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Time to mic’em up!

Andersen is available again after his red card from Newcastle was rescinded

Yesterday we got the welcome boost that Joachim Andersen’s dubious straight red card against Newcastle has been rescinded meaning that we won’t lose him for any games at all over the busy Christmas period. First of all I was relieved, then came the anger. Anger at what is basically an admission that the wrong decision was made by the on-field referee and the VAR, meaning that in a game were Fulham were comfortable ended up being a scrambled draw with 10 men. We were good value for our lead, and I really believe that we would have walked away with all 3 points against a team who look like they will be dragged down into a relegation battle. Points for any team are crucial, but when you are fighting for your Premier League lives, it can be the difference between survival and going down. These decisions from referees matter.

This is the second season were VAR has been used in the Premier League

During the first season of having the VAR in the Premier League, we had a whole load of weird and wonderful decisions. From the armpit offsides to the confusion over handballs and penalties, it was a frustrating time for footballers and fans alike. I do passionately believe that the game will at some stage be better for it but the quality of referees using the technology has to improve. It absolutely has it’s use, but I admit that the forensic way that it’s being implicated is sometimes ridiculous. It’s use for offsides is generally fine (bar the armpit and toenail offsides). Look at last night’s Carabao Cup Quarter-final between Arsenal and Manchester City for example. The third City goal was clearly offside but with no VAR in action in that cup competition, it was given as a goal. It’s use for obvious offsides is an important part of the game and it’s very noticeable when it’s not in use. I’m not one of these people who thinks that we should get rid of VAR altogether, but improvements need to be made on how it is implemented.

Let’s turn to Saturday’s events though as it’s a clear example of how it isn’t being used right. I was furious on Saturday when watching the match when Graham Scott only used the VAR to decide whether or not to give a straight red, and not to check the penalty decision or the clear dive from Callum Wilson. We don’t know who made that decision, whether it was Scott himself or the VAR Andy Madley and his assistant Stephen Child at Stockley Park. A lot of people have made comments about why the VAR didn’t show any other angles of the incident, but I think that’s because the penalty itself, for some bizarre reason, wasn’t what was up for debate. They were only deciding whether it was a straight red or not. I believe that there was a foul outside the box. Andersen did appear to tug him back, but when he let him go well outside the box, Wilson continued to run into the box before chucking himself to the floor. This is clear simulation and achieved exactly what he wanted in gaining a penalty. It also meant that the referee decided that the tug wasn’t what he was giving the penalty for, it was for a clip inside the box – a clip that we can see didn’t happen. Now the decision to rescind the red card shows that there was no clip inside the box which in turn means that a penalty should not have been awarded. Whether the Premier League can now look at the dive is another question entirely. I’m not aware of any other occasion were a red card given through the use of VAR has been rescinded. We do have cases were the Premier League have admitted that penalties shouldn’t have been awarded (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53357841) , but to actually rescind a red card only given because of VAR doesn’t look good at all from the referees’ perspective.

Other sports use a version of VAR. Why is football the only one getting it wrong?

My issue is about how they came to that particular decision on Saturday. On the same day I watched the Ulster Rugby match with Gloucester and there was an example of the TMO (television match official), rugby’s version of VAR, being used perfectly. One thing that many other sports that use some sort of video ref does that football doesn’t do, is mic up the referees. It means that we can hear the conversation and understand why decisions are made. Hockey, Rugby League and Rugby Union all mic up the TMO/VAR and on-field referee and it is so effective. Below is an example of the TMO and on-field referees working together to come to a decision in a rugby union match in 2019. It’s 7minutes long but if you jump to 5minutes in, you’ll get the idea.

 If football brought this in it would be a huge step forward in my eyes. The decisions being made do not need to be some sort of secret, the referees should have nothing to hide so why not? I also think with full transparency, it would improve the standard of refereeing in general. I don’t think the mic needs turned on for the full match like in rugby, but for when the VAR is being used, it would help us all understand how the referees come up with their decisions.

