English referee Mark Halsey is in trouble -- when he should be receiving some sort of award for making a brave game decision. What Halsey did, this past weekend, was to red-card John Terry -- the
Chelsea and England captain.
His decision came as a huge breath of fresh air, it brought on -- for me and plenty of others -- a great feeling of relief that, at last, a referee had seen
fit to severely punish a cynical -- and physical -- tactical foul. I'll give Terry his due -- he played his role perfectly. More or less at the halfway line, Terry was beaten for skill by
Manchester City's Brazilian forward Jo. As Chelsea was pressing forward, there was a real danger that if Jo got past Terry he could sprint in unchallenged on goal. So Terry did what defenders have
been doing -- and getting away with -- for decades now. He fouled Jo -- firstly he tried to trip Jo, but Jo was too quick for him, and then he threw his body at Jo and ended up bringing him down with
a clumsy football tackle.
It looked like, indeed it was, the typical tactical foul. A flagrant breach of the rules, a game-destroying foul. Terry turned his back on the play and walked
calmly away, a smug, satisfied look on his face. He had done his job. He didn't need to look at referee Halsey, he knew he would be yellow-carded, but breaking up a possibly dangerous Man City
attack was worth it.
Then came the funny bit. The camera, tight on Terry's face when he finally did turn around, showed his bewilderment as he found he was staring at a red card. Off
the field he trudged, facing a three-game ban for his offense. Bravo Halsey!
But, sad to say, Terry has had the last laugh. Chelsea -- a very rich club -- lodged an appeal against the red
card for Terry -- the England captain. A special independent commission was called into action by the English Football Association and in no time at all this special commission issued an utterly
appalling judgment. It canceled Terry's red card. So Terry the cynic, Terry the cheat (and Terry the England captain) had won after all. No punishment at all, Terry was now free to play the next
Chelsea game this weekend -- which happens to be against its great rival, Manchester United.
Well, the argument against "denying a goalscoring opportunity" was a strong one --
Jo, after all, had nearly half the field in front of him. But it turned out that was not the reason for the red card. Halsey said he had given it for "serious foul play." An offense that
involves the use of "excessive force or brutality" -- and the commission said there was no evidence of that.
I beg to differ. True, Terry did not swing a punch or smash into
Jo's ankles. But he did enough -- with his attempted body block and trip and his round-the-waist tackle -- to warrant being found guilty of using excessive force. That is what the commission could
-- and in my opinion -- should have decided. Instead, it chose to view Terry's intervention as a minor matter, something not worth punishing. And in the process of doing that, it undermined the
authority of referees in general and sullied the reputation of a particular referee. Worse: as this was a controversial decision that could just as easily have been resolved by confirming Halsey's
actions, it raised suspicions that Terry was getting off lightly because he is the England captain -- and because having him suspended for the next three league games would not help his preparation
for England's next World Cup qualifiers.
But worst of all, is the damage this awful decision will do to the game. Terry's foul was a blatant piece of cheating, a cynical act to
break up an attacking play, the cowardly (that is not too strong a word) action of a defender who had been outfoxed by an opponent. And the commission, whatever its intention, has sent an unmistakable
message that such cheating is a minor matter, that it is not that big a deal.
Worth thinking about. This type of foul -- it was once called a "professional foul," more lately it
has become the "tactical foul" -- has become the curse of the modern game. Precisely because it is so lightly punished, treated so frivolously, defenders employ it in every game. And our
wonderful TV commentators usually come up with another term to describe it, a "good foul." And in game after game, the cheats get away with it. It has become an acceptable part of the game.
But it is an ugly business, one that should be eradicated from soccer. That was what I meant when I described Halsey's red card to Terry as a "breath of fresh air" -- because
it was just that, a moment of triumph, a rare reminder that the bad guys don't always win.
But it was just that -- a moment. This misguided "independent commission" has
ruined that moment, has chosen to take the side of the cheats, to cancel the action of a brave referee. They should be ashamed of themselves.
And what of John Terry -- the captain of
England? Is that not a title that should demand some respect? And how are we supposed to respect a cheat? Is that not a title that should set an example of fair play? And what sort of example is Terry
offering to England's, to the world's, young players?
To Mark Halsey, a brave referee who knows a blatant, cheating foul when he sees one, my congratulations. To this ludicrous
independent commission, utter damnation.