A level playing field?

by Patrick Curry

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

It doesn’t take much to wind up the average football fan these days.  The average football fan (a long suffering male who enjoys beer and has delusions of grandeur for his team of overpaid primadonnas) is drawn to controversial issues like a moth to the proverbial flame.  There is little doubt then that the events of the weekend past will have left a lot of fans more than a little wound up.

First off Old Trafford.  Following on from Arsene Wenger’s quite reasonable assessment of the ‘Old Traffordish’ penalty given against his side two weeks ago, there was the reappearance of OTT.  No, not ‘Over The Top’ but in fact ‘Old Trafford Time’.  Quite simply it requires officials to add on as much time as needed for United to score a winner.  Occasionally it gets ignored so ‘shock’ results such as happened at Burnley recently lend an air of legitimacy to ‘the greatest league in the world’.  However, over a season it crops up a few times and it also extends to awarding/denying non-existent/tied-on penalties to United/visiting teams.

Those who saw the game will know what went on.  Mark Hughes quite rightly questioned where the extra time came from.  While Lineker and Co attempted to gloss it over on MOTD 2, many fans were left wondering how 90+4 became 90+6.  Substitutions account for 30 seconds extra and Carrick came on for Anderson during injury time.  That adds an additional 30 seconds extra.  The time it took Manchester City to celebrate their 90th minute equaliser however should not have been added.  If that were the case then there would have 4 added minutes at Upton Park prior to half time to allow for goal celebrations in the first half.  And that most certainly did not happen.

The fact that United outplayed City for almost the entire 2nd half is inconsequential.  Rio Ferdinand made a schoolboy error which was duly punished and Ferguson was facing points dropped followed by a lot of egg on his face after his pre-match sleights at City.  But that reckoned without OTT and the special interpretation of refs in United games.  Law 7 of the referee’s rules states that added on time (officially ‘Allowance for time lost’) can be allowed for substitutions, injuries and treatment, time wasting and ‘any other cause’.  Crucially though it also states that allowance for time lost is ‘at the discretion of the official’.  Whether that discretion is entirely impartial is now very much open to debate.

Not all referees lack the ability to be punctual though.  Carlton Cole had a perfectly good goal struck off a couple of weeks ago because Alan Wiley blew for half time as he was striking the ball and not after it entered the net.  That was on the stroke of half time.  He didn’t allow one second more to elapse or the phase of play to be concluded before he whistled for halftime thereby ruling out a perfectly good goal.  But that was West Ham and that was at Wigan.  And they aren’t ‘big’ clubs so who really cares?

So on to Stamford Bridge and the other big controversy of the weekend.  Spurs were a goal down.  King had just hobbled off.  They were not, however, out of the game.  Lennon dinked a ball into Defoe which was cleverly turned on to Keane who raced toward goal.  As he shaped to pull the trigger his heel was clipped by Carvalho.  All eyes turned to Webb who steadfastly stonewalled all appeals and waved play on.  But Keane, livid at the injustice, raced after Webb imploring him to book him.  After all if it wasn’t a penalty then it must have been a dive.  And of course if it was a dive then it was booking.  But Webb opted to do nothing at all and predictably Chelsea went on to punish the exasperated and increasingly threadbare Spurs defence.  It’s not to say that Spurs would’ve drawn or even gone on to win the game, but goals do change games and momentum is a strange thing.  But of course it wouldn’t do for the Premier League hierarchy to be upset.  So Chelsea and Man Utd exit the weekend in first and 2nd, Spurs are back where they should be, out of the top 4, while Ferguson gets to classlessly mock City and balance is restored.

It is not as if these events are unique though.  United’s first title under Ferguson was secured in dubious circumstances when a 96th minute Steve Bruce header finally broke Sheffield Wednesday back in 1994.  Of course then it was a novelty and no-one could guess it would become a recurring theme.  However, a 95th Carlos Tevez goal rescued a point at Tottenham two seasons ago proving that OTT is not just limited to Old Trafford.  Just last season Spurs were 2-0 and effectively cruising at Old Trafford before a hilariously bad penalty was awarded against them.  They folded horribly afterwards but the penalty was the catalyst United needed and they got.  The ref that day?  None other than that bastian of impartiality Howard Webb.  And then of course there was an incident involving a Pedro Mendes shot that may or may not have crossed the line but that’s a whole other matter.

