It seems very rare these days that a red card is overturned by the FA no matter how poor the decision was made by the referee in question. In a lot of cases the FA appears to want to be backing the referees both in fear of damaging their confidence, and also undermining their credibility among players. If one referee’s decisions are constantly being overturned by a FA appeals panel then, it is claimed, his authority in big matches and in big game situations will be compromised and he will be questioning his own abilities even more, and being even more likely to get the big decisions wrong.
The rejection of the appeal against Philipp Degen’s red card for Liverpool against Fulham is a case in point where this attitude has prevailed. It was certainly a lunging challenge by Degen, but there are two elements to the tackle that a person who had played the game regularly would understand. In desperation to get the ball back into Liverpool’s possession, Degen slipped and proceeded to slide tackle Clint Dempsey, he then subsequently caught Dempsey with one foot. This certainly would not have been a straight red if the ref had seen the challenge from this perspective, and it was why Liverpool felt justified to appeal the decision. They believe that video evidence would clearly show that the referee was wrong, and they were correct in this assessment. The FA however decided to back the referee against the video evidence, to protect the referee from vitriol that might undermine his confidence.
The FA backed Lee Mason’s version of events that Degen had “jumped” into the tackle and gone in with both feet. Why you ask, is there such a disparity between the two versions of events? Without going into a character assassination of Lee Mason, it is an accusation that is age old and has been levelled at referees by an assortment of former players, that as referees have never played professionally, how can they possibly understand when a tackle is a bad tackle. This case is only reinforced by another sending off at the weekend in the Everton v Aston Villa game when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov committed an almost identical foul, slipping while attempting to get the ball.
It seems all too clear that the refs fall back on their rulebooks far too readily. Partly down to the fact they are being assessed constantly from the stands by the referee association and also because they have no other experience to fall back on. Under pressure to perform to standards based on strict rules designed by bureaucrats at FIFA HQ, they are more often than not are afraid to be lenient. They find it more comfortable to stick strictly to the rules for they know they will be protected by the FA.
So the question is then, if the FA do back referees to the hilt on such decisions even if they are aware that the decision was wrong, how do the FA and the referee’s association know when they have a poor referee? Assessing the referees can only do so much as it marks them against how well they stick to the rules rather than a common sense approach. A poor referee to everyone else, might be seen to be an excellent referee according to assessments, making his poor decisions justifiable to both the referee’s association and the FA appeals panel. This is a big problem for referees and the FA and it undermines confidence among players and fans more than the correction of a bad decision on appeal.