A lost chance to do the decent thing

Libero Ian Ridley on football
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What a shame. The Football Association have deferred to the police and replaced Mike Reed for the forthcoming Premiership match between Chelsea and Leicester City, a rematch of the FA Cup tie which saw the referee roundly condemned for his late penalty award.

Leaving aside the issue of who now runs football, here was a chance for the game to show its decent side. You know, that one which still draws many of us to the game. It can be found directly opposite the very worst excesses of anger and abuse that followed Mr Reed's decision, which was made in all honesty, no matter its correctness.

In a passionate sport, the pitch-side derision of Leicester's fans was understandable. The action of a few who attacked Mr Reed's car was not. Had Mr Reed been retained for the league match, visiting fans would have been given the opportunity to demonstrate the general good humour of most supporters, rather than remaining tainted by the actions of a rogue faction.

Mr Reed would certainly have been brave enough to revisit the scene, and most right-minded supporters would surely have been mature enough to accept his return, perhaps even have joked about it. Anger, no matter how justified, is one thing; lasting resentment another.

It would also have proved that fans are more discerning and somewhat less easily led than they are sometimes portrayed. The sacking of Danny Baker from Radio 5 was due to an at times objectionable rabble- rousing and ranting style which wins him no sympathy here. One redemptive day at Stamford Bridge and it is rendered less effective than balanced opinion.

One sad consequence of Baker's going is that the BBC have simply saddled themselves with more of the same. Richard Littlejohn's programme yesterday lunchtime, with its referee obsession - Paul Danson was described as the "world's worst" and "brain dead" - was 606 at 12.05pm, even if he has more knowledge and professionalism than David Mellor. The once-master Baker's Saturday programme used to air the sub-culture of the game. Where now does it find a voice?

Can some producer at the Beeb not now declare an amnesty on referees? Or at least remind Littlejohn and Mellor of the maxim, one that is increasingly difficult to coach into young players with grown men behaving so badly. It states that the referee may not always be right but he is always the referee. And that should have included Mike Reed.

A LEICESTER fan is apparently sueing the FA for loss of two days' earnings as a result of the distress caused by that penalty decision. We await the outcome of the test case with interest. This column, meanwhile, is considering action for backdated damages as a result of Alf Ramsey's decision to bring off Bobby Charlton during the World Cup quarter-final of 1970 when England were leading West Germany, only to surrender 3-2. I am told I have never performed as well since and can call on powerful witnesses. In fact, all my employers of the last 26 years have volunteered.

CHESTERFIELD'S FA Cup tie against Wrexham was apparently switched from yesterday to today on police advice. It seems Derbyshire's finest were unable to cope also with Derby County's tie against Middlesbrough some 20 miles south. How is it, then, that Manchester in midweek accommodated without incident 80,000 spectators at the United v Porto and City v Portsmouth matches a few miles apart?

LETTERS have arrived from Bournemouth, following Libero's demand last week that he would want his donation back if the club folded. The worry here was that it might simply go to banks and institutions just to pay off debts rather than where it was most needed. Correspondents point out, though, that the Trust will forward the monies to local charities if the Cherries do not survive. The hope here, of course, is that they do, but Libero is reassured that his money will at least not go to money.

Sore point: When playing should not be a pain

IS it me or do there seem to be more injuries - especially long- term ones - to players than there used to be? Aside from such freak accidents as Graeme Le Saux's ankle break, one thinks of the fitful career of Darren Anderton, for example.

One reason is the pace of the modern game, with "trauma" injuries more prevalent. Though England has always had a packed programme, the greater volume of intense matches is also a factor.

Here are another two. Despite the increased money coming into the game at the top level, medical facilities and expertise can still be haphazard. A racing stable with the equivalent multi-million pound value in horseflesh is usually better equipped.

Then there is the case of one Premiership player I was speaking to last week. His injury had not quite healed but he was desperate to play in midweek because if the team finished between 10th and 12th, the end-of- season bonus awarded to each player amounted to pounds 1,000 per game in which they appeared. So he was willing to risk longer-term damage.

One aspect often overlooked about the clampdown on offences like the tackle from behind is that it is designed to benefit clubs - who promptly whinge about yellow cards - by preventing injuries. Perhaps, too, clubs should re-examine their bonus systems.