For supporters of Bournemouth Football Club at the start of the season, the chance of heading the Championship and heading towards the Premier League was probably a remote dream. Their chances of living that dream were enhanced last Friday evening, by a win over one of their close rivals, Watford. From Watford’s point of view, their opportunity of climbing to within one point of their opponents was scuppered by a referee’s decision in the first minute of the game. Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson was racing towards the Watford goal when after just 48 seconds he was brought down by a challenge from Watford Centre Back Gabrielle Angella There can be no doubt that it was a foul but the contentious issue is, was it worthy of a sending off? We don’t know the reason for the referee’s decision, only the readers of his disciplinary report will know that, but the commentator was quick to point out that there was another Watford defender nearer to their goal line. He trotted out the old excuse ‘he was not the last man’.
This suggested that he believed it was for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity but no where in this law does it talk about the ‘last man’. What referees are told to take into consideration are four things. Firstly, the distance between the offence and the goal. In this case it took place about ten yards outside the penalty area but of course Wilson was travelling at speed. Next is the likelihood of the player keeping or gaining control of the ball. Third is the direction of the play, the Law says the player must be moving towards the goal, which Wilson clearly was. Finally he must consider the number and location of any other defenders. In this case there was only one and if the referee, Lee Probert’s decision was denying a goal scoring opportunity, then after careful consideration, he obviously thought that player would not be able to affect Wilson’s chances of scoring.
On the other hand of course, the referee may have considered the tackle to be Serious Foul Play. In that case, he has to feel that the challenge was brutal or committed with excessive force, which endangered the player’ safety. Certainly it was a tough and late tackle committed after the ball had gone and catching Wilson’s foot with some force. Whatever his reason, what intrigued me was the comments of both managers. The Watford manager, Slavisa Jokanovic was naturally extremely upset. ‘Football’ he said ‘is supposed to be a spectacle but this is not good for anyone, it is not good for the players, it is not good for our fans or fans watching elsewhere to have this situation so early in the game. The Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe also admitted that he was surprised that a player was sent off so early in the game.
Are they saying that if the referee sees a sending off offence early in a game he should not send the player off, as it will spoil the entertainment value of the match? Some players certainly think that referees will be reluctant to takes the cards out of their pocket early on and will therefore often commit intimidatory fouls at the start of the game. Think of Vinney Jones who still holds the record for the quickest yellow card, three seconds. There are even some supporters, like Jimmy Young’s agent who wrote to complain some years ago, when I praised a referee for sending off Arsenal’s Sol Campbell for elbowing an opponent. ‘I pay good money for my season ticket and expect to see a game between two teams of eleven players’.
Imagine what football would be like if referees had to comply with those views.