If these things happen once or twice they can just about be written off as freakish mistakes by incompetent morons.  However, the regularity with which they occur (and the examples cited above are merely the tip of the iceberg – makes me think otherwise.  I think everyone with an ounce of knowledge about football recognises that the game is a bit bent towards the big sides, either intentionally or simply through spineless inadequacy, but this weekend saw the most blatant examples of it to date and it makes me question whether it’s even worth watching at all.

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  • Giulio di Sagrata

    No no Sam, you misunderstand. I don’t hate the Top Four at all. On the contrary, I support one of them. But this whole blog is called A Level Playing Field, and I was merely fantasising about a different way of achieving one.

  • Simon

    OK, I’ll publicise my allegiance first before going on – I’m a Liverpool fan, so have been on the right AND wrong side of a number of these so called ‘dodgy’ decisions. Now I’ll give my take on it – I think that some of them are indeed dodgy however as others have said within this very blog, they DO happen with and against the top sides just not quite as much – anyone remember Heskey’s added on time equaliser at the Bridge two seasons ago to virtually destroy Chelsea’s Title Charge? And what about Dossena’s fourth goal at Old Trafford in our humiliation of the Stretford darlings last season? What of the Penalty Charlton got v Liverpool for handball OUTSIDE the box in February 2006 or the one that Reading got for the SAME reason in December 2007; Then there’s the penalty that Aston Villa got at Anfield in August 2009 this season and the one we were refused? What about the ridiculous dive that earned Chelsea a penalty at Anfield in August 2007 from Malouda or the denial of a blatant penalty to us at White Hart Lane in August this season when Voronin was rugby tackled;

    Then there’s the most blatant of the lot by a loooong shot – Tiago’s CLEAR handball at the Kop end of Anfield on January 1st 2005 when Chelsea were SLAUGHTERED, we could not score, said hand ball happened, Riley put his whistle to his lips for a pen’ and? Removed it – refused to explain why and Chelsea went on to win 0 – 1 with a deflected shot in a bigger heist than the Great Train Robbery (bet they didn’t enjoy being on the end of Lil’ Luis’ ‘ghost’ goal in the Champions League Semi Final that year though later did they? Revenge WAS sweet) I’ve ALWAYS thought there was something VERY dodgy about that decision in particular though above all others I’ll mention here – it was just TO blatant a pen’ to ignore – but Riley did – Why? And why have Liverpool had NO league penalties at the Bridge since 2001? Despite several VERY good calls and yet Chelsea have had TWO at Anfield including one for a pathetic dive I wonder?; Re United though, Surely if the games THAT biased there would have been NO added time to stop the media darlings being humiliated in March although A:) They deserved it and B:) the English game NEEDED something like that to happen, to show it can.

    However, I remember back in the 70’s and 80’s (and it’ll probably happen again soon if our attack takes us where it might this season) where we won everything and? We received exactly the same complaints and even suggestions that we should start whole seasons with points handicaps due to biased referees who stopped anyone else winning ever. What was ignored there though and is ignored here is the fact that the Top sides (and whoever becomes champions and it WON’T always be United – their empire WILL collapse just as ours did – Who will replace Fergie?) always spend so much time in their foes penalty area and cause such chaos amongst their defences whilst attacking and have so much of the ball that A:) decisions against them are a surprise purely because it means the other side have managed to attack them/get the ball – same as defeats for them and B:) The other side are worn down so much that they make mistakes and thus penalties/cards etc inevitable – it’s called a pressing game and the champions of England have on and off used it for at least the last 4 decades or so in one form or another – it just means penning the other side into their own half through either physical pressing, ball possession or both and then wearing them down until they concede – unfortunately for those who hate them – the Top 4 are by far the best English exponents of this art – hence the alleged bias (although given what happened at Wigan yesterday to Chelsea it CAN be turned back on them by a good manager/tactician like Martinez)

