 7th home draw of the season against lowly Accrington Stanley.

It was the kind of game and result that we have seen too often this season at Valley Parade and we all know might well prove very costly when the promotion run winds up at the end of the season.

Stanley took an early lead on 5 minutes when a free kick was awarded dead centre, 20 yards from goal. The City wall seemed to move out of the way of the ball that Ryan stuck thumping straight through and beyond Rhys Evans to put visitors ahead.

Then the referee and his officiating team proceeded in trying to ruin the game. City had at least three decent penalty shouts in the first half, all strongly turned away by Mr David Webb. The one that holds most strongly in the memory was approaching half time when the ball was drifting towards Boulding and a blatant left hand was stuck out by a Stanley defender to stop the course of the ball – and with Mr Webb 10 yards away he failed to see what 12,000 others did and waived play on which resulted in Boulding being denied by a save from close range.

Just to prove further his inept decision making skills (demonstrated at home to Bournemouth earlier this season) – Stanley were also victims early in the second half. A strong run by Paul Mulin looked to have him racing clear one on one with Evans. Matt Clarke shot back and made a very heavy challenge on Mulin to deny him a shot. It was such a strong challenge it was a borderline penalty – but Clarke did get the ball – it was an excellent tackle. But this good piece of play was interrupted by Webb who proceeded to book Mulin, seemingly for diving or simulation. Utterly astonishing. I have never felt the need to write to the FA regarding the standards of officiating (and that really is saying something given the standard seen at Valley Parade over the last decade) but Mr Webb’s performance on Saturday was so incomprehensible that I will be spending Sunday night drawing up a letter of complaint that I am sure would be backed by 12,000 others.

City drew level early in the second half thanks to an exciting and very strong run by Nicky Law who crossed from the right to leave Barry Conlon with a tap in at the far post to restore parity.

The equaliser should have proved the catalyst to set up a City victory – but, in truth, Stanley keeper was not tested nearly enough as the game drew to a disappointing close.

Not many City players came out of this game with much credit. Conlon did well to convert his chance, but was too often beaten aerially and failed to have much of an impact. The defence held fairly firm and they passed the ball among each other pretty well.

The midfield was full of also rans, Nicky Law withstanding. Steve Jones is an experienced pro who has good pace but fails to deliver an end product, cross or shot. Omar Daley played ok in patches, but wasn’t always the inspiration that we needed him to be. Paul McLaren seemed to take quite a few steps back in terms of performance level – after a few good games recently. He just didn’t influence the game. And one of his main strengths – set pieces – seem to be left to Nicky Law which I really cannot understand. If McLaren is not going to take dead balls then why is he in the team?

The signing and player that annoys me most at the moment is Chris O’Grady. Was he a panic buy? I cannot see what Stuart sees in him. Admittedly, I have only seen him in action for 30 minutes in a City shirt. But I have watched him closely in the warm up’s twice and he just doesn’t seem like he has anything special or talented to offer whatsoever. McCall revealed afterwards that O’Grady didn’t train on Friday due to illness. Then why play him on Saturday? He came on to absolutely no affect with enough time on the pitch to make an impact. Is he capable of making an impact? I really don’t think so.

The idea of a loan signing is to improve on the squad that we currently have but I honestly would rather give young Rory Boulding or Leon Osbourne a run out instead of this mis-fit. And stories about him not wanting to take a wage deferral during his at Rotherham really leaves a sour taste in the mouth – give someone else a chance. I am not one to ever jump on Stuart’s back over any signing – I have liked the vast majority of players he has brought and has faith in – but O’Grady playing and being given a chance at Bradford City really doesn’t make sense to me.

A glance at the other results from League Two on the day show all have slipped up apart from Darlington. It would have been a perfect time to grab three points and move up into equal second place. The rest of the promotion contenders in this League are all stuttering – all failing to break from the pack (with the slight exception of Wycombe) , which has ensured that the top three is still a realistic target.

However, many more displays at home like this and we surely cannot expect to stay where we are.

Hopes now are pinned on the return of the influential Colbeck and the long anticipated debut of the possibly crucial Chris Brandon. What is for sure is that we do need something extra in this team to ensure promotion this season. The key to any successful promotion push is winning your home games, especially those against “lesser opposition” – something that this current City team is not delivering on.

Fingers of blame are pointed at McCall and his management team, which does morale no good, but the frustrations are understandable. Stuart will be and should only be judged in May but in the next few crucial months lets hope he can find within his team that little bit extra that make ambitious and talented teams successful in the long run at winning games and grinding out three points when they are needed most.

What kind of year has it been?

Statistics please me not, dear reader, so I have no record for you of how Bradford City have done this calendar year that ends with the Bantams beating Morecambe 4-0 at Valley Parade with goals by Paul McLaren, Michael Boulding, Nicky Law Jnr and Barry Conlon.

I could not tell you how many games have been won or lost or how many goals have gone in one end or another – I’m all about the mood, people – but I can tell you that the spectre of the common home defeat has been banished in 2008. Last time on this turf City were incapable of breaking down a defensive Chester City side while today the Bantams got the breakthrough that is so often needed against negative sides and went on to win the match.

That crucial first goal came when Barry Conlon jostled in the air with former Town man Danny Adams and all were looking at the Referee save Paul McLaren who wandered nonchalantly – showing a head as cool as the air that Conlon’s hands were still in – into the area with ball to poke past advancing keeper Barry Roche.

McLaren’s role at the back of any attack that had Conlon on the floor was a result of Stuart McCall’s 433 formation which – in turn – was a result of the combination of return to fitness of Dean Furman and the fact that, well, it just suited the opposition so well.

Morecambe’s plan was not unique – the close down City’s defenders and sit deep themselves – but it was countered with confidence from McCall who placed faith in the back four to have the ball played short to draw out the opposition and make gaps where they were none for the last few years in the sides who come to Valley Parade with two lines of defenders. This is a difference between the start of 2008 and the end in that Stuart McCall has devised this plan but the fact that it sees the player accused of “pissing about” is slightly curious. McCall’s teams play some lovely football at times but none of it comes from Rhys Evans putting his laces through it and hoping Barry Conlon can be under it.

Much of that lovely stuff, any plans and the options that saw Stuart capable of playing a three man midfield comes from the midfield’s return to fitness with Furman quickly back into the fray and McLaren now fully up to speed. Combined with Nicky Law – who is certainly worth bringing in if Sheffield United will allow him to leave during the transfer window – the three did not enjoy dominance but created the chances that made this win.

The stats will tell you that City and Morecambe had similar shot counts but as I say I do not do stats because they do not tell the difference between Conlon striking the bar and a throw your cap on it dribbler. Morecambe might be worried about having lost 4-0 and they might curse their luck that they had one cleared off the line at the end of the first half but spawn many great chances they did not and the fact that City’s creation was finished off is another curio of 2008.

Michael Boulding’s run to meet up the end of Barry Conlon’s intelligent take down and through ball deserved the kind of quality finish which the striker provided cooly putting over Roche’s shoulder as if he had the freedom of Valley Parade rather than a couple of bruisers from the Bay breathing down his neck.

On exit of Dean Windass – chased off to the Premiership – City spent 2007 without a scorer worthy or the name. Peter Thorne’s return to fitness has seen him bag an Indian Summer’s worth of goals and Boulding’s first half a season has seen him get ten goals while Barry Conlon had a half dozen. 2008 seems to have been the year when City’s strikers started scoring.

What good is scoring goals though, if your defence is a shambles? City’s defence is a shambles though – it must be cause I read it on the Internet – but it is also three games since we conceded a goal and as a rule we do tend to concede fewer than we score. One thing that has not changed in 2008 is the level of expectation which have gone over the border of ludicrous.

A third goal came from Nicky Law Jnr who drove forward with the ball and lobbed Roche from range and sealed the victory for City. A fourth came when Steve Jones tried to finish off a ball to the back post by Omar Daley – a late sub – and Danny Adams got his hand between ball and goal to lead to a penalty.

One thing that changed in 2008 was the addition of the word “Deliberate” to the handball law (Law 12 – Direct Free Kick). If Adams handled the ball to have a penalty given against him then he did it deliberately – otherwise the Referee should not give an offence against him – so he has to send the player off for deliberately stopping a shot from going into the net with his hands.

Barry Conlon slammed in the penalty and still had time to set up further chances for Daley and Jones erasing what had been a quiet first half for the Irishman and all departed the field in the knowledge of a job well done and probably a year well spent.

Stuart McCall looks at his squad – we have a chance of keeping Nicky Law but little of signing Furman, Steve Jones is not the fourth goalscorer the Bantams are looking for, Luke O’Brien stands up in the first team – and perhaps tinkers in the days leading up to the Shrewsbury game when the transfer window opens but the return of players like Joe Colbeck to fitness will allow the manager more of a palette.

For it was options – options to shape a team on a game by game basis – that brought about a good win at the end of 2008 and a good 2008.

Why is the Refereeing that saw Adebayor sent off not applied at Valley Parade when Bradford City play Chester?

The inevitability of a stern defence when Arsenal get a man sent off is only matched by the unease at which Emmanuel Adebayor uses a topical reference to knife crime in his paper thin defence of the challange which strode in with a dangerous foot and followed with a reckless arm and saw him sent off on Sunday in the game against Liverpool.

The Togo forward suggests that the Liverpool player was play acting – he may not have been as hurt as he made out – but that is the jurisdiction of the Referee Howard Webb and not something that should influence the correct decision to send off for a challange which was at best reckless and at worst dangerous. One has to wonder if he would be happy to have the two dozen or so challenges a forward takes during the average game to be in the style he used.

However Adebayor’s defence – that his aggression should not be penalised by Referee Howard Webb – would be strengthened were he not to make light of fatalities but to point the media who were so quick to give him a platform to a video of Bradford City vs Chester City on Saturday.

In that game – which is played under the same rules of football that Adebayor was sent off under – Referee Andy Haines was able to turn a blind eye to a similarly reckless challenge by Damien Mozika which left Paul McLaren holding his face having been on the wrong end of an arm above the neck. Haines watched Mozika’s put in two footed lunges from distance as Chester – under the guidance of not the brightest manager in football – used what can only be described as rough-housing to grind out a scoreless draw at Valley Parade.

For the record I thought Chester were a loathsome team who would have to take sportsmanship lessons in order to qualify as a team of shits but my opinion is not important in this – Andy Haines’ is.

Haines saw nothing wrong in Mark Hughes, Anthony Barry and Mozika sliding in with two feet raised on defenders clearing the ball nor did he view the aggressive tackling of the visiting side in the same as Howard Webb viewed Adebayor’s tackle. Within twenty minutes of the start of the League Two game on Saturday Webb would have had no fewer than six occasions to pull out his yellow card judging by the standard he showed on Sunday and – one assumes – were Haines to be “trusted” with Arsenal vs Liverpool then Adebayor would not have been booked for his over the ball lunge with following arm and that sort of tackle would have been common place.

My point is not that Chester City were an overtly aggressive team or a dirty team but that one of Andy Haines and Howard Webb must have used a different set of rules to govern games in the same sport. Either one is allowed to tackle in the Adebayor/Mozika manner or you are not – the rules of football make no distinction on the type or level of game being played.

Arsenal vs Liverpool was an entertaining and flowing game while Bradford City vs Chester City a was muscle match where play was broken up frequently. Had Webb Refereed Saturday’s game then would it have been different? Had Hughes’s first two footed block been seen as dangerous play and got him a yellow or Mozika’s raised arm have received the same punishment as Adebayor’s then would we had a more flowing, better game of football? Considering that the visitors employed those tactics to avoid that it is hard to argue we would not.

Arsenal, Chester City, Liverpool, Bradford City. We all go into matches on the understanding that we are playing under the same set of rules yet clearly at the weekend that was not the case. What is a foul and a yellow card in the Premiership should also be in League Two – end of story.

When it is not you get dour, negative, aggressive sides like Mark Wright’s Chester City taking a lap of honour when they spoilt their way to a point.

Lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City

Wasn’t it Paul Jewell who said ‘There are lies, damned lies, statistics and Bradford City’? Oh no, it was something else that Jagger said. Back to that in a minute. No, according to Mark Twain it was Benjamin Disraeli who made that comment – or at least he would have done if he had still been alive back in 1903.

But have a look at the official club website and you’ll see some quite alarming statistics from Saturday’s game. They say, for example, that City, starting a home game as second in the league, had just 29% of the possession, had just half of the number of shots on target as the Daggers and won 4 corners as against their opponents’ 13. Those are the kind of statistics that don’t lie.

At least now I know why the manager keeps his hair as long as it always has been. It’s so that nobody realises how much of it he tears out whenever we gave the ball away – which happened roughly every thirty seconds yesterday. He will soon be as follicularly challenged as the rest of us, especially when we concede possession about 25 yards from our own goal.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the Daggers’ corner count being 14, if the extra one had been the ball TJ could just have knocked out of play instead of letting it be put back across the face of Evans’ goal, thereby setting up the equalizer. But come on, be fair to Evans. He’d kept us in it and there was very little he could have done to prevent that goal.

