Controversy over the refereeing clampdown, fuelled by the FA's over-eager endorsement of Fifa's directive, seems likely to rage through the opening weeks of the season. Officials have been told to implement the laws strictly, and although Ian Branfoot was arguably the beneficiary of the harsh dismissal of Walsall's Stuart Watkiss, Fulham's new manager could not contain his concern.
'Bloody ludicrous' was his reflex reaction when asked whether Watkiss, already cautioned for an innocuous foul, should have been banished for the clumsy challenge which floored Michael Mison late in the first half. His own player's boot was high anyway, but Branfoot foresaw serious problems if Premiership referees adhered to the letter of the law like Andy D'urso, who booked six others on his League debut.
'English football is a multi-million pound business, yet we're being dictated to by duffers at Fifa who haven't got a clue,' Brantfoot said. 'I just said to the ref: 'You'll need police protection in a few weeks.' I feel sorry for him. But imagine that happening in front of 40,000 at Old Trafford.
'People in this country want to see blood-and-thunder but at this rate we'll be down to five-a-side by November. It's very difficult to suddenly change the way football's been played here for over 100 years.'
The former Southampton manager, who should perhaps consider it a blessing that Terry Hurlock was suspended, believes only a stand by the referees can prevent the new dogmatism causing chaos. But dissident officials risked the sack, he claimed, adding that he had been 'promised categorically' there would be no gradual return to pre-World Cup standards.
Kenny Hibbitt, the Walsall manager, appeared to berate Mr D'urso at the end but declined to share his views with a wider audience. His side, though manifestly superior, had tried to hang on to Kyle Lightbourne's early goal after Watkiss saw red. Finally, almost inevitably, they were caught, Kevin Moore's header earning Fulham a point from their first fixture in the bottom division.
As Branfoot noted wryly, it was a change to hear the referee taking the abuse which, at the Dell, was invariably reserved for him. He managed a smile before the kick-off when Walsall's fans struck up the old Saints' mantra - 'Branfoot out]' - and has quickly picked up on the gallows humour which is obligatory at Fulham. Were funds available for new players, a reporter wondered? 'Oh yes,' came the reply. 'About pounds 2.54.'
Branfoot may need rather more, too many home attacks having relied on the approach that prompted a fanzine to run a mock advert for a video entitled '40 Memorable Hoofs Up the Middle'. However, with Fulham striving to raise a seven-figure sum as part of their plan to develop the Cottage into an all-seated stadium for 15,000, his roster of free-transfer veterans may yet grow.
Goals: Lightbourne (8) 0-1; Moore (82) 1-1.
Fulham (4-4-2): Stannard; Morgan (Haworth, 63), Moore, G Thomas, Marshall; M Thomas (Jupp, h/t), Bedrossian, Mison, Herrera; Cork, Brazil. Substitute not used: Harrison (gk).
Walsall (4-4-2): Wood; Evans, Palmer, Watkiss, Rogers; Mehew (Keister, 67), O'Connor, Ntamark, Marsh; Lightbourne, Wilson. Substitute not used: Lillis.
Referee: A D'urso (Billericay).Reuse content