The Rational Ref

Irresponsible actions soiling soccer's image

The sport is suffering from the actions of immature individuals, including hoodlums hurling smoke bombs and firecrackers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 10:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 10:20pm

Smoke, mirrors and red herrings took centre stage during last weekend's English Premier League, although such deceptive tactics should not detract from the fact that there are plenty of disrespectful and immature individuals soiling the game's image.

At Villa Park, visiting Spurs supporters hurled a smoke bomb canister that struck a linesman. At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho dished up two red herrings; one to distract from why he was sent to the stands and the other to screen Samuel Eto'o's controversial equaliser. What these irresponsible individuals really need are huge mirrors everywhere, not for deflection and misdirection, but for self-reflection.

To his credit, dignity and integrity, linesman David Bryan simply brushed off the smoke bomb as if swatting away a gnat and carried on with his duties. Referee Phil Dowd was satisfied the match could continue. Had a player or ballboy been on the receiving end, we know what the reaction would have been.

The number one objective all match officials are taught is safety. But who watches out for the safety and well-being of match officials? The FA will launch an investigation, and police have questioned two men. Whether anything constructive develops from this incident remains hazy, to say the least. The suspicion is that there would have been a more fervent public outcry calling for stronger action had the victim been a player or bellboy.

The reason for this cynicism is because only a year ago, Hong Kong match officials had to deal with firecrackers and debris thrown onto the pitch during an AFC Champions League match in Iran. They halted the match, ensured safety was paramount, then continued with the match and reported the incident to the competition organisers.

It was a player who had a fortunate escape when he picked up a firecracker that exploded half a second after he tossed it off the pitch. Public concern that a linesman could have been injured was overshadowed in favour of the player's lucky escape. The video quickly went viral with over 252,000 views, whereas last weekend's video has so far grossed 32,000 views.

This disparity reveals a significant difference between the public's perceived concern towards the safety of match officials compared with the safety of players; especially since the EPL is a far more popular competition than the AFC Champions League. Therefore, it is a sad indictment of people's attitudes that a smoke bomb hitting a match official is not considered as serious as an exploding firecracker narrowly missing a player.

Last year, the AFC stated it would launch an investigation but there has been no official statement since. Information, however, is available from the website of the Iranian club, Foolad Sepahan, which posted the AFC's decision four months after the incident, saying the club had been fined US$30,000 for the behaviour of its fans. The AFC's lack of publicity and public access to this information does not send out the appropriate message about upholding the safety and the image of the game.

Can we expect something similar from the FA's investigation into the smoke bomb incident?

Meanwhile, Mourinho was up to his old tricks. Chelsea were 1-0 down against Cardiff City when Eto'o poked the ball away from goalkeeper David Marshall as he was bouncing it in preparation to launch it upfield. Referee Anthony Taylor, who missed the incident, allowed play to continue and Eden Hazard eventually scored.

Taylor also sent Mourinho from the technical area for being disruptive during the match. Mourinho first claimed Marshall was time-wasting and then said Eto'o was intelligent to nick the ball off the keeper.

Mourinho said: "Even with space, [Marshall] took 30 seconds. The goalkeeper has six seconds to have the ball, correct? They had almost half a minute. That's breaking the rules. If I was in that game and I was paying for a ticket, I would be worried with the fact that every time the ball was out or stopped and our opponent had to put the ball back in the game, it took an average of 21.5 seconds. That is a waste of money. You pay for your ticket and every time the game stops you have to wait about half a minute?" Mourinho's red herring is to incorrectly apply the six-second rule to goal kicks or when the ball is out of play. But just before the Eto'o incident, Marshall was simply keeping the ball, which was still in play, at his feet and because he had not yet picked up the ball with his hands, there was no violation of the six-second rule.

Mourinho also said: "Samuel did an intelligent action. When I arrived home the first thing I told my kid who likes to play goalkeeper was, 'See the goal and don't do that, eh?' If Fifa says that it's a foul, it's a foul but Samuel did well. Maybe the referee did wrong. But in my opinion, that should be allowed as it was for years."

Mourinho's second red herring is to claim Eto'o "did well" and deflect from the fact he broke the rules. Others have also called Eto'o crafty, cheeky and wily. But the truth is the 32-year old Cameroonian broke the rules and cheated.

Another worrying concern is Mourinho used this incident to teach his goalkeeping son about the deserved comeuppance of Marshall for alleged time-wasting. This means young players everywhere are being incorrectly taught the rules of the game by irresponsible parents and coaches like Mourinho.

Irresponsible characters like Mourinho and Eto'o who knowingly break the rules, and those who hurl objects and abuse match officials, reveal themselves to have highly suspect morals. Equally, those who laugh at such actions and support these provocateurs are just as irresponsible. They soil the image of the game and represent the worst in soccer.

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