Of course, what the statistics don’t tell you is that, for all that City were outplayed up and down the pitch, there was only one team who were ever going to score that opening goal. I don’t suggest it was fated or anything like that. What I mean is that it took a passing team, operating at pace and a real quality goal scorer to create and score a goal like that. We’ve done it before – Rochdale comes to mind – and we’ll do it again this season. There are ways of soaking up pressure and still scoring goals and we seem to have some of the best ways. They’re called Boulding and Thorne.

Even allowing for the justice in the equalizer, City could have lost the point gained. Apart from the referee, who else thought it wasn’t a penalty? And what about the reaction of the Dagenham players? The last time I saw that sort of scrum round the ref was when Andy D’Urso had the temerity to award a penalty against the home team at Old Trafford and Roy Keane’ eyeballs were several inches away from the sockets. Wasn’t that exactly what the Respect campaign was all about? So how come not a single yellow card resulted from the cavalry charge?

Ah yes, that was what Paul Jewell said. After the recent Derby game against Nottingham Forest he gave the referee 100% in his report card, because he wanted to see if anyone actually read the numbers awarded by the managers. That was the game where the ref gave a penalty for a handball that wasn’t, where quite literally a one second pause would have solved everything, that being the time it took for Derby to put the ball in the net. The penalty was saved and even the second time Derby put the ball in the net the ref found a push, although he couldn’t say by which Derby player. Replays showed two or three from Forest, none from Derby.

And why was I reminded of Paul Jewell? Easy really. That Derby ref was none other that Mr Atwell, he of the phantom goal in the Watford and Reading game and he of the non-penalty and no respect at Valley Parade yesterday. (I gather Derm Tanner’s substitute on Bantams World needed the prompting of John Hendrie to point out that this was the phantom goal ref. Still, given that he also insisted that the cross for Boulding’s goal came from Jones, maybe he could give up the day job and become a linesman.)

I just wondered how a Premiership ref couldn’t book anyone for that confrontation. Then I thought of the absolute howlers he’s made already this season, each of which has cost points for different teams and, for Aidy Boothroyd, a slap on the wrist for his reaction. But yesterday there were no TV cameras, save for the highlights package which will never show the incident. Or maybe Mr Atwell finally figured that, when you have just dug that hole a little deeper, there really must come a time to stop digging. I could almost wish for the return of Graham Poll.

Well, almost.

From jeers to cheers to where?

The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.

Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.

Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.

The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.

Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.

The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.

Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.

Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.

Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.

City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.

It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.

Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.

Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.

That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.

The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.

They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.

Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.

The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.

We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.

How respect is lost through a lack of understanding about football

Let me begin with two important statements. The first is that referees hardly ever lose games; much more often players lose games or opposition players win games. Referees’ decisions can have immense bearings on the outcome of games, especially late on and in close contests. But those situations are quite rare. Jarnail Singh’s decision to play on after the obviously serious injuries to Lee and Moncur almost certainly cost City a goal, but they had 84 playing minutes to catch up. They were lucky it was only 1-0 at half time.

The second thing I have to say is that I really did start the new season in the spirit of Respect. I thought the trappings (walking out together, shaking hands and the like) were all about style and nothing to do with substance. As such, they represented very accurately the times we live in, which is a pity for our great game. But there we are, still looking for the substance and hoping to find genuine respect in our game.

So, with the statements over, let me express my grave disappointment after less than two months into the new season. Sadly the Respect campaign has, as I feared it might, already been found out for what it is. The totality of the campaign is that the players and managers are expected to give their unquestioning respect to referees automatically and at all times.

Real respect may be granted at the outset, but then has to be earned. I have always compared the status of the referee with my old job as a judge, while conceding that I had time to make decisions and referees may have to act very quickly. (An argument in support of technology, but we’ll leave that for another time.) There is, however, at least one perfectly valid comparison with my old job. Whenever I first sat in a new area, I may have had the initial respect of the professionals in front of me. I hoped that, as they listened to my decisions and the reasons behind them, the regular professionals would continue to respect me, without necessarily agreeing with every decision I made. We all make mistakes and with many decisions there must be a sinner and a sinned against; a winner and a loser.

Respect for referees, it seems to me, should work the same way. It should be granted as a starting point, but it may not last forever. If the referee is plainly not up to the job – I shall come back to that phrase in a moment – he will lose the respect initially given. And he will rightly lose that respect, just as judge or a policeman or head teacher or a manager who is not up to the job will also lose the respect of those over whom he has authority.

So, having said that retaining respect (as opposed to the initial granting) requires that the referee act in a manner that does not destroy what he started with, I must go on to a second point; respect works two ways. Many readers of this will spend much of their time in a workplace where either they supervise or manage others and/or those others supervise or manage them. When a new manager arrives, we all wonder what he or she will be like and we may well take time to get to know his or her particular methods and personality. We may not always agree with our new boss, but we will surely respect sound ideas, especially if they outnumber the dodgy moments.

But we have all had bosses who, for one reason or another, have lost our respect. I once had one who couldn’t face awkward truths and consequently told me what I can only describe as a right cock and bull story about my career prospects. All respect was lost once I worked out the truth and, having been lost, it was never recovered because she kept on avoiding the truth, thereby continually repeating the very reason for losing respect.

So what of a referee who loses the respect of the players, not because of a decision or two they don’t agree with, which might or might not be a mistake, but because of the general manner of his refereeing? Are the players and coaches seriously intended to remain genuinely respectful to such a person, despite the fact, as the crowd’s chant might put it, that he’s not fit to referee?

All of this has been brought to a head by two particular referees in the last week. What I believe they have in common causes me real concern for the way our game is refereed and for the future prospects for genuine respect. I question whether these referees (and probably several others who referee in similar styles – no, I don’t necessarily mean you, Mr Styles) understand how football should be played. More fundamentally, I question whether they, like the worst managers we’ve worked for, have any understanding of the people over whom they have authority. They may not even feel the need for such an understanding, so long as they know the rules and get the respect they think they deserve by virtue of their status.

A lot has been said about the first of these two referees. Mr Atwell, at 25, used to be famous for being the youngest referee in the Premier League. He is now more famous for allowing the goal that never was at Watford. Much as I was troubled by that goal and what the referee and his assistant thought they had seen, I was more concerned by how the referee reacted to the players. And I don’t mean just the Watford players. The Reading players were equally baffled. The only difference was that one team was laughing and the other arguing. Nobody but the officials thought there had been a goal.

What this suggests to me is that either the officials weren’t watching the players or they didn’t feel the need to observe and understand those over whom they had authority. Anyone with a basic understanding of football observing the Reading players would have spotted immediately that not one of them had thought for even the briefest moment that there might even just possibly have been a goal scored. Now what does that tell us? It tells me that there wasn’t a goal.

But what did it tell Mr Atwell? Nothing at all, it seems. I don’t know where he was looking at the time, but it can’t have been at the ball. If he had been watching the ball, he would surely have seen that it never went anywhere near the goal posts. He must, then, have been watching the players nearest to the incident. But what did he actually see? Not enough to suggest to him that there was something very wrong indeed here, when both teams were playing on, when not one Reading player was appealing for anything at all, when no fans were shouting for a goal and when the only person in the entire stadium who thought he had seen a goal scored was his assistant.

Let me go back to Mr Singh and what he has in common with Mr Atwell. A minor incident it may have been in the context of TJ’s injury, but in the last few minutes Grant Holt hit a shot yards wide, cursed himself and turned to trot away for the goal kick. Rhys Evans went to retrieve the ball for the same reason. Mr Singh gave a corner. What was he watching? What had he seen that no one else on the pitch or in the crowd had spotted? Why was his eyesight so much better than everyone else – including Grant Holt? And didn’t the unanimous reaction of the players on both sides tell him he might just have got it wrong? Apparently not.

The Moncur-Lee incident is in my eyes a much more serious symptom of the same problem. According to Stuart McCall, Mr Singh says he saw the clash of heads ‘and felt they were both okay.’ I might be inclined, with another referee, to put it down to just one single human error, albeit one with potentially the most devastating consequences. The resulting goal was a mere nothing compared to what might have happened. Even from the stands it was immediately obvious that this was very serious. Listen to the commentary. Listen to anyone who saw the incident and understands football or has even a rudimentary knowledge of falls. But Mr Singh ‘felt they were both okay.’ He, of course, has form for this sort of mistake, as City fans know only too well. I think Steven Schumacher will also remember more of his head injury than TJ can recall.

In the second half at Shrewsbury there was another head injury. From my seat some 80 yards away I was sure the Shrewsbury defender was the victim of a foul by Omar Daley, an arm or a hand to his face, as Omar took the ball away from him. Where the ref was looking is another little mystery. The defender went down, play carried on and, so alarmed was she by what she saw of her player and what she knew of the referee’s earlier failure, the Shrewsbury physio ran on to the pitch while play continued for quite some time. OK, she broke the rules and the ever efficient Mr Singh told her off. But she acted on a genuine human concern for a man obviously suffering from a head/facial injury. She was up to her job.

Later in the game two Shrewsbury players collided, both going to the ground, although not in the same bone-crunching fashion as Lee and Moncur. Mr Singh had finally learned his lesson and stopped the game. Neither was, as it happened, all that badly injured and both carried on after the briefest treatment and the mandatory leaving of the field for five seconds.

Now what concerns me about these two referees and those others like them is not that they make mistakes; not that they make important and possibly dangerous mistakes; not even that they make lots of mistakes; but that they do not understand what football and footballers are all about. In that sense they are plainly not up to the job. They have other and wrong priorities. They want to demonstrate their knowledge of the rules, rather than their ability to evaluate. They feel the need to satisfy the assessor or, in the Premier League, the TV cameras.

In the old job I always had to give a public explanation for each decision, which could be used on any appeal. There was always someone who didn’t agree with the decision, but at least we all knew how it been reached. Referees explain very little and most of their decisions are immune from appeal.

But if referees don’t understand what they’re doing and why some of them are doing it so wrongly, not just making human errors, then the respect will soon be lost, never to be regained. Long before Saturday I’d lost respect for Mr Singh, not just because of the Schumacher injury, but because he failed to send off Darren Holloway at Yeovil for a waist-high scythe. I would have been furious if he’d been an opponent. The yellow card, while a relief from the team’s point of view, finally convinced me that Mr Singh doesn’t understand football.

How many more referees come into the same category? And does the FA really expect fans, players and coaches to forget what they see and dutifully respect them? If that is the FA’s expectation, they too do not understand those of us who care about this game and its future.

How would players react to injury in an ideal world?

Without wanting to do something as dull as look at the rules of the game of football after the controversial goal that set Shrewsbury on the way to the 2-0 win over City Law 5: The Referee in the section Injured Players the first two laws are:

  • Play is allowed to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in the opinion of the referee, only slightly injured.
  • Play is stopped if, in the opinion of the referee, a player is seriously injured.

As Bradford City fans have seen Mr Singh deal with five head injuries in two games, yesterday and three years ago when he allowed Oldham to score against the Bantams while Steven Schumacher was injured.

Mr Singh once stopped the game for Grant Holt and Kevin Mcintyre and neither were injured meaning that his assumption that – under the rules above – at least one was seriously injured. He did not stop it for Schumacher and should have as the player needed treatment and was seriously injured – he missed games after – nor did he stop it for for Lee and Moncur when one of them needed to be replaced and collapsed again on his way off the field. All of which suggests that his judgement of the seriousness of an injury is not to be trusted not least of which by himself.

The idea that it is probably better to be safe than sorry when dealing with head injuries perhaps Mr Singh should blow his whistle and risk stopping the game for no reason rather than “letting the game flow” while a player is injured when he is incapable of judging the seriousness of that injury.

Of course last week we talked about if players can be trusted to do the right thing. What can you say about the Oldham players who scored while Schumacher was down or Grant Holt and Ben Davies who tried to score while Lee and Moncur was down?

Certainly if I were a professional footballer I’d probably not want either on my team and would probably be careful around them in training.

As a supporter I have a fairly low opinion of both. I’m often calling for footballers to be given more trust and to be treated as adults but incidents like this where players continue not in spite of but because a team has men down thus increasing the chances of scoring.

Given the choice I’d rather footballers thought like Miguel Llera who gave away a penalty yesterday handling the ball because his goalkeeper was hurt rather than looked at injuries as an opportunity for goals but more so I’d rather Referees and players considered scoring when players were down was inherently worth less and – for want of a better phrase – “was just not cricket.”

I’d rather that after ten minutes watching TJ Moncur needing treatment Shrewsbury whacked the ball into their own net and said to us “See that, 1-1 – We can beat Bradford City without favours.” I’m an idealist and that is an ideal.

Perhaps it is the stunning lack of empathy of a Ben Davies when he seems two guys pole-axed and rather than thinking “I hope these guys are ok cause if that had happened to me I would want someone to give me treatment as soon as possible” one assumes he thought “Wow, a massive gap in the defence has been caused by those two guys laying about there, I can use that to get a goal” or perhaps it is the idea that winning in such circumstances is more hollow but incidents like this sour football because they bring home some ugly facts about the game:

That referees are barely capable of understanding the issues in the game and that players – certainly more than those at Oldham and Shrewsbury – are more concerned with goals than safety.

