Who would want to be a referee? Not me. Especially when you have to deal with the likes of Neil Warnock blaming anything and everything on you. However, occasionally the Queens Park Rangers manager gets things right. We all know that Joey Barton likes to stir up a bit of trouble, but for once he can perhaps feel a little aggrieved at the way he has been treated. His supposed head butt against Bradley Johnson when QPR played Norwich recently harshly earned him a red card. Whilst the referee could be forgiven for sending off Warnock’s captain at the time, replays suggest that the action should have perhaps been rescinded. However, the disciplinary committee thought otherwise and Barton will now serve his three-match ban.
The aim of the FA’s disciplinary committee should be, above all, to ensure consistency and fairness in the decisions of the referees, correcting those decisions where applicable. Have we now got to the stage however where their actions are anything but consistent? The recent debate saw former referee and Daily Mail writer Graham Poll wading in to the debate on the side of Barton as well as former referee Dermot Gallagher also casting doubt over the decision. Yet still the FA refuse to repeal Barton’s ban. If two former, and well respected referees, disagree with the much less experienced Neil Swarbick, who sent Barton off, and the committee then what hope have we of as fans of trusting future decisions made by such committees.
Clearly the FA want to encourage respect for referees by supporting their actions yet how much respect can they really muster with such inconsistencies in their decisions? It’s all about, or at least should be, setting a precedent. No matter how harsh or lenient referees are players and managers will have much less to complain about if precedents were set, and then stuck to. The problem for players is that the lines are blurry. What Barton did against Johnson was less deserving of a red card than when Dempsey ‘head-butted’ Bellamy recently. If the FA really believe that Barton’s actions warranted a red card then that is fine, but they have to go back and punish all similar incidents in the same way. On top of that they have to punish all future incidents in the same way. But will they? I doubt it.
People talk about bringing in video refereeing and whilst this may help with some issues what hope does it really bring if, even with the help of video evidence, the disciplinary committee still can’t reach a decision that is accepted even by former referees? Inconsistencies in punishment should not be acceptable in our league. In most aspects we are one of the top leagues in the world, yet when it comes to acting upon disciplinary actions we exhibit flaws week in week out. I write this article now in the wake of what happened to Joey Barton and Frank Lampard but you only need look back to the previous games to see further examples. If someone could tell me the difference between Lampard and Milijas’ tackles I’d like to hear it. If the FA upheld Milijas’ ban, why haven’t they, in retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight and video evidence now banned Lampard for three games?
As I said before, it’s not up to fans, players or managers to decide what is or isn’t a foul but what is necessary is consistency in order for everyone to understand where the line is drawn. These aren’t meaningless decisions either. The difference between going down or staying up this year for Wolves or QPR might be a matter of two or three points. Two or three points that they might be able to earn should they not have had their players banned. The problem is that each club and each set of fans only complain when it directly affects them, what should be happening is that all clubs should recognise this affects us all and explain to the FA that something needs to be done. The general consensus is clearly that the FA’s performances are below par when it comes to giving out punishments, so why does nothing change?
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