On Tuesday 5th August 2008, the FA launched a new respect initiative in an attempt to eradicate the unsavoury scenes that have become more commonplace in recent campaigns. The scheme has received great backing, from managers and players alike and all was well, until the season kicked off.
Respect is a two way street, and although managers and players have adhered to this new policy, it seems as though the men in black have not kept to their side of the bargain. This new period of respect has in actuality given the referees an even greater celebrity, one which they have done little to earn judging on the opening months of the season. They have become far too big for their boots and, if anything, the controversies that were in existence before the new initiative are here in even greater capacities.
Stoke City versus Everton, The Britannia Stadium. Located in the land of the giants, it was a chance for the man in the middle to be an ever bigger man. He failed. Although early in the season, it was a key game for both sides. Stoke had already won their first game at home, against an already impressive Aston Villa outfit, and were looking to add to their early points tally. Everton, similarly, after an erratic start, needed the points to stabilise their opening to the season. The result, a 3-2 victory for the Toffeemen, was perhaps deserved. However, the scene of events which led to this scoreline could be best described as farcical.
Victor Anichebe gave the visitors a 2-0 lead and it seemed as though the points would be heading to Merseyside. However, the hosts rallied and halved the arrears, thanks to a well taken volley from Seyi Olofinjana. What then happened just was not cricket, let alone football. Ricardo Fuller legitimately deposessed a clumsy Joseph Yobo, rounded Tim Howard, and levelled the match. Cue pandemonium in the Potteries. Wrong! Alan Wiley, respected referee of 27 years, saw what both 25,000 Stoke City fans and messrs Grey and Tyler in their tv gantry did not and awarded a freekick against the forward. Justice was done thankfully when Phil Jagielka headed into his own net to make it 2-2, but no thanks to Wiley.
Not to be outdone by his referee, the linesman conjured up an equally impressive howler. Leon Cort clearly handled in his area under pressure from Everton's Yakubu. Wiley gave the penalty, but after discussing it with his linesman, gave a freekick to Everton outside the area. There may have been a push by Yakubu on Cort, which may have placed doubt in Wiley's head, but if that was the case why give the freekick to Everton? Visiting manager Moyes now looks set to receive a touchline ban and possibly a heafty fine following his touchline tantrum, but had Wiley made the correct decision such a hardline stance from the FA would not be needed.
As if two controvertial incidents in one game was not enough, there have been two more seperate occasions in as many opening months to this season. Last weekend, Bolton were holding on to a well earned point at Old Trafford. Although United comfortably went on to win the contest, the pentalty decision ultimately turned the game and the hosts, having taken the lead, were perhaps under less pressure to get the win and were able to take their foot off the gas and add a second.
Rob Styles, again one of the more respectable referees in the game. But even he has history, in particular in the awarding of soft penalties. He allowed Chelsea to equalise at Anfield in August 2007 and penalised Sun Ji Hi for, at worst, a shoulder-barge on Birmingham's Garry O'Connor during their 3-1 victory over Ji Hi's employers at the time, Manchester City. Now although City can buy their own luck these days, that is no excuse for Styles' inability to make the correct decision. And they want our respect?
As if this wasn't enough, lets examine possibly the most controvertial incident in recent footballing history. Well, almost. Vicarige Road, Watford, and the 'Ghost Goal' that possibly cemented in my mind the need to address the inbalance in the respect relationship that is supposed to be existing between the officials and our football clubs. A great deal has already been said on this phantom goal. Should Reading have allowed Watford the freedom of their half to equalise? Should goal line technology be used to erradicate such incidents? Either way, there is no doubt in my mind that this result is void of any legitimacy, and the fans of both Reading and especially Watford have been cheated. The culprits? At risk of sounding like a broken record, the officials.
David Moyes now faces an extended spell on the sidelines, at the potential detriment to Everton Football club and, most importantly, their fans. Bolton are potentially one point worse off then they should be. Watford, like Bolton, have been the victims of refereeing incompetence. How much longer can this go on for? They say that over the course of the season things even themselves out. But why risk this? Why do we always turn to this excuse and the hope that the Footballing Gods will look upon the aggrieved clubs? Do we honestly trust this court located in the midsts of the unknown? Video technology is used in cricket, and in both codes of rugby. It is only a matter of time before the souls of Soho Square realise the need to join this club of common sense. In the words of Aretha Franklin: R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Take care, referees.