We can all agree on one thing

So what plan is this?

This week all we’ve talked is is Plan Bs and tactics and about fans and other fans and in about ten minutes everything that had been talked about had come to a head.

I was worried that Stuart McCall had listened to the moaners and because he had no Peter Thorne who I guess is injured went for a packed midfield with Dean Furman in it and Barry Conlon leading the line with Michael Boulding on the bench. It was Stuart doing something to counter a team that had scored seven at home I hoped and not Stuart trying to prove that he did know his tactical arse from his elbow.

Barry Conlon is more loved away from home where you get to watch him chasing balls all afternoon long trying to make feasts of scraps. I’m not saying that everyone who goes away loves Barry but they seem to appricaite him a bit more than the VP crowd who look at goal tallies more than effort. When you’ve come all this way as most of us do week in week out then you like the fact that someone is going to run around.

The Barry buzz was still going and people were still talking about it when Shrewsbury scored although after that the week was totally forgotten. The ball came in and Rhys Evans seemed to punch it but as he did Graeme Lee and TJ Moncur went up for it and both went down after having smashed heads against each other. The referee was the same guy who allowed Oldham to carry on when Steve Schumacher was poleaxed three years ago and the result was the same as Shrewbury’s Ben Davies whacked the ball in.

Great game this football. Davies was wheeling away cheering while our guys were on the floor injured. Moncur stood up and went down again and people said he had a fit but soon he was off for Kyle Nix and Lee Bullock was at right back.

So no leading forward, goals going in when players are fitting, a lot of possession for the start of the game and a good shot by Furman that troubled the keeper. I have to wonder what non-niave tactics should Macca use now and what the Hell plan letter are we supposed to be on now?

The game settled into a pattern but the City players and fans seemed a bit quiet and someone aid that Moncur was off to hospital and it didn’t look good but we hd no idea what that meant. Grant Holt buzzed through and had a shot that dribbled wide. By half time Nix and Paul McLaren were dipping crosses around the keeper and just as half time was supposed to come City were on top but we played minutes added on my J. Singh to allow Shrewsbury to score while our player was down. Omar Daley had one cleared off the line and we were still playing at four when everyone else was kicking off and at half time we had been robbed cause while I’m sure that we will hear that Davies didn’t know about the injury and that Singh should have blown his whistle again but seems to be getting closer and close to his aim of seeing a goal scored when their are dead bodies on the field. We felt robbed by someone and maybe the Stockport manager can tell us who.

And down was the word. Everyone was down but everyone was together in being a bit worried about TJ Moncur and less about what was going on on the field. Even in the second half when Joe Colbeck slammed his custom right foot blast from the wing across the keeper which went over and Lee and Grant Holt battled away. Bullock moved back to right back but came off injured agian with Michael Boulding coming on and went up front with three at the back or was it four and this was Plan D or perhaps it was Little PLan Zee and after that comes Vroom? Boulding joined the forward line and we all wondered who was going to be left to play Luton next week but this week seemed lost with Shrewsbury basically keeping the ball from us and Paul McLaren ending up at right back.

The game got scrappy with an stupidly named midfielder going close for them and the much tidier Kyle Nix having a shot for us but from that scrappiness City started to get something together and started to control the ball a bit better. By the time five o’clock came City were giving as good as we got from the team that will use today as some kind of indication that they are more promotion bound than us but to be honest the difference between the teams came when we had two down and as it happened one badly hurt and I guess we will never know if the home team would have got a goal against City without the injuries but the rest of the game where Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke pocked Grant Holt while the rest of the plan, the tactics, the sodding game was in chaos says to me that they would not.

But like the guy said if you moan about a Ref they come back to haunt you and you have to wonder what sort of stink City kicked up about J. Singh last time and how much that played on today. Barry lashed one wide in stoppage time before they took a second goal while we were trying for an equaliser and that was that.

But in a week about plans this was City without one. It was freak football and the most important man on the field was an Referee who I think we can all agree at BfB and on the OMB and on the terraces at VP and in the hushed tones around pubs in Bradford should not be allowed to Referee football matches because of his dangerous policy of letting games carry on when players are hurt.

Probably won’t agree for the same reasons though.

Brave Gannon shows the management of old

As far back as I remember I wanted to be a football manager.

Perhaps it was Kevin Toms that gave me the taste for it, perhaps it was the sight of people like Bob Paisley winning with charm or Bobby Robson managing with dignity but to me being a football manager would have been better than being President of the United States.

Managers ran the clubs that we lucky to have them and they ran them how they pleased. They didn’t take on players who board decided they should have and they didn’t play spin games around the truth they wanted to say. Alan Durban said that his job was to win football matches and the media could lump it. Brian Clough was not the manager of Nottingham Forest – he was Nottingham Forest.

And now it is all over.

Clough’s heir – Roy Keane – has spoken out on the attitude of fans and players at Sunderland and will not have the abuse thrown at him. Keane’s talk of late has impressed me but he is so often an isolated voice. He says he will not have Sunderland fans abusing him but he must envy Clough who would not have been abused by Forest supporters who would fear a thick ear.

The manager is a lesser figure now sharing his club with chairmen and chief executives, with directors of football and heads of football development and these may all but good things for the long term future of clubs, the stability of the game and the wellness of managers themselves but without a doubt he is a neutered figure.

He takes what is given to him. Taking what is given to him and smiling sweetly as he gets it is practically Gianfranco Zola’s job description.

Enter Jim Gannon.

Gannon is manager of Stockport County – not a club to raise excitement normally – but what he has done in issuing a statement accusing Referees of bias is exciting. It is exciting for all the reasons that the old managers – so unwilling to allow anything to harm their clubs – were exciting. It is a manager not worried about his future CV and how he will get the job after this one but just furious at seeing an unjustice time and time again and wanting to do something about it.

I agree with Jim Gannon. I agreed with him when Hereford won 3-1 in a game that every football watching instinct in my body tells me was fixed and I agree with him after watching Blackpool steal a win at Valley Parade by the same score.

Gannon’s claim is that because he has criticised some Referees in the past other Referees are victimising his club. He details untrue allegations which are accepted by the authorities as being made up by Referees and a list of incorrect and improper sendings off for his players. He says he has lost faith in the Referees.

When City were beaten by a Luton Town team – who have seen been convicted of improper behaviour – Colin Todd and Dean Windass were furious after Referee Joe Ross mocked them for the result (which now, it turns out, was gained on less of a level playing field as we were told at the time)

From that day on some say City have not had an even break from Referees. Todd – who no matter how much or how little one thought of him was almost by definition a jobbing manager – did not have the courage of his convictions that Gannon has.

Is Gannon right? Are Stockport County being victimised? Perhaps, perhaps not but every football fan who has ever seen a dodgy offside and wondered if the officials have made a mistake or perhaps something more should back him to the hilt in his attempts to get an investigation.

If Gannon is found to be wrong and referees have not been punishing him and his team then they are proved to be innocent and while they have no requirement for that in a game built on the core trust that the man in the middle is impartial – and when that trust is so obviously and openly questioned – exoneration would do much to move the game forward. Perhaps though – as Gannon believes – that exoneration would not come.

Regardless the audaciousness of Gannon brings back thoughts of old. Who would be a football manager?

Winning at dominoes

Brian Clough once said that despite the crap talked by people who didn’t know how to win a game of dominoes, it was players who lost football matches. Kevin Keegan – for his messianic effect – said there was little he could do once the players have gone over the white line.

Both Clough and Keegan made good on what, at the time, seemed limited resources by the application of effort. Both played for England. When Joe Colbeck – one of City’s brighter players today – was 12 the Bournemouth number 8 was smashing in a goal to put England on the way to a 2-0 win over Colombia. Anderton got the first and the second was scored by David Beckham who usurped the oft injured Anderton for country. Beckham went one way and Anderton’s career took him to this sunny afternoon at Valley Parade with a team relegated and relegation prospects because of financial problems.

City’s support today was in good voice and backed the team fully but today the Bantams’ players lost the game. Collectively the level of effort was not high enough to win this game.

City started slowly, facing a visiting side who dropped Anderton into a shielding role in front of the back four and played with only Jeff Goulding up front. The Bantams’ midfield stood off Anderton and the always excellent Sammy Igoe all afternoon allowing the pair to pick out runners and use pace to break. Danny Hollands got the first goal of the afternoon doing just that.

Which is not to say that the Bantams played bad football – some of the passing moves were impressive and edged on opening up the visitors with Paul McLaren picking up the runs of Michael Boulding – but edging is not opening and the commitment that was seen in last week’s second half was lacking.

Nevertheless a second half riposte seemed to be on the cards when Anderton missed a pass and then was not strong enough to keep Colbeck away allowing the young City winger to power through and fire home.

The second half saw more of the same 90% football that the first had and while the likes of Colbeck, Daley and Boulding motored the bit extra – that commitment that sees a player take full responibility rather than waiting for others to create – never materialised.  Paul Arnison – who limped off in the first half – was missed on the right when Colbeck came inside hunting for the ball and everything seemed out of sorts with McLaren and Graeme Lee both being replaced during second half which were lost when Goulding all too easily converted Hollands’ cross which came from another swift counter-attack.

Jason Pearce added a third from a corner at the end and the visitors enjoyed a comprehensive away win with City’s reply being a Boulding shot that pinged off the bar and not a massive effort save Barry Conlon’s second half cameo which saw him put not one foot wrong.

Which is not to say that the players were bathed in shame or are to be jeered until one’s throat is sore, just that every football match has to be won no matter who the opposition is and today they did not do enough to win this game. Manager speak for this is “they let themselves down”.

Perhaps they did or perhaps they were just bested. Jimmy Quinn sent his side out with a plan for sure but they also had hearts full and Anderton typified that spirit. God knows why he is playing – he surely does not have to financially nor can one imagine the blast from the middle of League One to the foot of League Two were part of his plan but he seemed to simply enjoyed passing the ball, making himself available and generally playing a good game of footie. The enjoyment, the zest, the desire to play well was lacking for the Bantams. Too many City players today thought the game was won in the dressing room and so it was lost on the field.

Little more to say then save talk of another Referee Mr David Webb who used two rule books – one in which Omar Daley is booked for diving but Lee Bradbury is not and Paul McLaren gets a yellow for a clumsy tackle but Anderton escapes a warning – and a hope that next week’s trip to Shrewsbury who could knock the Bantams out of the top three tomorrow afternoon sees more application.

Respect – The new way of Refereeing

I’d heard about the new season’s ‘Respect’ campaign. I’d seen a few of the TV adverts. I especially liked the one where our Euro 2008 ref from Rotherham, Mr Webb, (Well, ‘Howard’ doesn’t seem sufficiently respectful, does it?) is seen as a player with a headlock on an opponent while they both wait for a set piece to be taken. It did strike me that if our refs actually penalised some of those wrestling matches with bookings, rather than just held up the play and lectured the wrestlers, then they might win more respect and we might return to more football.

But then I heard that one of the ‘Respect’ rules was to ban instant replays from the manager’s dugout. I’m still struggling to find what’s right about that ruling. First of all, if a manager really wants know what the replay shows, there’ll be a screen out of sight and an earpiece link. Remember Jose Morinho and the man with the woolly hat? Secondly, how is it ‘disrespectful’ when the manager sees instantly what he would have seen at the end of the game and what the watching millions have seen anyway? Oh, I know the answer or at least I can guess what the FA thinks. If the manager doesn’t see a screen, he can’t rant straight away. (Well, he can actually, because some wrong decisions don’t need a replay to show how bad they were.) So, you see, it’s not the access to technology that’s disrespectful, but the rant that follows. Of course, that there’s only a rant when what the technology shows is how bad the decision was must be regarded as irrelevant, mustn’t it?

My real grouse with the technology bit is that the FA shouldn’t be banning it from the dugout, but should be offering it to the refs or at least to the fourth official. I’ve just seen on TV the most blatant penalty not to be given from the first day of the season (and neither of the teams has any claim on my allegiance). I shall not reveal the details. This way I can be respectful to the referee in question. But I know which ref it was. Respect? I don’t think so. Not until he comes out and tells us why he waved play on.

But what I did see in person at Valley Parade was another ‘Respect’ idiocy, the ceremonial entry on to the field and shaking of hands. Come on, who is it that thinks this is going to make a scrap of difference? By the time the coin’s tossed, we’ve all forgotten about lining up and shaking hands. We’re playing in claret and amber and they’re not. It was ever thus and a summary handshake at 2.55 will change absolutely nothing.

