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Premier League Ref Justice Must End for Good of English Football

“If there’s one person that I know will pursue cheats to all four corners of the earth, it is Seb.”

Ed Warner, UK Athletics Chairman

Athletics has made giant strides towards cleaning its own house up, appointing Lord Seb Coe as new President of the International Association of Athletics Federation this week. It is time for English football to do the same.

The clarion calls for world football’s governing body, FIFA, to reform led to an FBI investigation and Sepp Blatter will stand down at long last.

Yet, something must be done to ensure the playing field of the Premier League is level for all clubs, regardless of perceived size and stature and that fairness extends throughout the domestic Cup competitions.

Premier League Ref Justice Must End for Good of English Football

Contrary to the myth that ‘the League table never lies’, the Premier League rankings are currently false after two rounds of games. Teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have points they should not, having benefited from clear wrong decisions that went their way last weekend. Others such as Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa have been robbed of goals, results and points they could have been awarded.

In the 21st century, with video replay technology available and easily implementable in fast-paced sport like the Television Match Official system used in rugby union since 2001, this is nothing short of a scandal.

Every Premier League viewer watching matches live on Sky, with its array of camera angles, is in a better position to adjudicate matches than the referees and linesmen. Therefore, not to use them in matches, as with goal-line technology so successfully introduced for the good of the game, is wrong.

For example, Aston Villa should have had a penalty last Friday night when Matteo Darmian unfairly prevented Micah Richards meeting a corner by holding his shirt and pulling his neck after pretending there was something on his face to put him off. Jamie Redknapp was visibly annoyed in the SKY studio at yet another blatant injustice.

Within 30 seconds of any incident taking place anywhere on the pitch, everyone across the watching world from England to China, America to Brazil knows whether an incident was a penalty, offside or a goal – except the officials.

If it was car safety technology, and a technological breakthrough was made to increase safety, it would be implemented wholesale across the world tomorrow. Cars would be recalled to factories, production lines would be stopped and modified overnight; the right thing would be done.

Football must act immediately, as even more than money is at stake – often it is the happiness of entire towns and cities, not just football clubs and supporters. As a Newcastle fan, the club is the heartbeat of the city and a win can mean a weekend of joy, whilst a loss ensures one of misery for every devoted fan of the club – 50,000 or so paying £500+ per season, at the very least. Extrapolated over the course of a season or longer periods, key decisions really affect people’s lives and careers in the football world and outside. Remy Cabella scored a wrongly disallowed goal in the FA Cup 3rd Round that would have kick-started his Newcastle career, which has now ended.

Strangely, Newcastle travel to Old Trafford today to face Manchester United with Craig Pawson as the chosen referee; he is a man who refereed The Magpies’ opening game against Southampton. In that match, Pawson failed to award Newcastle a potentially game-winning penalty during injury time when Siem de Jong was hauled down.

Newcastle have not had a meaningful penalty, or seen an opposing player sent off in the League since they beat Stoke 5-1 on Boxing Day 2013. This is also despite a string of stonewall penalties, including one at 0-0 at Old Trafford last season, before being awarded a meaningless one at 3-0 down – the club’s only penalty in 18 months.

Pawson hit the headlines again on Monday night football at Anfield. It was Bournemouth’s turn to be subjected to bad decisions, after having a goal at one end ruled out and a blatant offside goal under the new rules counted against them. The reaction of Cherries’ boss, Eddie Howe, was understandable:

“It’s hugely frustrating really, after the goal being disallowed as well. So that’s basically a two-goal swing against us.”

These are decisions that could be easily rectified and must be to safeguard the good of the game, during a time when the state of the national sport is in peril. Clubs with young English coaches and players must be given a fair crack of the whip. Its no coincidence England’s tournament displays have not hit the heights of the 1990 World Cup Semi-Final since the inception of The Premier League. Indeed, England’s failure to qualify for USA 94 was a direct result of the influx of money post-1992 and new conditions in the national game.

Liverpool are no strangers to injustices of their own, having endured more than their fair share in recent seasons. In their Premier League title-threatening season 2013/14, they were subjected to some astonishing decisions; none more so that Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal at The Etihad, when Brendan Rodgers correctly pointed out the attacking player and defender were “not even on the same cut of grass. It is not even a difficult one”.

