Football: Baines manages to avoid yellow fever

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The Independent Online
It must say something about the quality of English football this season that the wave of protest against referees currently gripping Europe has yet to cross the Channel, despite a rising tide of red and yellow cards.

Saturday's 10 sendings-off raised the total of red cards in the Premiership and Nationwide Leagues to 140. In addition, more than 2,500 players have been booked.

In the Premiership, the majority of referees are taking a tougher line than ever with offenders. Of 19 officials used in Premiership matches so far, only three - Mike Riley, Peter Jones and Steve Lodge - have produced the cards with a lower frequency than last season. Most show a sharp increase.

Mike Reed, the Birmingham official most pilloried last season after his controversial FA Cup penalty award for Chelsea against Leicester, is going for his breast pocket at an average of 5.17 times per match, compared with 4.3 last season.

David Elleray (average 3.4 last season) is running at more than 4.5 per game, as is Worthing's Gary Willard (3.9). Portland referee Paul Durkin has boosted his average to 4.2 compared with 2.2.

Amazingly, however, they have largely avoided the flak suffered by their counterparts in Italy and Spain, where referees have taken strike action in protest at what they regard as unfair criticism by the media. In Italy, the repeated replaying of controversial decisions has become a TV obsession.

Here, however, the annual calls for full-time referees have yet to find full voice. When they do, the following evidence might be taken into account. Steve Baines, the former Chesterfield player and the only ex-professional currently serving as a referee, booked only one player in Chester's so- called "needle" match against Wrexham in the FA Cup this weekend and has issued just six cards in his last 11 matches. Will his name ever appear on the Premiership list?