And the 14000 of us who saw the Notts County throw-in near the end of the game know just how much respect there was by that time. The ref had clearly told Evans to throw the ball out of play so Daley could be treated. Evans had equally clearly thrown it into touch within a very few yards of the corner flag (lesson to learn, says Stuart McCall in his post-match interview, about hoofing it into touch on the half-way line), in the natural expectation that it would be thrown back to him once the injury was treated and Daley was off the field (another silly rule!). So why didn’t the ref give a free kick and book somebody for unsportsmanlike behaviour? Maybe the FA will have an answer for that one. Perhaps he didn’t know how many of them had been unsportsmanlike! Until they come up with an answer, I shall say it was disrespectful on the part of both Notts County and then the ref, who seemed to be less inclined to show respect to the spirit of the game and perhaps more inclined to demand respect for his own decisions.

Oh, and one last thing on that throw. If the keeper needs to be told on radio that it’s a lesson to be learnt about where he puts the ball out of play, maybe someone with more experience, coming on to the scene only after the final whistle, when we’ve won and tempers should have cooled, might learn not to go within a hundred yards of the player responsible for the unsportsmanlike behaviour. That way there’s no risk of a ‘clash’. Now that he doesn’t have Deano to ‘mind’, maybe Wethers can continue his old role once he’s allowed out of the dugout at the end of the game. And, for this ref only, Wethers, could you keep an eye on the car park for an hour or two after the match? Or is that disrespectful?

One down…

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City. It shifts with unease for all.

City’s 2-1 win over Notts County could be the template for the season. The Bantams were worthy winners but by a yard and not a mile and at times nerves were evident in the stands and the players fell out of a rhythm they had used to control much of the game.

When in control too City looked ebullient and passed the ball around from player to player with a calm ease personified by new number four Paul McLaren who had the touch to take a second more on the ball than many other on the field and looked unhurried as he and Lee Bullock won the midfield battle for their first afternoon as a league partnership.

Last season we talked much about Stuart McCall’s attempts to find someone to play in the position and the style he still casts a long shadow over and in McLaren he has someone who can set the pace for the team and create the passing flow that the manager did ten and twenty years ago.

Yet McLaren and Bullock’s control in the game faded and City were left with a scoreline and an afternoon that was closer than the build up to the game would have suggested. On the walk to Valley Parade the atmosphere suggested that City would only need to turn up to win. This is never the case.

Every win has to be earned and this one was. The Bantams put pressure on once the game had settled into a patten and when Lee Bullock was freed past the defence by some excellent work on the right and unceremoniously bundled to the floor it was clear that City possessed the abilities that pre-season suggested and that the quality of Refereeing was not going to have increased in line with City.

As the FA start their “Respect (The Ref)” campaign they send to Valley Parade Mr Darren Drysdale of the five game ban for Dean Windass two seasons ago when the City striker shouted at him in the car park highlighting the problems of the campaign that tries to have respect given in reply to unreachableness, highhandedness and arrogance that marked today’s display and Drysdale’s interaction with Bradford City.

City’s pressure told when Paul Arnison – who enjoyed a great debut coming forward to support Omar Daley superbly – whipped a cross in for Peter Thorne to head in while running onto from inside the box leaving keeper Kevin Pilkinton flat footed and continuing his policy of filling his boots against the club he got a hat-trick against last time they were at Valley Parade.

However for all City’s slick passing County were not snuffed out with Delroy Facey – a late signing who had interested City – troublesome and Jamie Forester looking able. Quick reactions from Rhys Evans saw him sprinting off his line and clearing a ball out at the corner of the box. Evans spends most of his time as a goalkeeper shouting at his defenders and in that way he will do for me.

Also doing for me is Omar Daley who put in one of his best performances in a City shirt. He tried – and for all but a four minute sulking spell when someone had tugged his shorts succeeded in – integrating himself in the side McCall had built tracking back to match the pace of lively winger Myles Weston and unplayable when going forward.

In the first half his mazy dribbles had end points with short passes or – ten minutes from the whistle – cutting onto his left on the edge of the box and lashed a low drive which Pilkington pushed wide. Barry Conlon put the scramble from the resultant corner into the side netting and City could have had two before the break.

After the break Conlon was in his own box playing away the danger of a visiting corner to Omar Daley some thirty five yards from his own goal. Daley went forward with his ranging stride used directly to take him past player and player. A defender lashed out a tackle that Daley skipped and Peter Thorne begged for a pass when the two City players faced only one defender whom Daley took the ball around leaving him one on one and a second later flat on his back when his shot had been saved by Pilkington’s foot from point blank range.

At that point I noticed I had not taken a breath since Conlon played the ball. Exhale and watch Daley rise to his feet and I do too. To applaud. Breathless football. Brilliant football.

The corner that comes from Daley’s short is cleared by Adam Nowland high, high and bizarrely backwards to Peter Thorne in the six yard box who executes an overhead kick into the far corner of Pilkington’s goal leaving red faces for the Magpies and defender Michael Johnson screaming for the offside that would have been the case had the return not been a piece of Steve Hodge style silliness.

All of which seemed to wake up the visitors – losing is one thing but beating yourself another – and gave them the zest to attack City’s flanks having had no joy going through McLaren and Bullock and while Kyle Nix had a quieter second half than his tricksy first he and Paul Heckingbottom stood strong. The right flank was unlocked though when Arnison left too much of a gap between him and Daley and Weston beat him delivering a pass to Richard Butcher in the box who finished well.

From then an even contest. City brought on the pace of TJ Moncur for Arnison to plug the right hand side and with ten minutes to go took Conlon off – Barry’s name was sung and he was applauded by all – and brought Michael Boulding on for his debut. Boulding got free. He took the ball into the box and lashed it across goal in a way that suggested talent and hinted at tunnel vision.

The contest though was won by the solid abilities of Matthew Clarke and the ultra-impressive Graeme Lee. Clarke’s play was reminiscent of Stuart McCall’s team mate Darren Moore who City had tried to sign in the summer instead opting for the new skipper Lee who commanded the box, cleared everything out, tackled superbly and kept the back four in line. Of all the new signings it is Lee who most impressive and he who could be the foundation of a promotion bid.

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City but there – for the first time is some time – is where it sits.

Who will be the happier?

Owen Coyle and Stuart McCall paths crossed as players during their days North of the border but the Irish player born in Scotland and the Scot born in Yorkshire never ended up on the same side and so as they faced each other as managers it is no surprise that one ended up happier than the other.

However – considering the result – one would be very surprised if it was Coyle who was more pleased as McCall watched his Bradford City team that is surely too good for League Two more than match a Championship side who have spent big in the Summer.

Spent big on Martin Patterson – £1.3m from Scunthorpe – who along with Robbie Blake were head and shoulders the best thing about the Burnley side which struggled to keep up with City in the opening exchanges.

The Bantams were approaching race trim. Rhys Evans is still a question mark in goal – his ability with crosses is the question and both visitor goals on the hour and in the last minute came when crosses got into the box and were not cut out – but the back four of Paul Arnison, an outstanding Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke and Paul Heckingbottom coped well with the troublesome two up front for the men from over the hills. Willy Topp – playing a full ninety minutes – and Omar Daley troubled the full backs and the middle pairing of Paul McLaren and young Luke Sharry – not looking out of place – started brightly.

However – and shamefully – rather than competing with City in the spirit of warming up for league games – Burnley resorted to physical play with Remco van der Schaaf putting in the type of tackles that would get cards in games and resulted in him being compulsorily substituted after thirty-five minutes.

Referees are told to take pre-season games as if they were full matches so where Mr G. Laws got this rule from is anyone’s guess but the validity of the game from that point on was highly dubious. In a league game Burnley would not have been able to use soft reffing to stop City’s playmaker with fouls and one doubts anyone can be proud of the Clarets for that sort of play or for the persistent handballs in the second half that killed off chances which would have gone punished in the season proper.

So City scored before half time through Barry Conlon after he coolly chipped in when capitalising on a mistake and did enough to suggest that we were far closer to the Championship level than we last season – or that Burnley are closer to League Two – and the result mattered even less than usual with the favours that were given to the team from the league higher.

McCall has Chris Brandon, Lee Bullock, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come back into this side and in McLaren he has a player so good that he has literally put his shirt on him. Ten days until the start of the season for both these clubs and McCall will be happier of the two managers.

Burnley might have had the win thanks to the favours but they were matched by the Bantams and if it turns out that both sides are League One quality then 2009/2010 could very well see this fixture played in that division.

The Dutch score but they are no masters

The technical debate – the reasons why a decision has been given or not – I love. I got my teeth into Aaron Wilbraham’s almost goal against City at the end of the season loved the debate between fans. The reasons why. The knowing the rules. The knowing football.

So when The Dutch squared a ball to Ruud van Nistelrooy who stabbed in I though offside. My attention was drawn to a player on the floor behind the goal, the replay showed that he would technically still be involved in play – according to rule 14, got to love rule 14 – and thus the goal should stand.

A remarkable bit of refereeing. The correct decision. Justice is done.

Yet something does not ring true and for a while I change the Blue shirts to Claret and Amber in my head and try empathy and it comes to me. Last season City were forced to defend with a man down in our own six yard box – technically the Referee should have stopped the game because playing on was dangerous – and that player played all onside.

I recall at the time talking of the technicalities of the decision that should have been but was not made then and were I Italian I’d no doubt be speaking of the same today. Of course Rudd van Nistelrooy – the master of offside – is allowed to stab the ball home and is rendered onside by a prone Christian Panucci but should he have?

Morality has little sway in football but using an injured player to gain an advantage – while legal – is hardly fair and certainly not laudable. Van Nistelrooy is technically right but wrong in so many other senses.

The pain of football is that were Ruud to ignore the chance he is equally likely to have seen his team suffer from similar. Least we forget that the Italian team that claims the crown as World Champions represents a League and an FA which allows AC Milan to represent it in the Champions League the season after they have found them guilty of match fixing and hands out punishments to Juventus that would hardly prevent a repetition of the systematic and persisting cheating of the Old Lady of Turin.

The woe of football is that rules have to be constructed around the idea that cheating them will become inevitable and that no one expects fair play. Should Ruud pass that goal up because Pannuci is injured? Pannuci played on.

The tragedy of football is that we expect so little from it.

Not fit to referee

I shall be clear, dear reader, from the offset.

Joe Colbeck deserved the red card after 37 minutes for a violent tackle on Dean Lewington which saw the 2-0 down City’s performance against the Champions of League Two but aside from ordering the Bantams player of the season off the field Karl Evans put in a shameful, disgraceful, unfit for purpose refereeing display.

All of which stops the match report I would like to have written about City’s man of the hour and about the prospects for next season and forces me to write once more about the appalling state of officials.

First things first though this afternoon – the final home game of the season – saw David Wetherall’s last match at Valley Parade and the penultimate of his career. Wetherall led City’s players in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the fire of 1985 and as he did my mind drifted back to May 2000 when Wetherall’s header kept City in the top flight and relegated our opponents the Dons. I recall that on that day the Liverpool supporters observed the silence with not a decibel before joining the Bantams fans in roaring through a pulsating game of football. The visitors today paid similar respects and held a banner to commemorate. They are much criticised – these Milton Keynes Dons – but as supporters they did themselves credit today.

Paul Ince’s team deserve some credit too and obviously can play a bit. They go up as champions largely on the strength of the away form that make this the eighteenth win on the road of the season but the Dons win at all costs attitude is best summed up with a casual phrase thrown around in the second half. “Paul Ince will make a good Arsenal manager one day.”

The Dons took a lead early on with after City had started the brighter and Barry Conlon should have given City the lead but Willy Gurrett loomed large the in the goal after good work had put the Irishman through and Conlon hit the ball wide. The Dons lead came from a ball crossed from the left – Darren Williams did not have a good game and left Colbeck out wide to cope with Lloyd Dyer – which travelled too far untouched by Bantams to be not considered a mistake by the back four when Jude Stirling headed home. Ince fielded a 352 which was effective while the Bantams soft pedalled.

Dyer scored the Dons second after powerfully converting a long throw which bounced over Wetherall’s head and it would be tempted to chalk that goal off as being a mistake by the man who is a little too long in the tooth but Williams once again allowed Dyer free reign to come in from the flank and Eddie Johnson simply watched the winger run past him to score. Johnson seems set to be a good twelfth man for the Bantams should he stay but one suspects that promotions are not made of displays as he puts in all too often. His inclusion at the expense of Tom Penford seemed unjust and up until the sending of off Colbeck which was to follow Johnson did not show enough desire. Not enough by half and he was not alone in that.

Colbeck’s sending off on 37 minutes was just. He trolled into Lewington who he had tormented with his pace earlier in the game as he steamed in anger. That Colbeck’s fury was caused by Dons skipper Keith Andrews elbowing him in the face in the pattern of play that preceded it is no excuse just as those managers who moaned that Dean Windass had squeezed testicles or niggled their players before retaliation had followed. The likes of Cheltenham’s John Finnegan painted themselves as wronged heroes following retaliation against Windass and were allowed to do but to be they were over angry and needed to allow the referee to take control rather than giving out what justice they saw fit as should Colbeck. That Karl Evans was a pathetic referee is not a reason why you should be allowed to take your anger out on another player so violently and Colbeck blotted and impressive copybook.