As for Fulham, we need to remember that all teams in the Premier League will have had some dodgy refereeing decisions. That doesn’t make it OK, but we aren’t the only team to feel aggravated by a decision that looks to have cost us some points. We can only control our own performances and we have to focus on that above anything else. Thankfully Andersen is available for Southampton. It will be a hugely difficult game, but we have to start picking up more points. Every game is an opportunity, eh?

COYW

Seven days, seven points

I’m not sure how you would work it out, but the Championship has to be one of the toughest leagues in Europe. It is ultra competitive, as we saw yesterday with a direct Millwall side posing Fulham plenty of problems, and anybody stands a chance of beating anyone else (I give you Burton’s victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s side in September). There’s also the sheer weight and frequency of the fixtures that mean injuries and suspensions can prove very costly – and the stakes are so high that the pressure is intense.

Perhaps that’s why after the reverse at Wolves a couple of weeks ago there were those amongst the Fulham fanbase who were giving serious consideration to the idea of ditching Slavisa Jokanovic. Dan wrote at the time that he felt that was madness – and I haven’t spoken to a match-going fan who can come with a reason why the Serbian should be sacked – but, as the men who count the money never tire of telling us, football is a business now. And, to borrow a phrase from West Brom’s statement when they ran a mile from the odious Tony Pulis, it’s a ‘results-based’ one these days. If Jokanovic, who came so close to leading Fulham out at Wembley after that unbelievable end to last season, doesn’t manage to inspire some sort of promotion push than a parting of the ways could come at the end of the season.

But this week has shown us that dismissing the man who has got Fulham playing the best football since Craven Cottage witnessed Jean Tigana’s French revolution would be as big a mistake as, say, employing a stats fanatic with no experience in English football, as your assistant director of football. The Serbian certainly hasn’t become a bad coach overnight and Fulham’s prospects of reaching the Championship play-offs look an awful lot better after the Whites picked up seven points in a week where they hosted one of the promotion contenders, travelled to the league’s early pacesetters and won a thriller and then beat Millwall for the first time at this level since before Margaret Thatcher took up residence in Downing Street.

Jokanovic also tells us whether he can satisfied or not after each Fulham performance. It always reminds me of the pained high school teacher during parents’ evening trying to tell parents that their beloved boy or girl isn’t the angel they envisaged. Fulham’s head coach is such a stickler for the standards he set in his own playing career that he’s rarely ‘satisfied’ – and the last two games provided good examples of this. After the almost coronary-inducing end to that goalfest in south Yorkshire, Jokanovic told the press that, whilst it might have been a great game to watch for the fans, he’d have preferred a much less stressful evening.

The fear was always that Fulham, who looked like they could score at will when going forward at Bramall Lane, would grant the coach his wish – or wise – by struggling to break down a stubborn Millwall side. You could tell by the way some in the Hammersmith End began booing as Fulham nearly played themselves into trouble at the back that some fans felt Neil Harris’s men should be swept aside in an instant. That’s the danger of the sublime football we saw last season – those sort of standards are incredibly hard to maintain, especially when your opponents have had a whole pre-season to mug up on the things you do well.

People should also recognise that Fulham were markedly weaker yesterday than when they took the field in south Yorkshire. Tim Ream – undoubtedly Fulham’s most improved player during Jokanovic’s time at the club – was missing after succumbing to a knock picked up against the Blades. Denis Odoi, who had been an excellent left back against Derby and Sheffield United, reprised his central half role from Reading and Leeds. Kevin McDonald, arguably the most pivotal performer during last season’s surge to the play-offs, was missing from the base of the midfield and Stefan Johansen, promoted from the bench to the starting line-up, lasted only 45 minutes. Floyd Ayite’s hamstring injury is likely to get him out until much closer to Christmas at the very least.

