Why a referee showed players red cards in his dressing room

Apart from George Galloway’s victory at their by-election, there was another extraordinary incident at Bradford last week. I’m talking about the brawl at the end of the Bradford City v Crawley Town Football League 2 match. Some readers may have seen it on YouTube without perhaps realising that two of the people involved have Reading connections. The Bradford City manager is a former Royals favourite, Phil Parkinson and the referee is the highest ranking referee of Reading Referees’ Association, Iain Williamson, What made this incident so extraordinary was revealed in the newspaper report that I read. It said that there was a brawl with players of each side throwing punches after the final whistle had blown and ended with five players being shown the red card, equalling the highest number of dismissals in a Football League match. Furthermore, the red cards were shown after the players had left the field of play and in the referees’ changing room. Unsurprisingly, it has given rise to a number of questions, starting with how does the referee sort out in such confusion, which players to punish? Mass confrontations, are something that referees dread and a great deal of work is put into trying to prevent such situations happening. It’s what we call, ‘temperature management’. By various tactics, referees try to keep the temperature of matches at low levels. However, occasionally confrontations arise, often from the smallest of things, which the referee can do nothing about. Ignore the stupid comment of the BBC television commentator at Bradford, ‘the referee is loosing control’. It may be a push leads to a punch and before you know it; almost all the players are involved. I have seen referees physically intervene to part warring players but that is not recommended. The problem of getting involved is that firstly you may get hit, either accidentally or even intentionally and secondly being too close means you can’t see everything that is going on. The preferred plan when a mass confrontation occurs is that the two assistant referees come on to the pitch and with the referee form a triangle looking at different angles into the melee. That’s exactly what Iain Williamson and his team did, stood back and observed. The team can then make a note of who started it, who throws punches, kicks or whatever and who charges thirty yards to take part. After things calm down the referee and his assistants will compare notes to pick out the guilty players for punishment But at Bradford this all happened after the final whistle, so another question was, can the referee send someone off after the game has finished? The referee’s power to sanction (punish) players, starts when he enters the field of play to start the game and ends when he leaves it after the final whistle. When the ruckus happened the referee and the players were still on the pitch. But why issue red cards in his own changing room? We have the exclusive benefit of the referee’s own story. Because of the number of players involved, mindful of his team’s safety and not wishing to inflame the situation any further, he decided to wait until he had returned to their changing room before taking disciplinary action. After discussing it with his team he asked three Bradford City players to accompany him to his changing room and then showed them the red card for violent conduct. (Imagine trying to do that in the players’ changing room) He then did exactly the same with the two Crawley town players. He also sent the DVD of the game to the FA in case there was any other misconduct they had missed. Unusual it may have been but I think Iain is to be congratulated in keeping his cool and on the way he tackled such an ugly situation.

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