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Marriner's Mistake -- but FIFA's Fault
by Paul Gardner, March 24th, 2014 11:53AM

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TAGS:  england, referees

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By Paul Gardner

The tangled situation and the snap decision that led EPL referee Andre Marriner to red-card the wrong player during Saturday's Chelsea-Arsenal game have been, and will continue to be, argued at tedious length.

Marriner is deemed to have made a super-colossal error in the 15th minute. He called, correctly, an Arsenal player for a hand ball in his own penalty area. But he then ejected Kieran Gibbs, when the real offender had been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Marriner’s woes do not stop with that gaffe. He is also under fire for giving the red card anyway, and for giving a penalty kick.

The PK decision seems unarguable - page 36 of the current rule book is clear enough, where it stipulates that a direct free kick is the punishment for a deliberate hand ball, and then adds that “a penalty kick is awarded if [the offense] is committed by a player inside his own penalty area.”

The argument against the red card says that the hand-ball could only be worth a red card if it came under the heading of “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity,” or DOGSO. But, so the argument goes, the shot by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was going wide, so the hand ball by Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was not denying anything. Therefore, no red card. An argument I do not find at all convincing -- but I’ll leave the DOGSO dispute with you for now.

Which leaves us with the awkward fact that Marriner could not tell the difference between the rather spindly Gibbs and the much stockier Oxlade-Chamberlain. Nor could his assistant, whom he consulted. But, as Gibbs walked toward the tunnel, the vast majority of TV viewers and, surely, of spectators in the stadium, knew that Marriner had got the wrong guy.

We’re confronted with the utter stupidity of soccer’s refusal -- FIFA’s refusal, really, or is it just Sepp Blatter’s? -- to use TV evidence. We have a situation where millions of viewers know immediately that a bad error has been made, but the referee -- the key man involved -- does not know. Indeed, is not allowed to know.

The sheer absurdity of the situation needs no underlining. We had exactly that same nonsense with the awarding or non-awarding of goals when referees could not be certain whether the ball had crossed the goal-line or not. In the vast majority of disputed cases, TV footage showed quickly and clearly what had happened. But FIFA refused to use it, opting instead -- after years of prevarication -- for a complicated and highly expensive star-wars technology to solve the problem.

Marriner seems to have sealed his own fate by refusing to listen to the Arsenal players -- including Chamberlain and Gibbs -- who were trying to tell him that he’d screwed up. But why should Mariner listen to the players? Why would he not be suspicious that they might be trying to pull a fast one? But above all, why should he be in the position of not knowing what’s going on?

There was a considerable delay in the game surrounding the incident -- plenty of time for the correct information to reach Marriner well before play was resumed. Are we supposed to believe that Marriner would not have welcomed someone -- the fourth official is the obvious contact -- correcting his error, or, more likely, preventing it ever happening?

Another point: an error like this -- one of mistaken identity -- is much less likely to happen in the World Cup. Simply because FIFA tournament regulations require that all players wear their number not only on their backs and on their shorts, but also on the front of their shirts. Which considerably increases the referee’s ability to instantly identify players.

In the Gibbs-Chamberlain confusion, it is quite possible that neither Marriner (with Chamberlain facing him) or his assistant (seeing Chamberlain from the side) got a view of his number.

It is not just referees who would benefit from frontal numbers. They are useful in many ways -- fans and journalists (particularly play-by-play broadcasters) also like to know, instantly, what is going on. The numbers also get rid of that farcical pantomime enacted by referees when they show a yellow card, making the player turn around so that the referee can stare at his back while writing down the number.

Over the past couple of decades I have brought the topic up with all sorts of soccer people -- but particularly with referees. Not a single referee have I found who denies that frontal numbers are a good idea. I have also failed to find a single referee, or a referees’ organization, willing to do anything about it.

There are, in fact, a number of clear positives to be had from frontal numbers. And no negatives. There are only two even vaguely credible arguments I have ever heard against them.

First, that there isn’t room for the numbers on the shirt fronts; this is nonsense - we are not talking about huge numbers, a maximum height of around eight or nine inches is quite enough.

