Every honest football fan knows he or she has occasionally howled at referees and linesmen only for the contentious decision to be proved to be flawless. Every honest footballer knows his entirely subjective view of an incident may not be accurate. And we all know footballers make many more costly mistakes than officials.

Yet weekend after weekend, there is the closest scrutiny of judgements seen as plain wrong, debatable or merely unpopular with one set of fans or the other.

As the season reaches the time when vital points are at stake, at both ends of all divisions and in decisive cup ties, controversy inevitably become more intense.

Oh how the Norwich fans raged at Andre Marriner in our game, convinced poor Andre Wisdom was the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice when his challenge on Fabio Borini led to a penalty and Sunderland’s first goal.

Howard Webb, now retired and doing a spot of punditry, ended that argument with the observation that had Wisdom’s offending foot been any higher, he’d have been off he field (as Borini might have been, too, heading in his case for A&E).

How they roared with disapproval again as Dieumerci Mbokani won nothing after going down like a stone at minimal contact from Kaboul, probably paying the price for just one too many optimistic tumble in the box by desperate Norwich players.

Over at Leicester, referee Jon Moss’s efforts were judged at Facebook by a Foxes-supporting former colleague of mine, James Bennett, as “one of the worst refereeing performances of the entire Premier League era”.

Was James’s gripe with the last-gasp penalty equaliser that had West Ham’s Andy Carroll oafishly claiming Moss’s decision was “not acceptable”. Or was he angry that Leicester defenders, notably Robert Huth, had got away for so long with fouling Hammers’ players in the box before a penalty was awarded?

No, he was not. He was angered only by decisions that went against City, and in particular the sending off of Jamie Vardy, who lost some of the massive respect his goalscoring has won him this season after his furious reaction to the red card.

As for the second yellow, Graham Poll – also now commenting on the breed of refs who succeeded him in the Premier – had this to say: “Angelo Ogbonna did raise an arm but it was Vardy who sought contact with Ogbonna’s legs and then clearly dived to try and win a penalty. Moss 100 per cent correct.”

The first Vardy booking? “Correct – perhaps harsh but the timing of Vardy’s challenge was ill advised.”

Poll conceded that each team might have been awarded a penalty before the incidents that did lead to spot kicks, starting with Huth blocking Winston Reid with his forearm seconds before Leicester’s opener. So Moss got some things right, some wrong: “didn’t make any howling errors but did have a really tough afternoon,” as Poll put it.

I do not blame James Bennett or the Norwich fans. I have left countless games convinced of injustice against Sunderland – with Webb and Poll among the perceived culprits – and on some of those occasions, my anger has been shown by television to have been completely misplaced.

And the spot-on penalty aside, Marriner – hitherto a referee Sunderland fans dreaded seeing as the choice for important games – was uncommonly kind on some marginal decisions.

Tom Webb

Tom Webb

We occasionally hear at Salut! Sunderland from Dr Tom Webb, a senior lecturer in sports management and development at the University of Portsmouth, on football issues.

Here are his fresh thoughts after another weekend of controversy: “It is nothing new to see referees under scrutiny and under pressure, however much of this situation appears to have been of their own making. The movement of referees from allocated matches provided unnecessary scrutiny prior to any football been played, or any referee decisions analysed.

“Referee decisions will always be subject to scrutiny, but we should remember that the majority of the laws of the game are subjective and that is why they often create talking points.

“However, research has shown that this scrutiny from the media is nothing new and when we move into the end points of the season the games mean that much more, and there is even more at stake.

“We have to go back to the systems, training and support that is in place for the referees rather than criticise individuals in this scenario. We need to better understand how decisions have been arrived at, how and why referees are performing as they are and what can be done differently if change is deemed necessary – merely criticising and focusing on one match official will only give so much information.”

One respectable point of view is that disputed decisions are probably quite healthy for the game, which thrives on the cut and thrust of partisan banter as well as cool-headed analysis. Another is that dodgy calls tend to even themselves out over any given season.

Either way, supporters the world over are certain to go on believing the man in the middle doesn’t know he’s doing.

And TV does not always remove doubt; I have watched the Vardy dive, or Ogbonna foul as you prefer, several times and am still not 100 per cent sure. Only Vardy has that degree of certainty about his intention. If he was genuinely and unfairly knocked off balance, he is entitled to his bitterness and if he was not, he failed in an act of downright cheating that would otherwise have gained an unwarranted penalty and caused a fellow-professional to be shown the red.

Matt's cherished (by M Salut) cartoon, as adapted by Jake

Matt’s cherished (by M Salut) cartoon, as adapted by Jake

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by – and principally for – supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

5 Responses to “Carroll, Vardy, Wisdom: referees supported after Leicester, West Ham and Norwich rows” Subscribe

  1. KenG April 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Mea culpa. Refs do have it tough but often it’s not the big decisions but the sheer inconsistency literally from one minute to the next which is annoying. For what it’s worth I’m sure Vardy threw himself in the air to con a penalty. A most unnatural tumble in my book. Marriner reffed well but I can recall both myself and Sixer saying he’d had a decent game the last time he was in charge of us. Jon Moss, not one of the best refs, has received pelters in some quarters for what was overall a decent performance under great pressure. Thankfully Marriner refused to be swayed by a baying Canaries crowd and Mbokani could have been booked for’simulation’

  2. Bill H April 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    My gripe is that all of the holding in the box is ruining the game and needs to be stamped out by consistent refereeing. Moss should have given more than just one penalty especially after he had penalised Morgan.
    I would love it, really love it, if at the end of this season the FA announced that starting next season any holding in the box would result in a penalty award. This would give all the coaches who teach players to cheat time to change their tactics.

    • david miller April 18, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

      That’s stoke and wba filling the bottom 2 places then, thank God.

  3. malcolm April 18, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    Vardy dived no question. The situation however is not helped when TV pundits constantly repeat the mantra that “if he feels a touch he’s entitled to go down”. Bovine excrement! It’s cheating pure and simple but as Bill H says so is all the holding and shirt grabbing that goes on at corners and free kicks. Both need stamping out.

    Had Vardy had to miss three games instead of one it might easily have scuppered Leicester’s title winning chances.

    But so would a suspension for Huth had the referee enforced the law on physical contact earlier. West Ham players were just as guilty but Leicester are the team with it all to lose. If they were missing two key players on the run in and allowed Spurs to nick the title it might have made others think twice about “bending the rules.”

    As it is until referees are more consistent players will see what they can get away with. The Andy Carroll foul was soft compared to what others had got away with earlier.

  4. salutsunderland April 18, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

    I have only the YouTube clips to go on and am reasonably sure, but not 100 per cent, it was a dive. Agree with points made in all previous comments and especially with Malcolm’s point about players and it may well be a large majority of players, as coached – feeling “entitled” to go down.

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