    Although refs clearly ARE afraid of the Big 4 and their influence etc – They CAN and DO rule against them as well – as shown when Chelsea conceded a penalty yesterday? When Liverpool got red cards AGAINST United in 2 games last year AND a penalty at Old Trafford and when Rooney and Scholes were both sent off against Fulham last term, United conceded a penalty and lost 2 – 0 (Murphy!! Again – His first Home goal against them actually, the other 3 winners were all at Old Trafford). On some other notes Dexylongshot I don’t think even Fergie would be so stupid as to physically attack a spectator or someone who annoyed him – what if they hit back? And ever since being attacked by a tramp a few years back on the train I think some of Fergie’s temper and fire has died down a little for some reason; Giulio di Sagrata, there WAS a money sharing arrangement in the English top league once…….for over a hundred years – it was called gate sharing whereby visiting sides took at least half of the money earned on the gates by the Home teams during matches in an equal split – The gradual scaling down and then demise of that arrangement since 1985 and the absolute determination of the big sides in England to hoard any and ALL mega earnings from football for themselves is what’s led to the current ridiculous imbalance (and yes it IS ridiculous in my view, despite me being on the right side of the Top 4 divide in terms of how well LFC do).

    Dan Church, Wenger, Benitez et al DO have grievance lists of their own – particularly our own Rafa’ and ever since his so called ‘rant’ last season (which was no different than an absolute beauty from Fergie back in 1988 when he moaned about being done by referees at Anfield and thus started his own prolonged campaign of intimidation and that’s what it is – designed entirely to ensure that refs work to his and Uniteds advantage repeatedly when needed) I think we’ve started to get the rub of the green from a LOT of decisions and refs have treated us a LOT fairer than they used to so maybe shouting ala Fergie DOES work – I just think the FA don’t have the guts to have a public battle with a/the big club(s) over such influence as A:) it’s to much like hard work and B:) said clubs provide the bulk of the England team and thus could make life VERY difficult for the FA if they so wished.

    Anyway, I think that the Big 4 DO benefit from such decisions partly due to attacking non-stop in games and partly due to influencing/shouting at ref’s (and I’m not going to apologise as a LFC fan because I’ve seen FAR to many marginal decisions go against us and blatant ones against United so its about time we fought fire with fire by replying in kind) I think that the reason United do get so much more (at present NOT forever) is because they’ve done it for longer although I do think Liverpool will catch up with them in that respect soon as WE once had the reputation of biggest ref influencers in England and the way our managers moaned about decisions recently, I think we might be getting said rep’ and the benefits it brings back again so I’ll watch for more such decisions in coming games. Chelsea and Arsenal aren’t far behind LFC and Man United either in terms of benefitting from refereeing largesse (look at the ridiculous way NO decisions went against Chelsea at the Bridge for 4 years almost so helping them establish that ridiculous record of theirs) so yes there IS a clear bias of sorts.

    Clearly, United RELY on these decisions far more than other teams – look how inept they can be often in Europe where teams don’t give the ball back easily and they don’t benefit from cheap corners, pens or free kicks from friendly ref’s – the same is true in some big 4 clashes and WHEN that happens, they look quite an ordinary side – not great at all – In fact I’d go as far as saying they often RELY on such decisions to help win titles. I actually think it’s not so much the penalties they get as the extra time, cheap corners and incorrect free kicks to help build up pressure on ‘park the bus’ defences that helps them win titles as such teams invariably A:) can’t stand sustained periods of such pressure and B:) can’t attack United in turn like Top 4/European sides can;

    Anyway, I’ll conclude by saying Basically – The main way to win the English league is to beat ALL (or as many as you can) of the smaller sides home and away whilst getting what you can from clashes with your contemporaries – look at United whose ‘Big 4′ clashes record last season (18 points possible – I think they got what? 5 to Liverpool’s 14) was abysmal but there record against the other sides (from which 95 or so points is available thus negating the need to batter the Top 4 regularly) was almost immaculate – hence they won the title by a one win and a draw margin of four points I think from us – I think Rafa’s learnt his lesson in that this year though as this season; like Fergie, he’s started pressing for everything he can get against the smaller sides and like Fergie he’s ensured we attack them from the start home and away as they can’t cope most of the time – if he carries on like this and we carry on vaporising such sides as we have Burnley, Stoke and especially Hull yesterday – I think THIS time, our Big 4 clashes record won’t matter so much – I DO think the media don’t like Rafa’ though as before last year ALL they did was moan about his record v the Top 4 and then? When we topped THAT table by a distance they harped on about how ‘smaller’ sides had cost us the title by stifling us for draws, we can’t win………..

