Time to blow the whistle on bully boys

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 February, 1998, 12:00am

NOT for the first time Hong Kong refereeing standards are under the spotlight, and there is a need for firm action from the local Football Association's disciplinary committee in the coming weeks.

Instant-Dict feel they have been the victims of poor refereeing recently and, having watched the games to which they refer in a plea to the HKFA, I can state there is definitely merit to their case.

Their spokesman is Ken Ng and, as a former local referee, he makes the point that criticising officials does not come easily to him. He knows only too well how difficult it can be for the man in the middle.

Sadly, inadequate and inconsistent refereeing have always been factors in Hong Kong football. There have been good years and bad years but what is truly alarming now is the upsurge in naked aggression on the pitch.

This is not necessarily to do with lenient referees although, naturally, they are a massive contributory factor. But on several occasions, the official involved has stepped in, shown the red card and generally discharged his duties satisfactorily.

Raw violence or simple thuggery is the only way to describe the actions of Happy Valley player Martin Kuhl a week ago in the game against Sing Tao.

Not for the first time this season, some of Valley's overseas players have ventured well over the line which divides total commitment and strong tackling from random, intimidating aggression.

In full view of the fans and most of his teammates and the opposition, Kuhl viciously head-butted Chan Tsz-kong.

There were certainly no heroics involved. Kuhl is a very hefty individual and he was facing up to a local player probably turning the scales at 130 pounds and a lot less than six feet in height.

To cap this inglorious effort, he then paused to trade invective with spectators.

There was also the unedifying sight of experienced defender Shaun Teale pushing his finger into the face of Anto Grabo.

There were similar scenes in an earlier ill-tempered game against Instant-Dict and in the Senior Shield final in December.

In one way it is fortunate that attendances at local games are so poor, because it is incidents like those described here that can kindle a flare-up involving spectators. Crowd trouble is rare in Hong Kong but it can be sparked by on-field violence and there has simply been too much of that.

Ricky Cheng spent a night in hospital as a result of an elbow in the mouth from a new Cameroonian player signed by Rangers. Again, it was a very nasty looking incident and if actions like these are not adequately dealt with by the HKFA, it may well lead to police intervention.

There are, after all, police in attendance at all games and one assumes that - like the rest of us - they can see what goes on.

This would be a very serious step to take but the ball is now very firmly at the feet of the HKFA. Their referees' and disciplinary committees will now be under the spotlight and action must be taken.

There should also be leadership from the individual First Division clubs. Rangers say that they have spoken to Gerald Ambassa and that the player will send a written apology to Cheng.

Frankly, that is not enough. If any club are serious about their image and upholding some of the game's basic laws there should be swingeing fines and cancelled contracts.

Although Instant-Dict may believe their excellent defender Dimitre Kalkinov is largely blameless and a victim of an image that has been the result of unjustified refereeing decisions, he has thrown his weight around on more than one occasion.

While agreeing totally with their action in going to the HKFA about the current situation, they can also look closely at their own squad. It may not be quite as pearly white as they might think - or wish to believe.

Happy Valley, once a side noted for attractive play, would seem to have put into action a 'results at any price' policy. Whether that is the club intention or not, it seems to translate into that on the pitch. And that is quite unacceptable.

Valley are rapidly becoming the team with the worst reputation in the First Division and that should be a cause for deep concern for their officials. The club have been First Division stalwarts for 30 years and do not need their image tarnished. But that is what is happening. Strong action should be taken from within - even before the HKFA has its say.

Frustration, of course, plays a part in all this. Poor or lenient refereeing invites trouble as does the play-acting that goes on at times on the edge of the area. Fortunately, just as actors generally make lousy footballers, there is no high degree of thespian skill among those gracing the fields of Hong Kong.

Frustration and provocation leads to retaliation. It can, to an extent, be understood but not condoned.

There are varying degrees of responsibility for what we are currently seeing: inadequate referees, unacceptable standards of conduct from players, blind-eyed club officials and inadequate action from the HKFA.

It had better be sorted out quickly. Or worse will follow.