In the circumstances, Fulham coped well with an aerial bombardment from a Millwall side who were desperate to end their six-game winless streak. On another day, the Whites could easily have been punished for allowing Tom Elliott two free headers inside the penalty area – one thudded against the far post – and affording the silky George Saville the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham at times in the second half. There were plenty of hairy moments, not least when Aboubakar Kamara made a clumsy challenge inside the penalty area during stoppage time, but Fulham ground out an important home win for only the second time this season.

They perhaps should have made their possession count earlier in proceedings. Sheyi Ojo, cruelly mocked for that ‘go faster’ hairdo by the excellent travelling supporters, wasn’t quite as clinical as in Sheffield but he has certainly shown why Fulham were so pleased to conclude that loan deal with Liverpool. A moment of magic, when he decided to try and chip Jordan Archer from outside the box seemingly because nothing else was on, almost put the Whites ahead and his movement and willing running injected energy into the hosts’ play. Having Tom Cairney pulling the strings makes such a difference – twice two sumptuous through balls might have released Ojo and Neeksens Kebano, but Archer and Shaun Hutchinson just about snuffed out the danger.

Harris was convinced there was an element of fortune about the award of the penalty, but Conor McLaughlin clearly pulled back Rui Fonte, who had struggled to get much change out of the Millwall defence until that point. Given the baffling penalties that Fulham have seen awarded against them – the phantom penalty at Burton still sticks in my mind – you could understand Jokanovic’s bullishness on that point after the final whistle. He won’t have been happy at how Fulham ceded the initative in the second half, even if both Kamara and Tayo Edun showed both an appetite for the fight and an aptitude at this level that might lead to more first-team outings over the festive period.

Fulham’s lowly league position has been caused by a failure to bank points in August and September unlike the early pace setters. They’ve struggled to break down resolute defences at Craven Cottage and, as a result, only just climbed back into the top half of the table. Few would have expected seven points from a home game against Derby, who demolished Middlesbrough yesterday to move into six, a midweek trip to Sheffield United and a south London derby. The manner of this scrappy and yet gutsy three points was almost more important. It showed Fulham have the stomach for a fight.

Simon Hooper’s display demeaned refereeing

As someone who refereed football for far longer than I care to remember, I know how difficult the job is and I’m loathe to criticise the man in the middle. The two things that were imprinted on me as a young official were to be consistent in your decision-making and to be aware that your first judgement will set the tone for the contest. Players and supporters look for a barometer of what will punished and a barometer of what offences will carry the threat of a card – especially in such a combative and gloriously unpredictable division as the Championship. That’s why Simon Hooper’s first call at the Madjeski Stadium yesterday afternoon was such a crucial one.

The Wiltshire official shouldn’t have needed reminding of how the last contest between Reading and Fulham ended. He would have been well briefed as to the importance of keeping things under control, especially after a rowdy pitch invasion and a questionable penalty decision that decided the play-off semi-final. To dismiss Tomas Kalas after just 31 seconds, Hooper had to absolute certain that the Czech centre halve was either denying a goalscoring opportunity or had committed a professional foul. Having gone to ground under a challenge from Joseph Mendes, Kalas does catch Mo Barrow but this seems clumsy rather than malicious.

Barrow is bursting through down the left wing channel and it isn’t even clear that he is going to reach his own touch. He would have to outsprinted Ryan Fredericks and beat the covering Tim Ream to fashion a goalscoring chance as well as changing his stride pattern to go clean through on David Button. How Hooper could have made the judgement to dismiss Kalas from twenty yards behind the play in seconds is still beyond me. The fact that he was so keen to brandish his red card that he nearly dropped it showed that the referee hadn’t given his decision the ‘thinking time’ we were always told to deploy before making a game-changing decision.

Fulham might decide to ask for the red to be rescinded but whether that decision was correct or not was not actually my main bone of contention with Hooper’s patchy display. Having dismissed Kalas so early on in the contest, the referee – who has a history of controversy since becoming a Select Group official – declined to clamp down on a series of niggly fouls from the home side. He awarded Fulham ten free kicks in the first half but despite a succession of heavy challenges from Liam Moore, Tiago Illori and George Evans no caution was forthcoming. Even when Evans kicked out in retribution at Stefan Johansen after being awarded a free-kick, there was no yellow card. Such a liberal attitude to foul play was firmly at odds with Hooper’s earlier decision to give Kalas his marching orders.