    Finally, regarding United, I wonder where they’d have been since 1993 IF they didn’t get 8 minutes of added on time against Sheffield Wednesday to start off the REAL list of decisions that have affected titles in their favour (and it was NOT in 1994) – that was just the tip of the iceberg as far as WE were concerned against them- the next season LFC were given a penalty at Old Trafford and then denied it by the ref’ and linesman before it was taking, United were given a joke of a penalty in Cantona’s comeback game (after the karate kick) in 1995 and an IDENTICAL penalty was refused Liverpool at Anfield by Graham Poll in 2003 (when Pongolle was FLATTENED by Ferdinand AND Howard the United keeper – Also there have been non-existent free kicks by them to beat us 1 – 0 when they should have lost (Anfield March 2007 where we battered them and Old Trafford January 2006 when we dominated but they won both with goals from Ferdinand and O’Shea I believe) and cheap/wrong corners AND free kicks given to them as well (as they were in September 2004 with Silvestre scoring from both) and to top it all off – Mike Rileys finest hour when in April 2003 he sent off Sami Hyppia for his first tackle at Old Trafford and gave United TWO penalties to help win 4 – 0 as well as Steve Bennett’s party piece when he sent off Mascherano for asking ”what’s happening/what’s wrong” at Old Trafford in a display Joe Stalin would have been proud of in March 2008.

    When you add the joke of a dive for a penalty v Bolton by Ronaldo and the even more ridiculous penalty they ‘earnt’ against Spurs last season, Wes Brown being allowed to virtually knock out Blackburn’s keeper while scoring at Ewood Park but the goal standing, the apparently deliberate decision by the linesman to disallow Mendes shot from the halfway line at Old Trafford in January 2005 AND Rooney’s cheating dive to end Arsenal’s unbeaten run in October 2004 as well as his apparent invulnerability to being sent off or cautioned for swearing in refs faces then it’s clear that while there IS indeed a bias to big clubs from refs in the English league – There’s only one club that NEED it to be systematic like a crutch – else they’d be exposed for what they are (re their Liverpool and Barcelona matches last season) which is a flat track bully who can be harried into mistakes as much as any other team. We couldn’t POSSIBLY have that with Fergie on the touchline for them though could we?………………………………..

  • Simon

    Incidentally; I DO think United recieve assistance to truly obscene levels of benefit and help in the league from such ‘decisions’/’Friendly refs’ as those being argued over here; In case you hadn’t guessed from my other post; And yes it IS so blatant but what can be done about it? And I mean in ALL clubs cases but ESPECIALLY United’s. It’s so blatant and clear that they benefit from such decisions AND that the odds are so skewed in their favour due to respect/fear/intimidation of referees over the years (since 1993 funnily enough it hardly happened with them before then, wonder wh…..ah yes, the Premier League was established then wasn’t it? I see it all now) but it’s like both the FA and the PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board – the REAL power behind referees in the Premier League) either don’t want to sort the problem out as they’re afraid of United or (more likely) that in conjunction with United they’re working to some pre-arranged plan (ala Luciano Moggi in Serie A until he was caught) and couldn’t care less what the fans/world at large think so effectively they’re sticking two fingers up at them by arrogantly ignoring everyone and their complaints about United as they do their utmost to remove any element of ‘competition’ in the game; Genuine competition to their aims is NOT what United want at all is it?. How to change all this? Who knows, maybe more Rafa style rants will work but who would dare take on the establishment as Rafa’ did? One thing’s for sure – expect United to keep winning trophies as long as this biased flow of decisions continues – It’s a bit hard NOT to win isn’t it? Or at least it is when the referees and authorities continue to give you a handy lift to the finishing line season in, season out.

    I often wonder how well Ferguson’s United would do without this assistance as I mentioned above (to get the answer look at the years 1987 – 1992 in the Fergie reign at OT – they weren’t that impressive no?) and I think the answer is they’d be nothing LIKE as good as they are seen to be now but since they rely on such decisions so much – it will be a cold day in hell before THEY stop them happening and no-one else has the guts to take them on enough to stop it. I think that makes them little more than cowards and they know it – why else would they be so defensive whenever tackled about it? (Look at Fergies reaction to Rafa’s rant if you don’t believe me – he didn’t know WHAT to say and then A:) denied it and B:) TRIED (and failed miserably) to mock Rafa’ – He ended up looking the pathetic old man he can be now at times in the process; Still one day, there WILL be a reckoning for United, when Fergies goes – god will they have trouble then because then they WILL be exposed for what they are and when they are, you can kiss goodbye to United’s artificially assisted and manufactured so called ‘dominance’ of the game – it will be gone within a heartbeat – just like Fergie and his influence – At present, it’s clear that the sooner that day comes, the better for English football as a whole and it really CAN’T come quick enough can it?…………………

  • Patrick

    Sam, I don’t hate the top 4. I hate the way decisions always go their way. All clubs benefit from poor officiating from time to time but with the top 4 and particularly United it is season after season, numerous times.