Second, that “the shirt manufacturers wouldn’t like them.” Oddly, I’ve never actually heard that argument from a manufacturer. It usually comes from marketing types who live in fear of upsetting shirt sponsors.

Actually, I think frontal numbers would benefit companies that advertise on the front of shirts -- the numbers would surely mean many more people looking at the shirt fronts, increasing the chances of the sponsor’s message being seen.

So ... a good idea, easily adopted. How come it is not more widely used among club teams? In particular, why are frontal numbers shunned by MLS -- a league operating in a country where the other sports do a terrific job of helping everyone to identify players. If easy player-identification is considered important by football and basketball, why should soccer be any different? Perhaps MLS would care to explain.


10 comments
  1. Andrew Bermant
    commented on: March 24, 2014 at 1:29 p.m.
    Law 4 - The Players Equipment does not require players wear a number. This should be a simple amendment for FIFA and the IFAB to amend the first bullet point under Basic Equipment to say: "a jersey or shirt with a legible number on the front and back…." But nothing is simple within the governing board of FIFA or IFAB.

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: March 24, 2014 at 1:36 p.m.
    let a sponsor put a small emblem in the bottom of the #, the way the BPL does..........calls in Classico worse, Ronaldo tripped by a foot outside the box, Neymar not even on goal......then decided by a player making a pointless foul......

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: March 24, 2014 at 4:40 p.m.
    Hey, front numbers have been required in US collegiate games, and I believe in some state-youth associations. As for marketing/advertising on jerseys, for example in Liga MX, the amount of advertising is gotten ridiculous, yet I understand MLS will allow advertising on uniforms in a couple of year? If so, then they should ALSO require frontal numbers on uniforms!

  1. Carl Walther
    commented on: March 24, 2014 at 6:48 p.m.
    If you expect FIFA (Slather Blather) to make a good, common sense decision on this, you're sadly mistaken.

  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: March 25, 2014 at 10:34 a.m.
    So, they use TV footage to penalize player actions that the referee misses, but refuse to use TV for things that affect the GAME.

  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: March 25, 2014 at 10:35 a.m.
    Soccer rules made sense when there was not TV coverage.

  1. Zoe Willet
    commented on: March 25, 2014 at 11:26 p.m.
    And another thing: why on earth are player's names not required for all teams? It seems mostly to be Mexico, Central and South America, some Africa, where they are lacking. It should be a simple, clear-cut rule- a professional soccer/futbol player must have his name/nickname clearly visible on the back of his jersey.

  1. Mark Headley
    commented on: March 26, 2014 at 3:12 a.m.
    >But, so the argument goes, the shot by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was going wide, so the hand ball by Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was not denying anything. Therefore, no red card. An argument I do not find at all convincing -- but I’ll leave the DOGSO dispute with you for now. I'm a big fan of PG's columns generally. I'm baffled, however, at this blatant failure to address the argument he aptly articulates then inexplicably discounts. Why? As stated, I DO find the argument convincing, and would be most interested to read a cogent critique from PG refuting it.

  1. Dan Phillips
    commented on: March 26, 2014 at 6:39 p.m.
    Don't expect FIFA to make any changes. They are stodgy old farts stuck on stupid tradition. Like refusing to modify off side rule to allow for more offense (much needed). Using the electronic clock to stop whenever team is obvioulsy stalling by making many substitutions in 89th minute of game and the player walking off takes his sweet ass time getting off the field. Many more things could be done, too numerous to mention, to move the game into the 21st Century. But as I say, don't expect FIFA to ever do this. Makes too much logical sense! Kind of like moving (in Europe) to play in more pleasant weather of summer months. Rather than the sub freezing, snow and rain of winter. Never happen, too logical. And changing tradition. Good lord we can't have that, now can we?

  1. Kerry Smith
    commented on: April 14, 2014 at 7:54 a.m.
    In seperate games handling violations occurred. Rafael, of Man U handled the ball against Liverpool. He had just received a yellow minutes earlier. Penalty was awarded, but no card. Then the Oxlade Chamberlain fiasco. A 3rd incident resulted in a yellow card. Consistency need3d in the EPL.


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