Nevertheless a strange fury surrounded the deserved red card and City to a man increased the levels of performance. Wronged – supposedly – the Bantams roared into the Dons and began to create sustained spells of pressure with Kyle Nix prompting in the midfield and Barry Conlon making himself a nuisance up front. Omar Daley’s dazzling run and left footed finish gave City a glimmer of hope at half time and the half ended in farce. A visitors corner ended up in disgusting two footed smash tackle on Kyle Nix by Jordan Hadfield which was much worse than the attack that had seen Colbeck sent off and went unpunished as Evans called a halt to the first half with former Bantam Aaron Wilbraham holding Scott Loach in a headlock and trying to shake him to retrieve the ball.

Colbeck deserved sending off. Football has no room for retribution being taken out in that way but it has no room for players grabbing each other in headlocks – the thin end of a wedge that ends with violence – and it certainly has no room for the type of two footed lunge that sent Nix spinning from Hadfield. The Bantams went in at half time 2-1 down to a chorus of boos for Referee Evans who would come out to perform so much worse in the second half with the words “You’re not fit to referee” ringing in his ears and such a phrase is true. Referees have a duty of care to the players written into the rules of the game in in ducking the decision to punish Hadfield or Wilbraham Evans hid from that responsibility. I would not like to have been a player on the field in such a lawless environment.

Evans made a litter of mistakes small and large in the second half missing the most obvious corner seen in football, allowing a waist high wrestling move on Darren Williams when he came through, giving a random set of decisions against Barry Conlon and Dons man Danny Swailes as the tussled all afternoon and at one point allowing Wilbraham to sneak back onto the field of play after going behind the touchline and rob Loach of the ball which he pinged off the bar of an open goal.

Your average football fan can be forgiven for not knowing that player who leave the field – go over the white line – have to ask permission to come back onto the field and that it is only a convince to allow them not to return to the pitch at the halfway line (as substitutes do) but Karl Evans is paid to know the rules of football and rather than stopping play and booked Wilbraham he allowed play to continue. It is Law 12.6 if you want to grab your copy of the rules and check it out and it is right above the rule that he used to send Colbeck off.

What can you say about a situation where the Referee knows or applies on the rules he decides at that time? I hope he is just a pathetic referee rather than a bent one but I can not accept that he is neither.

The frustration with Evans’s display was matched by that of City’s knocking on but never breaking through the MK Dons defence – David Wetherall’s header wide went in in a more romantic world – and in the end a ten man Bradford City were better than the eleven of the champions. Paul Ince had four months at StockportMacclesfield (an impressive five months) before he started at the Dons and one cannot help but wonder if after four months of learning at City Stuart McCall had have been able to start the season at the beginning of January would the Bantams be in the position that Ince’s men are?

McCall has got a City team that try play a bit, that can play a bit, that are naive in places but very exciting to watch. The team needs a tweak here and there but not wholesale change and one hopes that Colbeck will have put off potential suitors today and that should he start for the year long loan that seems to hang on Watford getting promoted then Scott Loach does not have to many games as he did today but the Bantams should be considered serious promotion contender next season.

This season though is full of what ifs. What if Peter Thorne had been fit at the start of the season? What if Joe Colbeck had found such scintillating form earlier? What if that run of not winning all through Autumn had not come? What if? The Dons take the championship but one cannot help but be reminded and paraphase of the famed comment of John Bradford – there, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford City.

The grace of God and a better referees maybe.

I Feel Sorry for That Referee

I often wonder what makes someone become a Referee.

Is it a desire to ruin Saturday afternoons on a massive scale? Is it the need to control grown men using only a bit of metal, a pea and two bits or card? Is it a self flagination that sees them rewarded with mass loathing? Long time readers will know – I just do not understand those guys.

Sure enough I have no more understanding as to why the Referee against Morecambe ignored a blatant backpass as I do why the man in the middle against Barnet allowed play to continue with Mark Bower down injured in our own box in a way that precluded a shot at goal from the visitors. I do not know why Referee’s do what they did against Hereford this year – I have an idea or two – but I understand enough to comment and criticise and do in great measure.

Tonight though I had that worst thing one can get for Referees – I have sympathy.

Eddie Ilderton was a rubbish Referee but then again he is doing his job in League Two on a Tuesday night in a meaningless game so perhaps one should expect nothing less than the litter of bad offside calls for both sides and the generally random nature of the decisions but my sympathy comes from his having to deal with the likes of Barnet FC.

How does Ilderton deal with players who rather than put a ball out of play when an opposition player is on the floor in the six yard box? He knows that should a shot at goal be taken – and it was – that he has a duty of care written into rules that means he has to blow the whistle and stop the game lest Bower – for it was he – gets beaned by the ball or by Scott Loach diving. For sure the Referee fumbled his decision but Barnet’s players intercepted a clearance that would have taken the ball out of play and built and attack. How does the Referee deal with such a lack of sportsmanship?

This paled in the last minutes of the game when after Eddie Johnson was caught in a clash of heads Ilderton gave a drop ball which he – one assumes – asked the City player Kyle Nix if he would allow the drop ball to be uncontested to allow Barnet to belt the ball back to City’s keeper but rather than that Neal Bishop hit the ball for a throw in near the corner flag and Barnet contested the throw in.

What does a Referee do in the face of such an appalling lack of sportsmanship where a player makes an agreement and then breaks it seconds later? “If they don’t challenge will you kick this back to their keeper?”, “Yes Ref.” He does opposite. How does one deal with that short of Ilderton pointing at Bishop and saying what must have been going through his head – that Bishop is a bit of a sh*t.

I have sympathy because my comments on Referees normally are based on the idea that they have a job of making sure that things are done evenly and that they should be able to do that but that job is made impossible when players act like Barnet’s players did.

Of course having broken the agreement Ilderton could have blown his whistle and booked Bishop for ungentlemanly conduct giving a free kick to City but he did not – because he was a rubbish Referee – but I felt sorry for him nevertheless.

Make Sure You Talk To The Referee

Omar Daley must have been mystified about his red card against Rotherham that saw him putting hands on the Referee following a clash with the home side’s defender. Of course Omar will know if he did kick out at the defender and of course he will know how deliberate that is but what will mystify the City winger is just how as the spotlight turns onto Respecting The Referee the man in the middle Mike Thorpe is allowed to wade in between him and a member of the opposition side and start physically pushing the two apart.

At Old Trafford Javier Mascherano is sent off for dissent which seems to consist of questioning a referee’s decision. Mascherano faces a five game ban for this “crime” if one could call a grown man talking to another in what no one has suggested is anything other than a civil tongue.

During his City Dean Windass was banned for five games for – as a Referee attests to – swearing at him in the car park and against Wrexham he was famously sent off for effing andjeffing at the man in black. Windass is out of line we are told – although I’m not sure about making rules to govern the language of players and think it has worrying overtones about the class of those allowed to play the game – but surely Mascherano is not unless we are in a situation where it has become impossible to even speak with a Referee during a game.

Is the Refereeing authority of a football game so weak – so feeble – that we cannot even allow a single question to be asked? Are they that incapable of justifying their decisions that they are to be shrouded totally from question in all circumstances?

Referees in March 2008 seem convinced that they should take the form of Headmasters with an iron rule of pupils they have no reason to answer to rather than facilitators of a game between adults. Rather than hiding from public comment why not give Referee’s the right – or perhaps the requirement – to talk in public about their decisions? Why not have referee’s reports posted online for paying supporters and players alike to get clarity on why decisions were made?

Create a culture of openness and the referee – stripped of their aloofness – might start to earn respect for honest endeavor rather than trying to create rules to enforce respect. Where in history has respect even been handed down by rule anyway?

Referees who want respect should earn it with honesty as everyone else has to and who knows with openness there may come a day where the men in the middle are able to say after a game that they have made a mistake or missed an incident rather than maintaining the current high handed approach to talking to the people who pay their wages.

And while we are in discussion on this subject should we as supporters not demand transparency from Referees. These guys are demanding respect but it is not two years since the biggest officials in Italian football were found to be on the take? Justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done.

However we carry on down a route where the Referee is beyond question and above even talking to the players and if that is the case then he has no right putting hands on them as Thorpe did Daley. How can Referee’s – how can anyone – get respected when they will not talk to you but will push you around?

A Tale Of Two Halves

City were made to pay for a lethargic second half performance by an Andy Bishop double, that inflicted our first defeat of 2008.

All seemed well in the first period, especially when Peter Thorne nodded home a brilliant left side cross from Tom Penford to give City the lead on 23.

But, in truth , somewhat surprisingly , Bury quite often looked like a threat – even more so than when they played City in their home game a couple of weeks ago. This threat was highlighted in the first half, when Wetherall was forced to head against his own post in the early exchanges, as Bury forced a few corners and put the City defense under some pressure which we never looked too convincing dealing with.

When Thorne opened the scoring, the odds would seem to favour City finishing the game with the 3 points and climbing into the top half of the table in good form.

However, then came the first of three key incidents that shaped this game. On the stroke of halftime, City attacked down the right with a through ball that looked certain to catch Bury out, after some smart play by Omar Daley. The through ball played looked to have City with 4 attackers facing just two Bury defenders, and with all the City attackers appearing yards onside (as was clearly viewable from all sections of the Midland Road stand) – the linesman flagged, seemingly for offside.

This decision incensed the home fans and particularly Stuart McCall, who was enraged at this appalling decision. A goal at that key point would have surely settled this contest, and a chorus of boo’s rang out around Valley Parade, not due to the performance, but more due to the poor officiating once again.

But as the home fans tucked into their half time Steak and Kidney, there weren’t many who would have predicted an unlikely second half comeback from lowly Bury.

City came out in the second half without any conviction whatsoever. Stuart’s halftime team talk seemed to have a completely adverse affect on the attitude of the players in this game. Omar Daley was hardly in the match, Eddie Johnson did not stamp his authority on the game whatsoever, and Willy Topp flattered to deceive before being substituted for last weeks match winner David Brown (who shocked the home fans with his infantile like appearance!) on 65.

Early in the second half David Wetherall was adjudged to have pulled Andy Bishop to the ground in the area and the referee swiftly pointed to the spot. The decision seemed slightly harsh and soft – but Wetherall was guilty of the exact same offense at the end of last year away at Mansfield, when the referee also pointed to the spot. On both occasions, Wetherall definitely did tug the shirt of the opposition player, and you would think that a player of David’s experience would have understood that you simply cannot get away with that in the modern game – even in League Two. Any contact in the penalty area or shirt tugging almost always results in a penalty.

Bishop stepped up and smashed in the equalizer from the spot.

And so the game continued, with City never really testing the Bury defense. Any saves were having to be made at the other end, from the on-loan Scott Loach in the City goal.

Then came another shocking decision. Statrosa was adjusted to have fouled just on the edge of our own area – a decision which beggared belief. What followed was a moment of class from stiker Andy Bishop – who is, by far, the best player I have seen play in this league. A smart free kick routine ended with Bishop curling the ball into the top corner which left City distraught and Bury heading across the M62 with all three points.

This was an expected defeat which left a sour taste in the mouth after the horrendous officiating display. But nevertheless, the players need to take responsibility for this one. The second half display was truly appalling and certainly was not one worthy of picking up three points. Having been on such a good run recently, why was the desire not there to finish off one of the bottom teams in the league at home?

Next week Rochdale will certainly not be any easier an opponent, but lets hope our game gets raised accordingly and keep the belief alive. The playoffs are not out of reach, but any more reversals like this at home will see us finish in mid table obscurity come May.

The Resolution

I have on a scrap of paper a list of things I want to achieve for 2008 – as close as I get to writing a list of resolutions – which tells about wallpapering back bedrooms and fixing bathroom leaks. About going to more gigs and about creating different websites. It is the things I’m doing next year.

When I was a teenager I used to make new year’s list that would include the phrase “Go to 20 away games.” Not anymore and this 3-1 defeat to Hereford United is a blinding example of why.

This is the build up part of the match report. After the details of the game I’m going to tell a truth as I believe it and you can believe it or not. Here is the build up.

Having let GNN leave and shifted Omar Daley up field Stuart McCall put out a raw midfield that included Scott Phelan and Tom Penford with Kyle Nix – so impressive a player Nix – and Joe Colbeck wide and the young four – five following Alex Rhodes’s entry replacing an injured Penford – performed well against a much fancied Hereford side that arrived and exited Valley Parade second in League Two.

Indeed on the field there was very little to separate the Bantams from the Bulls but the 3-1 win for the visitors was entirely down to Referee Graham Laws and his two assistants. The opening goal came when Theo Robinson was allowed to handle down a free kick and lash home and by free kick I count the most curious award when Omar Daley was pushed to the ground in the rain and penalised. In driving rain and on a pitch that bordered on unplayable any team would want free kicks given on the flanks to be hoisted into the area and poked home.

Second goal and Trevor Benjamin held Donovan Rickets around the waist as Dean Beckwith headed in. For a minute before I watched Benjamin, Matthew Clarke and Ricketts jostle. I watched Benjamin put his arms around Ricketts and I watched the ball headed in.