  • dexylongshot

    Effing Nora, well done chaps for getting really getting involved in this blog, I can’t honestly think of a more hottly disputed debate, there are some excellent opinions on your here, there would be no Den without you lot (wipes a moist tear from under the shades).

    Keep it up


  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    this blog is now our record blog for words and comments.

    Great work Patrick for raising such debate! Well done to all involved.

    Patrick, so what did u make of the Cech sending off then?

  • Matt Quinn

    And the dodgy last minute penalty that Blackburn were awarded in the last few mins against Villa this weekend? Was it not dangerous play by Di Santo and Dunne was just protecting his face???

    Can you imagine the uproar from these boards if Man Utd had been awarded the same penalty with 3mins of the game to go with a match tied at 1-1? Imagine the media spotlight!!! Imagine the debate!!! I guess noone really cares when a controversial decision happens outside the top 4 tho!!!

    Or is it that Di Santo actually still plays for Chelsea?? Hence the bias??

  • Matt Quinn

    God! Simon! I finally got round to reading your comments about United. You dont half fit snuggly into the Liverpudlian stereotype! Oh woe is the scousers! Hard done by! United getting all the breaks! Load of rubbish tho, really.

    I think you will find that most of the country think the same about your lot. If Stevie G ever gos to ground… all he has to do is look at a ref to get a free-kick or penalty.

    You also mention the Villa game this year, when Villa were given a “dodgy penalty”. I think it was possibly THE most clear cut, stone-wall penalty ive ever seen. Even a one-eyed ref in front of the Kop had to give the decision…. but i suppose that you failed to see the incident in this light as the foul was committed by Stevie G. God! Even Rafa admitted it was a blatant penalty… so, in light of this, i have to ignore your ramblings and “evidence” of United bias.

    Ps. You also fail to mention the Cantona ban, the Ferdinand ban etc…. examples of when decisions went against United.

  • Matt Quinn

    Ps. Simon- remember this game???


    I particularly like the quote about how Liverpool’s late penalty against Atletico “proved to be a perpetuation of two Merseyside myths: the dubious late penalty at the Kop End….”

  • Matt Quinn

    Or do you remember this, Simon?


    Mark Clatternburg given a one match ban for poor performance after sending off 2 Everton players and giving 2 penalties to Liverpool in Merseyside derby

  • Patrick

    Alright Darren, I think that the Cech sending off was pretty clear cut. His left boot caught Rodellega’s right boot fairly full on and he would’ve scored had he not been brought down so I’d say the ref had little choice. There weren’t any huge complaints from the Chelsea players and for me that is an indicator that it was a fairly easy decision for the ref to make. I was really surprised how well Wigan played and it’s good to see them finally get a result against one of the Big 4. I think Martinez could be crafting a decent side. As for Chelsea, I’d say that’s a minor blip but next weekend is going to be a tough one.

    Matt, regarding di Santo and Dunne, I thought that was a pretty difficult one to give. On the one hand the ball has travelled almost no distance and he couldn’t exactly move his hands out of the way, but on the other hand you could argue his hands shouldn’t have been up that high in the first place. There are arguments both ways and if it hadn’t been given there would’ve been questions asked just as there are since it was given. As for dangerous play, yeah, that’s another element that could be argued. I think di Santo is entitled to go for the overhead kick as he clearly controlled the ball with that in mind and Dunne is moving towards him rather than the other way round. However, you can’t really say there’s a huge amount of bias involved as it there are definitely arguments for an against giving it rather than it being a clearly terribly decision. Don’t forget the ref had previously sent off Grella so it’s not like he was favouring Blackburn in any way.

  • jimmythegent

    Agree withe Dunne incident, it was a very difficult decision to make for the ref. City back on the box tonight against Dexy’s Hammers, sorry Dexy, 2-0 to the Blues and hopefully, another game full of incident. West Ham could be in trouble if they don’t pick up some points soon.

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