To wit: the tendency to overlook serious fouling. This is manifested in two ways: when confronted with a close call the referee will invariably give the benefit of the doubt to the defending player -- so, no foul; and a sorry tendency to avoid giving penalty kicks.
When those two tendencies are combined with this absurd witch hunt against the dreaded divers that the English referees are currently conducting, the results inevitably show refereeing and the referees in a poor light.
We are asked to believe that the English attitude is the correct one, that forwards are constantly falling down in attempts to draw penalty kicks, and that the victimized defenders need to be protected from this trickery. An argument that has very little merit.
I’m talking of “tendencies” but a stronger word is needed. These are really mindsets. How else to explain the inexplicable? Let’s look at the examples from Sunday.
• Bournemouth-Southampton, 30th minute. Adam Smith of Bournemouth dribbles the ball into the Southampton penalty area. A challenge comes in from Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal who slides in from the side, stretching his leg forward, across Smith’s legs. The challenge is late, the ball has already been played forward by Smith. So Boufal does not make any contact with the ball, only with Smith, who falls forward over Boufal’s leg.
What I’ve just described is what I saw on TV, without yet seeing a replay. A clear penalty. But not for referee Jonathan Moss. He has the yellow card out, giving it to Smith for diving. The call is surely ridiculous. The replays showed that this was one of those incidents where the first impressions were the correct ones. The replays were really superfluous. The call was ridiculous.
Meanwhile, we have the usual tangled drivel from the TV commentators, telling us “That is such a difficult one, it really is” (it wasn’t -- not for a referee willing to call what was there to be seen), then slowly convincing themselves that Smith had not really been tripped (this while the replays were showing a clear trip), and then adding that maybe the yellow card was a little unfair.
Their final agonized verdict was that referee Moss had got it right. A verdict every bit as nonsensical as the original decision. Bournemouth coach Eddie Howe, naturally, thought differently: “To me it’s a penalty ... I’m amazed it wasn’t given.” Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
However, on this occasion we got, right after the game, an authoritative opinion. Adam Smith, interviewed live, said he had spoken with referee Moss right after the game, that Moss had apologized and said it should have been a penalty.
• Arsenal-Manchester United, 88th minute. Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck is brought down by United’s Matteo Darmian. As in the Bournemouth game, this is a clear foul, an obvious penalty. But referee Andre Marriner says no. The Guardian’s game report has “That was a clear foul and should have been a penalty.” Again, the replays merely confirm what was obvious from the start.
But not obvious to Marriner, not obvious to Moss in Bournemouth. What is it that causes, or allows, experienced referees to make such rotten calls? Those faulty mindsets, that’s what. Referees looking to avoid penalty kicks can justify not making the call by applying the “benefit to the defender” line, referees looking for diving will, of course, find it.
Both these calls, or non-calls, could be defined as game-changers. The penalty kicks would have been given, and one then makes the assumption -- not always correctly -- that they would be converted into goals. So maybe Bournemouth’s 1-1 tie would have been a 2-1 victory. For Arsenal, a penalty kick goal would have shaved Man U’s lead to 3-2, and then who knows what might have happened in those hectic final five minutes -- this had been a hell of a game, with Arsenal showing tremendous attacking verve and on more than one occasion it was only David de Gea’s brilliance in goal that saved Man U.
One wonders -- would VAR have got it right? There must be some doubt about that. After all, if the system were in use in England, its judgments would still be made by referees with the same English mindsets.
Mindsets that insist that defenders are usually blame free, while attackers usually guilty ... especially of diving. Adam Smith of Bournemouth got a yellow card for taking a dive. He got an apology from the referee, but the yellow card cannot be rescinded. It bewilders me that referees continue to lend themselves to a biased system that is always likely to produce such travesties of justice.