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.”
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