Wednesday 11 January 2012

Red Cards, Appeals, Frenzy and Uproar

Warning: This post has no pictures!

Much has been spoken, published and tweeted about two recent controversial Red Card decisions in the English Premier League. Unfortunately these incidents have got football fans into such a frenzy because there appears to be confusion about what does and what does not constitute a Red Card offence during tackles.

In the EPL, the referees' inconsistent application of Law 12 over the years (e.g. see Nasty Tackles and Many Missed Red Card Incidents In One Match), combined with football pundits', players' and fans' incorrect interpretation of their intuitive understanding of the game are the main cause of this confusion.

It appears that the FA Disciplinary Commission has come down hard on these recent disciplinary hearings. From a referee's point of view the good news is that the two Red Card incidents (i.e. Wolves' Nenad Milijas and Man City's Vincent Kompany) were upheld on appeal, thus giving crucial support to the EPL Referees for making their brave decisions. Stuart Attwell was the referee in the Arsenal and Wolves league encounter on 27 December 2011 and Chris Foy was the man in the middle during the Man City and Man United FA Cup third round on 8 January 2012.

Remember, Stuart Attwell's confidence was probably already ailing from the FA's decision to rescind his Red Card to Bolton's Gary Cahill during the Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers match on Saturday 3 December 2011. Had Milijas' appeal been upheld, those closest to Attwell would probably have wondered what his reaction would have been. Unlike Michael Oliver, Stuart Attwell hasn't had the best of introductions to the EPL so I suspect his confidence needs ramping up. The FA's decision to support Attwell's Red Card decision regarding Milijas will have helped in this.

However, had these two recent Red Card incidents been similarly overturned (like Cahill's appeal), it would have probably undermined the confidence, not just of Attwell but, of all the EPL referees. Furthermore, and more importantly, it would have given extra ammunition to everyone else to start shooting even more fervently, viciously and rabidly at referees.

Let's hope the FA will continue to support, and be seen to support, Referees who are seemingly always in the line of fire.



Thinking more about Mike Dean's error in not sending off Chelsea's David Luiz and instead only awarding him a caution, perhaps there should be a mechanism to allow a "reciprocal appeal". What is a "reciprocal appeal"?

At present, only a club can appeal against a decision made to its player(s) or representative(s) such that:
Participants only, may appeal on the grounds that the penalty, award, order or sanction imposed is excessive.

This means that there is allowance for a red card to be appealed because the appellant believes, for whatever reasons they have, that the red card was wrong, inappropriate and excessive. For example, the successful Sammon appeal where Referee Phil Dowd was found to have erred in sending off Wigan's Conor Sammon for violent conduct in the Manchester United and Wigan Athletic match on 26 December 2011. Sammon's appeal for "wrongful dismissal" was upheld and therefore his three-match suspension was withdrawn.

Therefore in this context, should there be grounds for a "reciprocal appeal"? OK, at present, we know that if the match official has seen an incident and has dealt with it during the match, then there can be no grounds for an appeal (the Regulations do not allow the FA to take retrospective action on decisions already dealt with by the match referee). However, by allowing a club to appeal a decision based on it being excessive, isn't that somewhat allowing double standards? Because on one hand the FA are saying the match official has already dealt with the incident during the match so there can be no appeal, but on the other hand the FA are allowing appeals because the referee may have got the decision wrong.

The argument is that if these refereeing errors are considered the same (i.e. "the Referee wrongfully dismissed a player" and "the Referee wrongfully did not dismiss a player" are considered the "same" in its magnitude of error of judgement), then should there be an allowance for a yellow card to be appealed (i.e. upgraded) because the appellant believes, for whatever reasons they have, that the yellow card was wrong, inappropriate and unreasonable?

This would mean that the club that believes it was wronged, and who did not receive any cards in that incident but who are appealing for the fact that the referee had given a wrong sanction to a player of the opposing team, should be allowed to lodge an appeal. This is what a "reciprocal appeal" means a club appealing on another club's wrong, inappropriate and unreasonable penalty, award, order or sanction.

Anyone care to comment?
To help with this discussion, let's consider whether Newcastle United should have the right to a "reciprocal appeal" against Mike Dean's "wrongful non-dismissal" of Chelsea's David Luiz. Clearly the referee made an error and clearly Luiz should have been sent off. Therefore, should Luiz now face a trial to determine whether he should receive an appropriate number of match suspensions commensurate with a DOGSO send off that he "should have" received?

The same can be said of Wolves having the right to a "reciprocal appeal" against Peter Walton's "wrongful non-dismissal" of Chelsea's Frank Lampard. Lampard should have been shown a Red Card for his studs-up challenge during the Wolves and Chelsea match on 2 January 2012 but instead Referee Peter Walton cautioned him.

If there is a mechanism that allows a "wrongfully dismissed" player to seek justice; then should there equally be a reciprocal mechanism that allows a club to seek justice on an opposition player who was "wrongfully not dismissed"?


At present, only the FA may appeal on matters that it, and it alone, regards as "unreasonable" such that:
The Association only, may appeal on the grounds that the penalty, award, order or sanction imposed was so unduly lenient as to be unreasonable.

Perhaps if the FA or the PGMOL (the organization representing EPL referees) were able to officially state that Referee Peter Walton's decision was incorrect and should have been a Red Card for serious foul play, then that could go some way to helping everyone understand why they believe and perceive that there is inconsistency in the decisions that involved challenges that were very similar as to be Red Card offences.

It appears that much of this confusion is generated because football pundits, players and fans see, for example, Wolves' Milijas and Man City's Kompany receive Red Cards for serious foul play but then see Chelsea's Lampard receive only a Yellow Card for his serious foul play. All these three incidents were where the players had exposed their studs and could reasonably be determined to endanger the safety of their opponents.*

If the relevant authorities, such as the FA or the PGMOL, do not do anything to help clear up this confusion by the simple act of explaining where the error has come from, then they are only contributing to the misunderstandings amongst the football pundits, players and fans, as well as doing a disservice to the game in general.

* There are other factors to consider. But on the whole, where football pundits, players and fans are concerned, these three incidents are seen to be similar but confusion reigns because only two of them were officially dealt with by Red Cards.

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