Stop. Let us step back to May 1981 and my first ever football game – Bradford City vs Hereford United. We lost 1-0 that day but I was hooked. 26 years on and had I seen this game I would never have stepped in a football stadium again so unjust was the game.

Back to the future and I can not believe that the second goal was given but I doubted the first one would be. After David Wetherall had followed in a rebound to get one back for City Hereford “regained” the two goal lead when they tonked another curious flank free kick in to three offside players in the eight yeads in front of Ricketts goal. When the rules of football were modified to include the concept of interfering with play it was never supposed to be that players would be allowed free reign to wander offside in the six yard box in front of the goalkeeper.

I assume this because if this is the plan then the game is really, really in trouble.

Second half and City introduce Billy Topp who looks good but in this pantomime the game is behind him. The rain stops but the game was over a long time before.

So to the chase rather than the build up. Referee Graham Laws took charge of this game in a biased way understanding that the word bias means “A particular tendency or inclination” which was most obviously seen in the giving of bookings – a yellow card for Paul Heckingbottom’s first and minor offence while Ben Smith was visibly told that his third offence had gathered him his caution – and then seen in the blind eye turned to offside players at one end while Matthew Clarke’s attempt to covert a corner which saw Benjamin push him to the ground did not garner the obvious penalty. It was one set of rules for one team and another set of rules for the other.

At this point I should bring forward my oft given comment that either the referee was so bad that he randomly gave a set of bad decisions which totally perverted the game because he was having “a bad day” rather than anything more sinister or that he had somehow created the result himself because he had been bought or betting or something of that ilk.

After that I would say that I was not sure which of the two options I would prefer and muse on either the idea that I would rather they be bought than the officials be that inept or I would wax lyrical about Juventus and the idea that if corruption can exist in the highest level of European football isn’t it a given that it could in League Two in England?

I’d say that in both of these scenarios the Football Authorities are ready to turn a blind eye. They brush off the idea that bad officials are ruining games and refuse to make public referee’s post-game reports that would at least tell supporters. We are the guys who pay the wages after all. The Authorities of the game mount a bizarre high horse to the idea of corruption in the English game and will reply with angry to the suggestion that there should be so much as an investigation into bent officials and bought wins. From the top of my head I can think of Lou Macari and his betting on his own Swindon team to lose, of Tony Kaye and the 1966 match fixing scandal of Aldelecht being found guilty of bribing Referees to beat Nottingham Forest in the European Cup in 1981, of the Italian titles won by Juventus which appear on the CV of the man that the Football Association have made England Manager.

I could rant about all these things but I’ve done so too many times now and write up my new year’s list without the ambition to go to as many Bradford City games as I can because – simply – as a fan I can’t trust the result of a game like Bradford City 1 Hereford United 3.

I believe that for whatever reason Graeme Laws wanted a two goal win for Hereford United and made sure he got one. Perhaps he had money on it? Perhaps he had been paid to get it? Perhaps he just wanted to see if he could make a result? I’d love an investigation into this game, into the Joe Ross game at Luton three years ago, into last year’s defeat to Blackpool at Valley Parade but I will never get one and while I make no suggestion as to why Laws created a result I do believe he did.

So without a sense of clarity and justice in the game I drift and I drift away. Many things can be done on a Saturday that are not watching perverted football games and often I do them and I doubt I’m alone – 13,000 at Valley Parade and about 2,500 when we go away from home – not because of a lapse in love for the club but for the game that reveals in turning a blind eye.

26 years ago I watched Bradford City lose to Hereford United and fell in love with the game, now I am very much out of love with football but as a man who has given a quarter of a century to the game I believe I – we – deserve a game which is clean and is seen to be clean and we deserve officials who can be trusted to be honest and not inept and until we get those things interest in football at this level will wane.

Hereford United’s supporters at Valley Parade wandererd away singing that they were going up – they are if they get Graeme Laws every week and they may make sure they do – but there is a hollowness to football when trust – as it was today – is missing. it was today – is missing.

Twenty-Twenty Vision

I watch a lot of football, live and on television. On Saturday I was at Valley Parade for the cup game and by Monday evening I was in front of the TV watching Coventry v West Brom. In little over 48 hours I saw the arguments for and against referees being assisted by technology – or at least by each other.

Let’s start with G’s sending-off. I was in the Midland Road, Block B, near the back. The sending off was for an ‘offence’ near the Main Stand touchline, about a third of the way into the other half of the pitch from my seat. I was, thus, the best part of 70 or 80 yards away. The referee, Mr Salisbury, was probably 15 or so yards away and his assistant not much more than 10 yards distant, with nothing between him and the incident. The fourth official was along the same touchline and perhaps 20 yards off.

The referee – and perhaps only the referee, for we will never know – decided almost instantly that whatever he thought G did amounted to a bookable offence, with the inevitable consequence for a player he had booked a few minutes earlier. The assistant, according to reports, and perhaps even the fourth official, didn’t think so. Indeed, even from the other side of the ground the first thing to be seen was City players and officials going to the assistant, clearly imploring him to speak to the referee and say what he saw. As far as I could tell, he stayed motionless and mute. By then, he must have thought, it was too late, such was the speed with which Mr Salisbury produced the card.

Next day, with the aid of those clever people who invented the Sky+ box, I saw the incident again, first in real time, then slowed down and several times over. The cameraman, at the back of the Midland Road stand and on the half-way line, did a good job and produced a reasonably close picture of the incident. I saw nothing to support the referee’s hastily-formed view and everything to support the equally quick opinion of Wayne Jacobs and others. Not for the first time, then, an injustice appears to have been done and one that cannot be challenged on appeal.

Move forward now to Monday evening. The referee was Mr Dowd, a Premiership official. (I hope he won’t take offence if I suggest he would look fitter with less round the middle.) A Coventry player, Michael Mifsud, ran toward a long, high, diagonal pass at the same time as a West Brom defender, Carl Hoefkens, came from a different direction. Because it was a long ball, the ref was never going to be on the spot and was probably 30 yards away when the two players came together in mid-air. He did, however, have an unobstructed view and blew immediately for a foul by Mifsud.

The foul took place some thirty yards into the half Coventry were attacking and near their left wing. The assistant on that touchline was on the other side of the half-way line, so further away than Mr Dowd. The assistant in that half of the pitch was inevitably on the opposite touchline, much further away than Mr Dowd. The fourth official, Mr Hall, (seen to do a good job at Valley Parade as recently as a Tuesday of the previous week) was also on the opposite side of the pitch and again much further away then the referee.

Mr Dowd did not reach for his pocket. A few West Brom players made their anger toward Mifsud fairly plain, suggesting that he had led with his elbow. Still Mr Dowd was not going to his pocket. Instead he was putting his hand to his ear. At this level the officials can all communicate with each other through earpieces and someone was clearly trying to communicate with Mr Dowd. He began a curious process of backing away from the incident and toward the fourth official. He continued this journey for most of the width of the pitch before he began checking his pockets. It was plain that he was making sure which card was in which pocket. He called Mifsud over to him and finally produced a red card.

I watched that incident a few times, as well. Mr Dowd’s decision was absolutely spot-on. Mifsud did indeed lead with his elbow and wasn’t even looking at the ball. If Mifsud had been Hoefken’s size (he’s about a foot shorter), there was a broken cheekbone waiting to happen. So, well done Mr Dowd and, perhaps, well done Mr Hall and/or one of the assistants.

Questions were asked in the half-time studio chat, not least about whether Mr Hall could have seen the Sky pictures – there was a screen not far from his position, but it seemed unlikely that he would have gone to it, given its particular location. The real question for the pundits, however, was what had happened to persuade Mr Dowd, after such a long pause and backward trot, that the correct decision was a red card. Somebody, somewhere had clearly been talking into his earpiece. Maybe he would have sent off Mifsud anyway. We shall never know.

Maybe, if he’d had some communication in his ear from either his assistant or the fourth official, Mr Salisbury wouldn’t have given G that second booking. He might even, as Mr Hall had done in the previous game and as Stuart McCall is now doing, have questioned whether a Chester player was being entirely honest. But maybe no amount of communication would have changed anything. Maybe Mr Salisbury was right all along – or at least believes that to be the case.

But this isn’t about good and bad refereeing decisions. If it was, picking one from your own team’s match would be a poor decision in itself. No, this is about how refereeing decisions are made. If, for example, Mr Dowd had had four assistants, one would have been very close to the Mifsud incident, almost as close as Mr Salisbury’s assistant was to the G incident. If Mr Salisbury had had Mr Dowd’s communication system (am I right in thinking that at our level some referees do have this system and others don’t?), might there have been a word in his ear or might it simply have been too late anyway?

Try to put to one side the actual circumstances from Saturday, especially that it was a City player involved. Then ask yourself as a football fan, which would you rather have – that the referee makes quick and sometimes wrong decisions that might change the course of the game; or that the referee takes a little time, gets better information and makes more correct decisions, using whatever technology is available.

I have a friend who works in Dutch television. Just a year ago I was with him in the press seats at the Amsterdam ArenA (and that really is the way to spell it) watching England play Holland. I saw how quickly the replays can be shown. Neither Saturday’s game nor Monday evening’s would have been slowed down in any way by resorting to a replay, if the screen had been made available to the fourth official. Of course, there are some cases where there should be enough eyes sufficiently near the incident to make any replay redundant. But that requires that referees don’t reach hasty conclusions, that their assistants really are allowed to assist, rather than just follow in silence, and that the fourth official, himself a qualified referee, does more than hold up the board for substitutions and stoppage time. It also requires that a referee is prepared to accept that he may not always be right, which in some cases may be a problem.

Well done, Mr Dowd, I say. And you can work out for yourself what advice I might give to Mr Salisbury.

In Consideration of Stuart McCall

League Two is beginning to settle into my mind. I’ve done a look up and down the list of teams – nothing very impressive – and I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason we are going to be at the same level as Rochdale is that the characterlessness of the club means we deserves to be at the level of Rochdale.

Characterlessness I’ll qualify. This season City have been subject to some appalling and frankly biased refereeing decisions and have had a share of bad luck that hampers most teams. Our reaction to these knock downs has been to hug the canvas for as long as possible. There are many reasons for this – too many loan players, a change in manager, losing key members of the squad, injuries, a hostile crowd, an inequity in the structure of the game – but few would argue that it is the case.

To escape this League Two the club is going to need major work and prime in that work is the appointment of a manager. Julian Rhodes wants someone in the chair by the end of May and he wants to talk to Stuart McCall about the job.

It is probably clear that City need McCall more than McCall need City but need him we do. No other names suggest themselves as being able to have the sea-change in atmosphere – who would boo a McCall team? McCall would get the shield of bullet-proofness for longer than other managers and might actually get some work done – and culture at the club.

Adding McCall to City could put a few thousand bums on seats, it could get people behind the club again. It could be the answer to all the minor problems that have added up to a major crisis for this club.

Make no mistake Julian Rhodes cannot keep bank rolling a City side that loses him money. We need McCall to return to kick-start all the things we need to turn the club around. We need a manager whom people want to do well rather than the procession of gaffers who it seems failure was almost welcomed for. I heard I don’t mind if we lose cause then Todd will be sacked far too many times last year.

However it is said that McCall would not want to join a League Two club. That relegation has cut off our chances of getting the number four for his third stay at VP. Perhaps so.

To that all I can say is that Bradford City is in dire need – in dire need for the changes that McCall could bring – and should he decided as he has a right to that he can watch the club flounder from afar in what is in a very real and very serious way our hour of need then perhaps I hold him in too high regard.

A club’s legend – this club’s legend – needs to be prepared to get hands dirty otherwise what is the point of being the legend?

Bradford City’s problem since the McCall/Paul Jewell/Geoffrey Richmond days has been a critical lack of leadership. A McCall led City have a chance to establish a direction again – to rally under a banner so lacking under Colin Todd or Nicky Law – and stop the backbiting and arguments that go along with every game. Valley Parade could unify behind Peter Beagrie or John Hendrie but it would be behind McCall and the divisiveness of the last seven years could be put to rest.

Beagrie, Hendrie, Chris Wilder, Wayne Jacobs. Other managers could turn around the club but McCall – with the status he would bring – has the best chance to avoid a future in which attendances dwindle, in which Rhodes can no longer fund a club making less and less money every year, which is so far away from the top table of English football that the risible, lamentable trickle down hardly registers.

In the twenty five years since we were last in the bottom division football has changed beyond recognition. For most of those twenty-five years we put the club on a progressively higher footing but – and apologies to the sensibilities on this but it is a grim fact – we are at a storm front in football where the haves have and the have nots are swept away.

Twenty-five years ago we were in the have nots by some degree. We rose into the haves of the Premiership and the Championship and black balance sheets and entertaining football, we need to get back not just to have a better future but to have a future.

Twenty-five years ago when City started our last campaign in the bottom division in the first game we have a debut at right back to a 16 year old picked up after being released.

You can guess what his name was?

