The horror tackle of Wigan’s Callum McManaman on Newcastle’s French defender Massadio Haidara has been the latest in a series of high profile incidents recently. What has caused even more controversy than the tackle itself, was the refusal of the FA to take any retrospective action against McManaman for what was clearly a sending off offence.
The referee, Mark Halsey, admitted, with some sorrow, that he didn’t see the tackle and television and newspaper photographs show another Wigan player crossing his sight line at the instant the tackle was made. The FA has intervened in the past, over offences missed by the referee and they have been firmly criticised for not doing so this time. So why didn’t they? By one of those coincidences that happen from time to time, the FA’s Discipline Manager, Mark Ives, visited the town last week to talk to Reading referees. Mark’s real reason for the visit was to talk about recent changes to the disciplinary system. Regular readers of this column may recall that I outlined the new system in September 2011. It seeks to ensure that players receive the same suspension for similar offences throughout the country, whether professional or amateur. However, as might be expected, Mark was pressed on the topic of the Wigan player’s infringement.
He explained that an agreement had been reached with the Premier League and the Football League as to the FA’s intervention in such incidents. Although, as I have said, the referee didn’t see the tackle they also had to take into consideration the views of his two assistant referees. The one in the half of the field of play that the incident occurred was too far away on the other side of the pitch to comment. The other assistant referee however, admitted that he had seen it but only as a clash between the two players not realising the full effect of the tackle. In view of this the FA felt it could not interfere. Mark Ives was not involved in this decision; it was left to two high ranking officials more involved in the legal side of the FA, who felt there was not sufficient reason to break the agreement reached over this type of issue. The only way they would have been allowed to interfere was if it was seen as something exceptional.
Did not the extent of the Newcastle player’s injury make this an exceptional case? we asked. We cannot judge this, said Mark, on the severity of the injury. Players get injured every week, sometimes even without a tackle. We must be careful not to make knee-jerk reactions. In this case had the player been sent off, he would have received a three match suspension for serious foul play, which is normal and not exceptional. In some cases where the FA has intervened it was concluded there was perhaps some degree of malice and players have received bans for seven or more matches. The only reason, Mark said that there was so much uproar was that the game was featured on Sky television and viewed by millions. Had it happened in say League two there would not have been the coverage or this amount of controversy. What the FA don’t want to get forced into, is re-refereeing every match, which would mean trawling through all televised games looking at every likely disciplinary incident. Clearly not feasible. Also referees could fail to take controversial decisions, feeling they would be picked up later
Mark’s case is clear, they have made an agreement and they must stick to it but I think it will be sometime before they are allowed to forget it.