Hooper waited until the 70th minute to produce a yellow card and then there were a flurry, almost as if he was making up for the previous leniency. Hooper showed no desire to punish any of the Reading centre backs for their repeated infractions. Jaap Stam was allowed to withdraw Tiago Illori who, having been carded made three robust challenges on Fulham forwards, and would have been very grateful that Liam Moore wasn’t shown a second yellow after taking out Aboubakar Kamara when it looked like the French forward’s pace might have taken him clear. Stand-in skipper Sone Aluko did very well to take his team-mates away from the official so he could speak to Hooper himself but, at times like this, you are left wondering whether Fulham’s family club feel actually works against them.

We all know that referees are the subject of hysterical and often unfair comment from players, supporters and the media. It is one of the toughest jobs going and there’s little gratitude within the game for the fact that fixtures couldn’t be fulfilled without somebody in the middle. But every young referee will find it a bit tougher out on the amateur pitches this week if Hooper’s uneven performance is shown to the players they take charge of. I hope the select group assessor will have some frank words with the referee about a display that did him no credit.

Are Referees Getting Worse? The State of Officiating and Lawmakers Impending Existential Crisis

Monday’s announcement that Fulham were to be charged by the FA for failing to control their players in the recent Leeds United fixture is the straw that has broken my proverbial camel’s back when it comes to officiating.

There has been a fairly unilateral feeling that refereeing standards have been going down over the past few seasons, an opinion that has only been enhanced in Fulham fandom by the regular lower calibre of decision we’ve seen during our inaugural foray into the Championship.

However, I don’t take criticising officials in print lightly. Yes between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday afternoon we are all automatically pre-disposed to blame them but let’s face it, they have a difficult job, and a vital one at that. They are the last line of protection for players’ safety and often hold the key to keeping a game entertaining, but in the career of a referee or assistant you mostly either face criticism or anonymity.

Yet there is a time and a place to speak up and the quality of officiating in this country needs to be addressed. This is not simply a biased spectator looking for an excuse to pardon his own team’s inefficiencies. Referee’s don’t have Fulham fighting a second successive relegation, but they do play a part in every game and the evening out of decisions for and against you over the course of a season is no reason to gloss over the underlying issue.

However, to start with, let’s be a little biased and look at the aforementioned Leeds game. Kostas Stafylidis gets booked for dissent after launching a verbal tirade against the assistant referee after he gave a throw in against the Fulham defender. The decision to give Leeds a throw in was a wrong one, and having just gone two goals down, Kostas took out his frustrations on the hapless official. A yellow card was probably fair, officials don’t need berating, even if they have made a boo boo. Twenty seconds later, Stafylidis rather idiotically decides to foul a Leeds player directly in front of the same assistant referee (and the Leeds fans). The referee gives him the old “calm down” motion and sets off towards the box ready to oversee the resultant free kick. However, his assistant has other ideas. The Leeds fans (of which there are some 6,000) reign down from the Putney End with a cascade of “off off off” chants and the assistant tells his referee to send off Stafylidis. Seeing this change of scenario unfold, several Fulham players (Captain Scott Parker and Vice Captain Ross McCormack included) charge towards the referee, incensed that their match has just been effectively ended with Stafylidis’ sending off. These are the facts [Imagine that said in the voice of Rafa Benitez and you’ll get where I’m going].

Why did the Fulham players (and the entire stadium) react with such anger? Well, the appearance was that the assistant referee either sent off Stafylidis because he was still upset about the earlier dissent, or because the Leeds fans encouraged him to do so. Or both. Yes, Stafylidis was a first rate hothead and shouldn’t have put himself in that scenario, but the entire situation came about from what was frankly poor officiating by the linesman in the first place. This was a linesman that was consistently yards behind the play (but we’ll get to fitness later).