So This Is It. City Doing Bad Doing Good

In a nutshell anything other than a win for Bradford City at Chesterfield will see the Bantams relegated.

David Wetherall’s side go into the game without Kelly Youga who joins Mose Ashikodi and injured back to the Premiership following his stay at Valley Parade and looking for results and miracles. If wishing made it so City would stay up but football is hard and our own mistakes have been compounded by refereeing point stealing leaving us where we are now.

Should the worst have happened at five on Saturday then City will not go into administration but will be starting next season with the cheapest season tickets in football after Julian Rhodes decided to honour the pledge for the 7,000 fans who have applied. City fans will pay £136 next term. One can only hope that this signals a turn around in the fortunes and atmosphere at VP. Julian Rhodes deserves it to – his actions today should be followed throughout football. As City falter on the field the ideas off it are laudable.

Rhodes says

As I keep stressing, the club’s future depends so much on the backing from the fans.

That is laudable too.

Also worth backing is City fan Nick Kitchen’s campaign to Bradford Council to get them to financially help City out. The title of the campaign is “Campaign Backing For The Bradford District Council To Help Support City Financially” and already over 600 Signatures.

If you see Nick collecting signatures around Keighley shopping centre, in the Bantams Bar, at the club shop before a game or in Chesterfield then give them a sign if you agree. If you get doorstepped in election week next week then you might wants to ask red, blue, yellow or “other” what they think before voting.

So It Has Come To This

I’m still not really sure how this happened this relegation thing.

I remember having an argument with a few people about how City were going to grind away to mid-table mediocrity under Colin Todd and I was saying that we should give the guy time cause he was doing a good job just having us in League One and then I was told that sacking him we could get promoted.

It was like a promise that getting rid of Todd would make things better. Someone must have believed it. I wish this was me being wise after the event but I said it at the time.

I remember that we had a guy up front called Dean Windass who could do some stupid stuff but was the best striker in the league and people were telling me we shouldn’t play him to teach him a lesson or punish him for getting sent off and then someone said he should not even play for us again and now it looks like he won’t.

I’m pretty sure that things were not perfect and that basically things have been wrong at City since Richmond’s summer of madness but it struck me on Saturday that this club has a load of problems caused by Richmond and a load of problems caused by the way that big football screws over little football and a lot of problems caused by rubbish refereeing but we also had a load of problems caused by us.

The booing, the insisting that the gaffer is sacked, the guys who pick on one player be it Deano or Ben Parker or Billy Paynter or anyone, the mood at VP that is so negative. All stopping people coming to Valley Parade. All real problems.

So I remembered that City had loads of problems outside the camp and then it struck me as I watched half a team playing out the end of League One football that we should sort out the problems inside the ground and inside us fans first.

Two Sets Of Rules As City Face The Fall

Ask me about why Bradford City have struggled this season and I have a single, clear , unequivocal answer for you. I look at the goal that was chalked off at Scunthorpe and I remember Steven Schumacher’s red card against Blackpool and I add to that the incongruous decision to send Joe Colbeck off after City took the lead against Oldham at Valley Parade and I say without doubt that the most important factor has been the decisions given by referees.

More of which later. City took a long trip to Bournemouth for what was tagged as a must win and with Eddie Johnson filling in for Mark Bridge-Wilkinson in the midfield it seemed that the Bantams would leave empty handed despite heroics by Donovan Ricketts but a very late header from Spencer Weir-Daley in the 92nd minute left the Bantams with one of the four points many were suggesting City needed from the Easter weekend and hope seemed to return.

Against Oldham that hope was manifested and dashed.

Moses Ashikodi used his pace to get onto the end of a Billy Paynter flick down and lashed a shot in half way through the second half and it should have been enough to give City the win. Of course it was not because as it traditional this season the referee had yet to come into play.

Mr R L Lewis gave City a throw in at the Midland Road/Bradford End of Valley Parade and Oldham’s players grabbed the ball only to throw it away to the corner flag when they saw that the decision had been given the other way. No card was shown despite what it expressly stated in the rules of the game. Ten minutes and one City goal after that Joe Colbeck was given a second yellow card for banging in a cross after taking the ball over the touchline.

Two incidents which are denoted identically in the rules – in fact the are covered under Rule 12 Point Four: Cautionable Offences which says

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he… delays the restart of play

Both offences denoted the same way in the rules so I am desperate to know why Mr Lewis believes that one results in a yellow card and the other does not? I assume that League One is played the rules of football FIFA set out so why is one offence cautionable and one not?

Without assigning a reason for it – I’m looking for answers not giving them – to give the same offence one punishment for one side and another for the other is bias.

It matters not what the opinions on the players involved are – many said that Colbeck was stupid to get himself sent off and cost us the win – but I believe that considering that this decision, that the Schumacher sending off at Blackpool, that Eddie Johnson’s disallowed effort against Yeovil, that David Wetherall’s goal at Scunthorpe compared to Robbie Williams’s for Blackpool are going to cost us our place in this league then we deserve an explanation why the most simple tenant of the game – that the rules are applied equally for both sides – is not being applied at Valley Parade.

To add insult to the technical offence that Colbeck committed Oldham’s goal scorer Luigi Glombard played the game protected by a yellow card shield recklessly tackling Mark Bower – take a look at Rule 12 again – before finally getting booked for “over celebrating” his goal. The connotation of the rules of football – the spirit of the game – are not that a player can swing wildly for the ball endangering his opponent and not be cautioned then feel the force of the law for being happy to have equalised. The spirit of the rule dubbed “kicking the ball away” is not to punish players who run over the byline in the attacking half and cross the ball to the keeper anyway any more than they are supposed to punish strikers who finish when offside.

The fact that it was Colbeck – so often and so ill a figure of ire at Valley Parade – dulls the edge of comment. Close your eyes and imagine it was St Jermaine Johnson in his final game at the club. Remember the fury and put it behind a player who actually wants to play for this club.

So there it is. The ball game perhaps and with four games left City need three wins from a trip to Brighton, home clash with Leyton Orient, a visit to Chesterfield and the final game of the season at home to Millwall.

Three wins would give 52 points and probably safety. I’d take the points from Blackpool, Yeovil, Scunthorpe and Oldham but it looks like this club is going to take the fall for a serious of Refereeing decisions which the charitable call the utterly poor state of officialdom in football today.

The Thing About Football

One thing I’ve noticed about football is that often I’m right and you are wrong. Maybes not you but other people. Most people. Most people are wrong about football.

It is not most people’s fault. They watch SKY TV and read The Sun and what they read and see must be true cause everyone around them is saying it but a million people can say one thing and still be wrong. Majority might rule but it ain’t always right.

Now I’m not always right either but when I said Colin Todd should not be sacked I was not off the mark. Nothing has improved since the manager got the bullet at Bradford City as we sink down and down the division until we sit in League Two next season.

David Wetherall’s job was to add a short term boost and nothing more and everyone knows that Stuart McCall just has to say the word and he will be gaffer. Wetherall is supposed to be a short term fix but Todd’s team wasn’t in the problems that the skipper finds his in.

Todd was not pulling up trees but he kept things going along and we would have sailed out to close season in a rather dull mid-table place but that was not good enough for some and they demanded and got a change. I think they said something about more excitement. I don’t know if they are happy now.

And of course we miss Deano and JJ and of course that is not Wetherall’s fault cause cash needed to be got in but what we paid to let the gaffer go was wasted.

I’m wrong lots of the time too by the way but I’m not wrong here and I’m not wrong when I say that what we have left after this 2-0 defeat to the league leaders is a lottery numbers chance of staying in the league.

City did well today keeping back a team on the way to promotion for so long but pressure always counts in football and sure enough Billy Sharp looks a striker on his way to bigger and better things. He lashed home and after that City were all but out of it save a Dave Wetherall header that got flagged away for some reason.

I’m losing count of goals chalked off for some reason. One thing we can all agree on is that in football if you don’t score goals you don’t win and Referees are determined to stop City scoring. Not that that seems to be stopping Dean Windass.

I guess it is not worth talking about what might have been and we should look at what is and what is is that we need wins and God knows where we are going to get them from. Easter is moving time Sir Ferguson says. We can only hope.

Given The Choice Of Two Evils

Football at this level needs to do something about the quality of Referees right now or it faces a nothing of a future.

Yes I am furious about the red card for Steven Schumacher which stopped a rampant Bradford City getting a much needed three points from Blackpool who had taken the lead but struggled to keep it following Omar Daley’s superb equalising strike after an hour. I’m furious cause I did not think that Schumacher even committed a foul let alone one worth being booked and I’m furious because Blackpool made the man advantage count to inflict what could be a fatal blow on City’s hopes of staying up.

Yes I’m furious about the fact that Referee let the visitors pass the ball around Donovan Ricketts for a third goal as if the injury time, last ditch goalkeeper out situation meant that the basic rules of the game did not count.

I’m furious about the fact that after a quarter of a century watching football I can still come away from grounds totally clueless as to why things have happened one way and not the other and have no one attempt to clarify things for me. Is it really that hard to have a way of communicating between Referee and supporters? I’m furious about all these things.

However I am more furious about this feeling I have in my stomach that will not accept that today we saw another dodgy Referee.

That is what we are told to accept. That the man in the middle makes a bad call this week against us and one next week for us and while only a fool would suggest that is an acceptable system it is something of a status quo in the game.

I’m no longer able to accept that idea. I’m looking for another explanation and I’m looking in places that I used to think were for raving mad men only.

Biased referees are a part of football at the moment. Referees who have been paid off to make sure one team gets a result are a part of football at the moment and if I’m asked to make a choice between the idea that today’s official Mr Bratt was making his decisions after being paid off or was just so utterly incompetent that he would send of Schumacher, would allow Blackpool’s Robbie Williams to stay on the field following his last warning as he committed offence after offence, would wave such a very off side goal into the net then I’m stuck between two options neither of which are welcome.

I would prefer that Mr Bratt had taken a pile of cash to get the result rather than thinking that he represents the standard of refereeing. One side of that question can be addressed after all. If Bratt really is the standard of refereeing then the game is not worth watching.

Certainly that is what I concluded at the end of the game as for the first time in my life I left a game early. That was not football it was pantomime. I doubt the best villains worry about being booed and I’m sure they are rewarded handsomely.

Half of Serie A – including the third biggest club in the world Juventus – are under punishment for match fixing and as I type the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal are still sitting round the G18 table with proven cheats. I do not believe it is naive to suggest that if cheating can exist at the very top level then it is possible in the money hungry, paid less world of League One.

Which is not to take anything away from Blackpool who played a good game – but so did the Old Lady of Turin over the last two seasons when they won the league only to have it stripped away. The Juve players and fans were distraught with what they assumed to be steamroller football being found to be Referees moving the obstacles out of the way.

Blackpool played well but they did not deserve the three points that they were gifted when Schumacher was sent off. Take your pick between paid off bias or game perverting incompetence but be sure of this – whichever it is it is killing football at this level and was the only thing that cost City three vital points today.

Only one Grant Hegley

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!

I honestly do not know what Refereeing is for anymore

Tranmere Rovers left Valley Parade about as angry with the Referee as they could be.

Having come over from the Wirral on a wet Yorkshire Sunday afternoon they left stung with the feeling that the man in the middle had robbed them of a penalty, given a goal which did not go over the line and then allowed a soft penalty against them which led to them going out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle. As the Referee went down the tunnel at VP the boos that surrounded him could have left him in no doubt as to what the visitors thought of his display.

Meanwhile – at the other end of Valley Parade – Lewis Emanuel wandered from the field in a tattered shirt. Tranmere Rovers defender Paul Linwood in what is euphemistically called a “confrontation” had ripped Emanuel’s shirt. Emanuel might have been nursing bruises on his legs sustained from Linwood’s kicks at the ball that Mani shielded at the corner flag – notoriously the lest pleasant of the in-game time wasting tactics and the short straw for any player. Sure enough as Emanuel shielded he defended the ball from two kicks before Linwood stopped aiming for the round white thing and started to kick Lewis. Two swipes connected before Lewis turned round and the square up began. Another firm kick from Linwood as he ripped Emanuel’s shirt and Emanuel took a firm grip of the Tranmere player. The referee booked both.

I honestly do not know what Refereeing is for anymore.

When I was younger I had a sense that Referees – like Policemen – were there to punish those who do bad things and in a way both still do. Much of what the Referee does centres around his cards although I have long since stopped trying to read anything into those decisions. Linwood is given the same punishment as Emanuel when one is playing the game – albeit in a way we might not like – and the other is annoyed by his play enough to start kicking assaults. They both get the same punishment as Dean Windass gets for talking out of turn and a lesser punishment than Windass does when he effs and jeffs.

If you can find logic for that then you are deluding yourself that one exists. It is simply wrong.