Last season, Mario Balotelli scored a perfectly good equaliser at Wembley against Aston Villa in The FA Cup Semi-Final, only to have it wrongly ruled out. He shared a photo of his clearly onside position and his discontent:

“No words. This picture says it all”

Instead of potentially shooting his side to Wembley and a golden chance on the big stage, his Reds career stalled. It also prevented a dream Wembley end to Steven Gerrard’s career with Brendan Rodgers saying:

“The official is looking across the line and should see the full-back playing Mario at least a yard onside. You need that to go for you.”

Instead, relegation-threatened Aston Villa faced Emirates-sponsored Arsenal in a second successive Wembley win for The Gunners, in a tournament that, from this season, is officially The Emirates-Sponsored FA Cup.

Arsenal benefited hugely from the officials at the weekend against Crystal Palace, when referee, Lee Mason, took the extraordinary step of advising Per Mertesacker and Arsène Wenger to sub Francis Coquelin before he was sent off.

Eagles boss, Alan Pardew, was rightly incensed having watched Coquelin make three or four reckless fouls – at least two worthy of yellow cards – and actually had words with the referee at half-time before witnessing yet another.

“I had a chat with Lee in the tunnel and we agreed that he shouldn’t have been sent off – you don’t want that,” said Pardew. “I said that’s his last chance, he can’t afford too many other challenges, and he did one. Mason didn’t make the call, though.

“Our bench thought he should have gone. Their bench did too, so taking him off was a natural reaction. He should have been sent off.”

Contrast the treatment Arsenal received from Mason, with that of Newcastle’s Daryl Janmaat, who was dismissed by Mike Jones inside the first 45 minutes at The Liberty Stadium against Swansea for tackles very similar to those by Coquelin. Inconsistency at best, blatant preferential treatment at worst.

Arsenal’s conquerors from week one, West Ham, were unable to build upon their terrific win at the Emirates Stadium, due to Anthony Taylor failing to award them a penalty and send off Kasper Schmeichel at the Boleyn Ground. However, he was quick to dismiss Adrián at the other end just in case West Ham were getting any ideas.

The injustices extend off the pitch as well to clear attempts to preserve a top four elite, and thwart attempts of other teams to get into The Champions League.

Examining Newcastle’s and Liverpool’s ludicrously hard starts to the season – The Magpies play six of last year’s top eight in the first eight games, including all of the top four. Further, Liverpool’s first seven away games this season are Stoke, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City and Newcastle; the extent of the fixtures bias is clear.

With such blatant injustices up and down the Premier League, alongside an overall pattern of the recently-established ‘Top Four’ – Man United, Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal – being favoured both in their own matches and teams opposing any would-be gatecrashers to the top of the table party, it is becoming a closed shop.

Ironically, Manchester City face a similar battle in Europe, where a clever ‘seeding’ system pairs them annually with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, clearly an attempt by the European football powers-that-be to prevent a Dubai-owned football club buying Europe’s Premier competition as easily as they’ve bought England’s silverware. Pellegrini’s complaints post-Barcelona could be any Premier League manager’s from the lower half:

“From the beginning I felt the referee was not impartial to both teams so he decided the game with a foul that he didn’t whistle against and a penalty with Demichelis that was not a penalty, it was outside the box.

“I think it was not a good idea to put a referee from Sweden in charge of such an important match, especially a referee who has made an important mistake against Barcelona in a previous match.”

A lack of fairness actually hinders the English game in Europe and especially internationally. The Champions League clubs spend the most on foreign imports – Arsenal’s purchase of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez has resulted in their FA Cup successes – to the detriment of English stars breaking through.

As 100 FA Staff lose their jobs, more has to be done to safeguard the future of the English in English football.

A small group of referees earning £100k each per year should not have the final say in games that decide final League positions worth around £97m to £146m, and a single win could earn a club up to £3m extra in the final rankings or be the difference between relegation, survival or Europe.

Video replay technology is the answer to the on-pitch injustices; a ruthless examination of how the Premier League and FA are organised and sponsored is the solution to levelling the playing field in terms of the fixture list.

The NFL in the USA have had video technology in their sport since the 1986 season, exactly the time it should have been introduced into the world’s favourite sport, following Diego Maradona’s blatant handball punch in Mexico ’86, against Sir Bobby Robson’s England.

Level the playing fields of England’s top flight and the fruits of a football meritocracy to the national game in Europe and internationally will be startling.

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