Fast forward to later in the game and Ross McCormack gets taken out from behind, leading directly to a knee injury that has seen him have to withdraw from the Scotland squad after a hard earned recall. Was the relevant Leeds player sent off? Or even booked? No. Of course not. What was that about player protection?

The frequency of refereeing howlers is on the face of it alarmingly high. This last weekend we even had not one, but two wrong man sending off incidents across the Football League where Cauley Woodrow was dismissed wrongly against Huddersfield and West Brom’s Craig Dawson managed to hide from the referee for long enough after bringing down Manchester City’s Wilfried Bony that Gareth McAuley was sent off instead. However, there has been a magna carta-full of refereeing blunders this season and these were just the latest.

So why is this?

Well, a few weeks ago top flight referee Lee Propert delivered a lecture at the University of Bath entitled “The Demands of a Modern Referee and Why Angles are so Important”. What Mr Probert said was both revealing and highly unsatisfactory and points to an increase in difficulty and a resultant drop in standards and a high level of deniability.

Firstly a caveat, it was Probert who sent off Brede Hangeland v Sunderland in 2012 thus commencing the downward spiral that Fulham are still in, so my opinion of him is reasonably low, however what I write here is a direct report of what he himself said in that lecture at the University of Bath.

There were two main strands of the debate on standards that came out of his discussion; fitness and the media.

Firstly, Mr Probert described how up to about 2012, Premierleague referees had made an enormous effort to get themselves on the same level of fitness as the players. Indeed some of the fitness tests referees have to pass would make Olympic hopefuls blush. However, he said there was an overriding feeling amongst officials that players had since got fitter at a rate referees simply could not match. This means that for a referee to be in the right place and the right time to make the right decision is harder than it ever has been before as the game, and the players, are always getting faster. This is a legitimate explanation for an apparent drop in standards. The game is becoming simply too fast for the referees to catch up.

The second, and far more unsatisfactory point, is that referees are mindful of the media. Probert said referees don’t want to be the story, therefore there is a tendency to shy away from big decisions if they think they might be scrutinised. The more worrying aspect of this is that he said referees know decisions involving (and against) the big teams will inevitably generate more controversy and therefore coverage and therefore they are less likely to take them. The sum of that statement being that referees really do favour the big teams.

Probert gave an example of when another referee, Mike Dean, sent off Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany in a game against Arsenal back in 2013. The incident in question involved the Manchester City defender being shown a straight red card for a 50/50 tackle against Jack Wilshere. Probert’s explanation was that the Arsenal man should also have been sent off as both tackles were red card offenses. Why did only one man get sent off? To avoid the controversy as a double sending off would have made the referee the story. Interestingly, Kompany’s red card was actually overturned, something that went undiscussed.

However, Probert’s comments serve merely to reinforce the opinion that refereeing is suffering a bit of a crisis at the moment. With video technology not being utilised referees simply cannot achieve the ultimate levels of performance that their colleagues in other sports can. Without the quality of performance, they will not command the respect they crave and for the most part deserve. It is hard to talk about referees without using rugby union as an example, but watching Nigel Owens, the welsh referee, summarily end a conversation with the England Captain Chris Robshaw during last weekend’s Six Nations encounter between England and France with a simple, “Christopher, that’s enough” and the player responding with an even simpler “Yes sir”, it is hard to think that there is a long way for football to go.

What is the answer? Video technology is certainly the most obvious way to start, but football also needs to not be afraid of adapting and clarifying the rules themselves. Lawmakers need to ask themselves some questions. What are the purpose of the rules and what are the purpose of referees? Are referees set to be at the middle of football’s existential crisis? Of course not, this is football, we don’t worry about such things.

A Look at Officials: What could Football learn from Hockey?

