Are FA reprieve panels good for the game?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the dismay some referees felt at some of the decisions being made by the FA Review Panels. I mentioned in particular the reprieve of Carlton Cole when his high lunge only just missed Leighton Baines’ face and of Darren Gibson, in the same game for his boot into the chest of Mark Nobel. How can referees be told that endangering the safety of an opponent must be punished by a sending off, only to find that on appeal the decision is overturned. One referee I mentioned it to said, ‘What can you expect when you see the make up of the appeal panel’. I was not sure who performed this duty until the visit a couple of weeks ago of Mark Ives, the FA Disciplinary Manager. It seems there are three members of the panel. One is a member of the FA Council, another is a Club Chairman and the third is an ex-player or ex-manager. Who the actual people are we don’t know, their identities are kept secret but could they be someone like ex-player (and ex-manager) Roy Keane. Remember how in his autobiography (ghosted by ex-Reading player, Eamon Dunphy) he admitted that he set out deliberately to injure fellow professional Alf-Inge Hailand and did such a good job that Hailand never played again. Or perhaps a Club Chairman like Wigan’s Dave Whelan who is on record as saying that Callum McManaman’s tackle that hospitalised Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara was a fair challenge. ‘There was no doubt that the lad got the ball as they collided,’ he said, ignoring the fact that McManaman’s boot was above Haidara’s knee, similar incidentally to Roy Kean’s tackle. The panel do not read the referee’s report or talk to him. They can ask for advice from someone with an understanding of the law but that person does not sit in on their deliberations. Incidentally, no other country in Europe allows appeals. Just consider professional footballers today, they are paid a lot of money and are therefore valuable assets of the club and the fans pay good money to watch them. I remember one Premier League referee saying when questioned about a lack of action against swearing by players saying, ‘Imagine the reaction of the paying fans, if I send off the star striker for swearing at me.’ But doesn’t this equally apply to what some refer to as ‘robust tackles’. Not only could the injured player be out for the rest of the game but also missing for several weeks as in the case of Haidara. Players, Coaches, Club Chairmen and fans ought to understand what the laws are trying to do. They are not formed to try and turn football into a non contact sport but to protect their valuable and skilful players from unnecessary and costly injury. The referee’s duty as stated in the Laws of the Game is to enforce those laws and to abide by the latest interpretations of those laws. In the last few days I have received an e-mail from an old refereeing colleague in the Midlands. Attached with his e-mail were three videos all taken from World Cup Qualifying matches across the globe, New Zealand v New Caledonia, South Africa v Central African Republic and Ukraine v Moldova. All featured injuries to players from high feet. There were also some still photos of the face of Shane Smeltz’s after the tackle in the New Zealand game. His injuries are horrific. Perhaps we ought to ask for them to be shown to members of the review panels, when they are considering appeals when players are sent off for high kicks, just to show how much they endanger player’s safety.

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