However Windass swearing and Linwood’s shirt ripping assaulting do fall within the remit of offences occurring outside the flow of the game. Both are technically speaking criminal offences – although the laws on vulgarities would have to be stretched to cover a footballer – and have no effect on the course of the game unlike a handball or a trip and while they are to be discouraged football’s authorities make a big leap trying to enforce laws of the game over law’s of society and has at times failed. Duncan Ferguson’s red card and additional suspensions during a Dundee United game a number of years ago was dished out by the Scottish Football Association who assumed that the violence would be kept in football circles but the Sheriff saw differently and Big Dunc was sent to prison for assault.

Any punishment football had in place fell a long way short of a few months in clink.

Away from out of the flow of game offences football has a series of rules regarding offences which do interrupt the flow of play which are designed or once were designed to keep that flow going. Back in 1980 Willie Young broken West Ham hearts by pulling down the then 17 Paul Allen on his way to goal in the FA Cup final and his booking for what would now be called a “last man foul” was scant punishment.

At some point after that the idea of sending off players for a professional foul was suggested not as a punishment for the likes of Young but as a deterrent. The idea was that the red card would be so costly a punishment and such a handicap on the team that a player would instead of diving in to foul as “the last man” he would allow the striker to continue to the goal scoring opportunity unfouled creating a more flowing and more entertaining game.

We saw the outcome of this rule yesterday when Dean Windass latched onto a through ball by Owen Morrison and got into a goal scoring position in the penalty area only to be fouled by Ian Sharps of Tranmere. The Referee gave a penalty but Sharpes was not sent off regardless of the fact that the rules say he should have been because to do so would be too harsh a punishment.

One does not want to assume what went on in the Referee’s mind but the idea that the punishment was too harsh – losing a man for the last half hour and probably a goal down – most likely occurred to him and he decided to counter balance the decision he has made to give the penalty by failing to apply the rules as they are laid out. What is supposed to be a deterrent to prevent Sharps from making the tackle and allow the striker to shoot – which is supposed to be the exciting part of football – becomes a subjective punishment.

The next time a player is in the position Sharps found himself in he will no doubt make the same decision to foul to just because the punishment is not given out consistently and thus may be avoided but because it has become so commonplace. In the day when a team can expect players sent off for swearing a red card for a defender has become an almost meritous thing. Managers talk about “silly” cards with those gained in the act of breaking up the flow of football for the opposition and for supporters as being the proper yellows and reds.

Red cards, yellow cards: All the cost of doing business these days.

Before the Windass penalty Tranmere had a shout for a penalty themselves. The far end of Valley Parade does not afford the quality of view to say if this case has merit but far too often balls bouncing to hit hands as opposed to hand being put in the way (deliberately or inadvertently) are being begged for as handball offences. Football should punish those who stick out an arm to stop the ball and those who leave arms laying away from bodies which block the ball but occasions where the ball inadvertently hits an arm only blocking it’s path to the players body are not something we should consider worth the same punishment as a trip which breaks up play.

On top of all this we have a Referee and a linesman who see the ball bounce down from the crossbar and maybe go into the goal but maybe not and give what seemed like a best and even handed decision. It could have been wrong but if it was it was done as a judgement call and not as the product of confusing and neutered rules.

One can forgive Referee mistakes in matters of empirical judgement. The second guessing and uneven application of clear rules on the other hand has created a system where any deterrent factor of discipline in football is lost and results in players fighting because as Paul Linwood kicked out Lewis Emanuel seemed to sense that no one else was doing anything to prevent the opposition player from taking chunks out of his legs.

I do not know what Referees, card, discipline et al are supposed to be doing anymore. Every week Referees are booed and teams are unhappy but as representatives and poor executives of such a deeply broken system one cannot say they do not deserve such criticism.

Football discipline is broken from top to bottom and very few elements of it work as they should. The game continues despite it and an industry has been established about moaning about it but when as we see now both teams regularly leave games complaining about the men in the middle it becomes clear that the game carries on in spite of and not because of their officiating.

Giving goals where there are no goals – Why Windass should not have walked

Dean Windass’s late lunge that got a red card at Valley Parade on Saturday against Sheffield United was many things – stupidly timed, ill judged and cynical – but it was not a red card offence.

The rules on automatic dismissals, a relatively modern concept in football, are clear. A player can be given a straight red card for two offences: violent conduct or a tackle that denies the opposition of a clear goal scoring opportunity.

The latter first: Windass’s trip was a good seventy yards away from the City goalmouth and in no way could be said to have robbed the Blade’s of a goal scoring chance. I’m not suggesting that they could not have build a decent move out of the fact that almost every Bantam was in their box and they were on the break but I am saying that that chance was a few good passes away and that when Windass intervened it was not a chance. The analogy is Leg Before Wicket in cricket which my understanding is cannot be given on a ball that may have swung back to the stumps. It has to be in line and heading at the stumps when it hits the batsman’s pad. The so-called professional foul rule works in a similar way.

So Windass could not have seen red for that.

Nor could his trip, albeit from a distance and totally stupid, be said to be violent conduct. Violent conduct governs punches and kicks like Kevin Phillips’s ill conceived boot to the backside off Franck Queudrue on Saturday. In the context of tackles it governs two footed lunges and waist high feet, which has nothing to do with Windass on Saturday.

You may have sat appalled by the fact that Windass’s trip robbed the game of open play that could have raised excitement levels or you may have been angered by Windass being so stupid as to put a tackle in in that position that late in the game that could have had this outcome. You may think that a tackle that trips a guy on the break is worth a red card or you may think that Windass lost his head against his former team but none of these points matter.

The rules are stated in black and white, there are no interpretations. Referee’s are not enfranchised to may poetic decisions to round off the story of Dean Windass and Sheffield United nor is he there to decide that Windass has killed a beautiful move that could have been so exciting had it got out of it’s infancy.

He is there to enforce the rules, not make his own. Which of the two infringements for an automatic red card did Dean Windass commit? He may be morally worth a red card and it may be apt punishment for his stupidity but those calls are not for the Referee to make.

What we saw on Saturday was the Referee overreacting to an on field incident and forgetting the rules he is there to enforce. To put it in context it was the Ref deciding on the outcome of an event based not on the event itself and how it should be dealt with in the rules but on the strength of his gut reaction to it.

It’s the equivalent of him seeing a great passing move that resulted in a shot just wide of the post and giving a goal because – hey – it would have been a great goal.

We would not accept that, we should not accept this.

The FA, bad discipline and sending in the United States Marine Corp

The Football Association have warned City that the club’s disciplinary record has been poor and that the Bantams could be face a very unwelcome a severe financial penalty should it not improve. This makes me mad.

The club can ill afford a fine at this point in it’s recovery from administration, indeed while a £35,000 fine would have been gobbled up by a Premiership club such a figure now represents the wage of a player for half a year. Such a punishment should be incentive enough for a club like City to avoid trouble and sharpen up the discipline at the club but there is no way that we will be able to do that with the current state of Refereeing dishing out cards in a seemingly ad hoc manner.

Which of these sending offs did we deserve?
  • Peter Atherton at Rotherham
    Aside from the fact that Martin MacIntosh deserved a red in that game which was not given Atherton did not even connect with the tackle he was sent off for. It was acknowledged at the time as a very poor decision.
  • Mark Bower at home to Burnley
    Opposing forward cheated to have him sent off, something that was obvious to everyone except Ref Mike Dean.
  • Danny Cadamarteri at home to Burnley
    Opposing full back faked elbow in face to have him sent off, something that was again obvious to everyone except Ref Mike Dean.
  • Stephen Warnock at home to Derby
    Bad, bad foul on Mark Bower, Warnock reacts, the Derby player’s red card is later given to our Liverpool loanee after an appeal which one could argue represents a discipline problem at Liverpool, not Valley Parade.
  • Simon Francis at Grimsby
    Two stupid tackles in injury time. Deserved to go.
  • Wayne Jacobs at Millwall
    A man ran out of play with the ball and Jacobs tackle occurred off the field. Sue Wayne by all means but this is never a red card.
  • Jamie Lawrence at home to Sheffield Wednesday
    Jamie jumps along with another player, both land without a foul, Danny Maddix asks for Jamie to be sent off and he is. Jamie fumes.
  • Gus Uhlenbeek at home ot Sheffield United
    Massive lunge on the wing although had not been booked or spoken to before but probably deserved to go.

Eight red cards, two or perhaps three of them that should have stood.

The point is this: The FA are judge and jury in this trial. The Referee’s make the decisions, the FA oversee those decisions and then enforce punishments. The letter that The FA have sent City says the Bantams have “one of the poorest records in First Team matches of all the Clubs dealt with by the Football Association”. Perhaps City should use the eight examples above and reply that our problems are more down to the fact that the Football Association have allowed a situation where the poorest Refereeing standards in living memory now exist in Division One and perhaps are evident at Valley Parade and at Bradford City games more often than other grounds, hence the bad discipline.

We have a few problems discipline-wise at Valley Parade, problems that will return with yellow card a game Paul Evans back in the side, but no more than other sides we have seen at Valley Parade this year. That is a side issue to problem when The FA start throwing their collective weight around.

To be threatened by The FA about discipline is like trying to argue a speeding ticket. City could take a video of every yellow and red card we have had last year to the discipline panel to prove The FA wrong but, as luck would have it, The FA runs the discipline panel. Judge and jury.

Nicky Law says there is a problem with the number of yellow cards we pick up for silly things, shirt tugging and the like, and he is right but for every dodgy red there are three or four dodgy yellows that one forgets about but they are no less travesties. Appealing red cards maybe pointless but appealing yellows is simply impossible even if the Referee public admits he made the wrong decision the card stands.

So if a Mike Dean decides it’s pick on City day again next season the Bantams could be forced to let one of the squad go in the summer to pay a fine that we may not have earned and will have no appeal against. The word for that is totalitarian state by the way and if it existed in a country Shrub Bush would be sending in the Marines.

Video replays are not the way

Bradford City vs Crystal Palace was the ironic fixture. We had lost to a goal that never was, they had been beaten by Leeds after scoring a good goal.

Video replays, that was the phrase of the day.

Pause the game and take a look at a screen to tell you if a goal is good or bad. There is much weight on goals and results these days, lots of money riding on it, so it’s important to get these decisions right. So the thinking goes.

The thinking is right of course but it goes against the one principal of football. That the game played between Brazil and Germany in the World Cup final is the same game that AFC Wimbledon play at the bottom of the football pyramid. Unless you can do it at Wimbledon, you cannot do it at the greatest games in the land.

It’s good guiding principal. It keeps the mobility, or at least the idea of the mobility, between the levels of the game alive. “Once they cross the white line…” and all that.

Besides. Where is the goal not scored? It’s fairly clear that Palace should have had a goal against Leeds but had Michael Duburry, who’s hands were hit by the ball over the line, been two feet forward then would that have been less of a goal?

Should you not use video replay for that? Why would you stop at just goal line decisions once a precedent is set? Why not use it for decisions like the red cards that City suffered against Burnley. Yes Mike Dean is a rubbish Ref but it’s better than playing until seven thirty on a Saturday night because we stop every two minutes.

Besides, if video replays we useful for anything that weekend then it would have been the massed ranks of officials and Gooners watching Ryan Giggs miss and open goal again and again and again…

The Problem With Danny and Stan

I was reading a few papers, looking at a few websites and getting a handle on what other people were saying about Bradford City 2 Burnley 2.

A few of the reports I looked at disagreed on the Mark Bower incident. Some said that Bower committed two bookable offences, some that the Burnley striker Dimitrios Papadopoulos had been guilty of diving and one or two even went as far as to suggest that Papadopoulos should be carpetted.

With Danny Cadamarteri opinions were different.

I must confess that when I saw the incident I thought that Cadamarteri had polaxed Colin West with his elbow. I saw it again on TV and thought about how from my perspective I would have sent Cadders off, but from where the Referee Mike Dean was standing, an angle where he had a clear view of the ball looping over the City man and landing full in Colin West’s face, I would have called for a physio for the prone Burnley man and been a little curious as to why he was staying down so long.

Danny Cadamarteri didn’t touch him, but that’s not the point, Danny Cadamarteri didn’t have to. Danny Cadamarteri is always guilty.

A look through those match reports and words like “Unsurprisingly” and “Typically” appear near mentions of Cadamarteri’s alleged elbow.

It all goes back to Cadamarteri’s time at Everton. Fact: He was found guilty of hitting a woman. Fact: He was found guilty of lying to police. I’m not keen on either of these things.

Cadamarteri suffers the same problem as Stan Collymore did. High profile bad behaviour has a way of staining the character forever.

Cadamarteri, like Collymore, might not be on your list to invite to a dinner party but the idea that he should get different treatment from writers and pundits is harsh. Watch the game, write about the game. However if it’s your website or your editor approves what you said then fair play to you.

However when Referee’s act differently towards one player to another because he has “high profile bad behaviour” issues then we have a problem in the game.

Did the Ref come onto the field thinking “I will send Danny Cadamarteri off cause he hit a lap dancer”? Probably not. Did he think that Cadamarteri is “the sort of guy who is useful with his fists”? It would explain why he interpreted a ball in the face as an elbow.

Stan Collymore said that Refs had victimised him, I think Danny Cadamarteri might one day say the same.

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