 

downloadThis isn’t really anything to do with Fulham specifically but just shows my thoughts on issues surrounding refereeing in football. One aspect of football that the game could do without is the lack of respect towards the referees. Rarely can a match be complete without a player angrily arguing a decision that has been made by those in charge of a match. When players surround a referee not only does it show a lack of respect but it also shows poor sportsmanship as often players are trying to get another player sent off or booked. I believe it to be blight on the game that referees are rarely able to make decisions without being hassled by players and managers. Let me make it clear, a player has the right to ask why a decision was made but there is a better way to do this than surrounding and shouting at the referee at every opportunity which is what we often see. Referees make mistakes, I’m not refuting that, but the lack of respect shown just adds pressure which can lead to more and more mistakes being made. I also refuse to accept that a lack of respect towards referees stems from just poor decisions.

I watch a lot of football but I also play and officiate a lot of hockey. When I watch international hockey you just don’t see anywhere near the amount of dissent and challenging the umpires as you do in football. There could be a few reasons for this. One could be that international hockey makes use of technology for decisions made inside the circle (the only area of the pitch that a play can score from. Once the umpire (referees in hockey are called umpires) has made a decision, the captain of a team can challenge it. The appeal then goes to a video referee who re-watches the incident and gives feedback through a radio. This sort of appeal can only be used inside the circle and teams can only do this a number of times in a match which prevents a team from appealing it every time and just chancing their arm.

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This brings up the debate about technology in football again. Many believe that one reason football is so entertaining is the unpredictability that comes from human-error regarding to both players and referees while others argue that football would be better if errors from referees that can costs games were ruled out. In the case of hockey, technology has only improved the game as many mistakes have been ruled out and the outcome of games aren’t scorned because one team feels hard done by those officiating. One problem is that the technology is only available at the very top level so it only benefits those at the top of the game. It increases respect toward the umpire because players know that the biggest decisions can be challenged so dissent is reduced as player don’t feel the need to shout and argue to get their point across. If the hockey style use of video technology was brought into football it would mean that once a referee has made a decision surrounding a foul in the box then the captain of a team could appeal it giving the referee to go to a video referee to confirm the call. This could mean that players aren’t surrounding the referee or linesman as they can use an appeal. One argument against this is that it would increase the amount of stoppages throughout the game. However, if the appeal could only take place in the box and could only happen, say, once per team then the time argument could go away. The appeal system could, if the right rules were also brought in with it, be a real asset to the sport.

However, I don’t believe that technology is the obvious answer to the question of how to improve the respect issue towards refereeing in football. Another aspect of hockey that football could potentially learn from is the use of cards in hockey. Hockey umpires have three cards rather than the two used in football. Umpires carry a green, yellow and red card to help them officiate the game. All cards carry a sin bin consequence for the player it is shown to.

download (1)The green card is for small offences such as repeated fouling or dissent and means a player will be off the pitch for between 2-5minutes. The amount of time is decided by the umpire depending on the situation. The yellow card is for more serious fouls, fouls that could prevent a goal scoring opportunity or serious dissent (or repeated dissent). An umpire can decide on the length of a time a player goes off the pitch for, generally between 10-15mins. A red card results in a player being sent off permanently, as in football, but is only used in very serious circumstances, mainly were violence is used. An umpire uses their discretion as to what card to show and when. The 2minute suspension is a big reason why players show respect to the umpire as players know that any back-chat at all to an umpire could result in a green card. I have been a badged umpire for just under a year now and experience has told me that when a player shouts back at me, a green card will generally stop this. The other players will know that their will be a direct consequence for dissent so won’t do it. I’m not saying that football should copy exactly the same system but it would be very interesting to see if a sin-bin would work. I am convinced that it would tackle dissent and would increase respect towards referees.

I reckon that it will only be a matter of time before video refereeing is brought into football in some aspect. Goal-line technology has been a success so more could be brought in to assist with other decision. I don’t think that sin-bins will be brought in despite their success in hockey, and other sports such as rugby. No matter what happens in the future of the game, I hope that we see more respect from players and managers towards those officiating. At the end of the day, no referees means no football!

@Lyds_campbell