Football: Referee's ban may result in more cards

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The Independent Online
THE referee, it seems, is no longer always right even when he is wrong. This appears to be the philosophy of the FA and the Premier League following the decision to suspend Dermot Gallagher for a poor performance. He is one of eight English referees on the list of Fifa, the sport's world governing body.

Those managers who have led this season's heavy criticism of referees may feel vindicated, but the likely consequence is an increase in yellow and red cards as referees take a harder line.

Paul Durkin, England's World Cup referee, said: "This is a warning to us all. I'm shell-shocked and saddened." However, David Elleray, the Premier League referees' spokesman, said: "We agreed a number of years ago this action could be taken in extreme circumstances when an overall performance was judged to fall below the expected level."

There has been one previous suspension, three seasons ago, but it was kept so quiet even Durkin did not know of it. This time the impact is likely to go beyond the referee concerned.

Gallagher, who has been suspended for one match, was given a low mark by the assessor at the Arsenal-Chelsea game of 8 February. He was felt to have failed to control the game adequately, highlighted by his failure to send off Steve Bould for hauling down Gianluca Vialli as he advanced on goal. The match, then 1-0 to Arsenal, ended 2-0.

In what transpired to be his last press conference as Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit said: "Vialli was going straight for goal. He [Bould] has to be sent off, there was no other option. It changed the whole game. You are sent off anywhere in the world for a foul like that but the referee wanted to make his own game."

Gallagher did book Bould, and six other players, but could easily have issued twice as many cautions in a nasty match scarred by a series of running feuds.

The Banbury official, who refereed at Euro'96, has been taken off Saturday's Blackburn- Leicester match for which he would have received pounds 375.

One referee, who did not wish to be quoted, said yesterday: "This will harden opinion. In future we are more likely to refuse the benefit of the doubt to the offender." Gallagher is one of the Premier League's most lenient referees, having issued 37 yellow and two red cards in 13 games this season.

Durkin said he was "gob-smacked" by the move, adding: "We will all have to take heed if this is to be the policy of the Premier League from now on." He expressed surprise at the timing, six years into the founding of the Premiership, adding: "It is not the first time a player could have been sent off and wasn't. I wonder if it because of pressure from managers."

Managers have been so critical of referees this season John Barnwell, the chief executive of the League Managers Association, felt compelled to remind his members in this month's LMA newsletter that "an outburst against a referee changes nothing but does damage seriously the image of the game."

Gallagher will be replaced at Ewood Park by Neale Barry who, ironically, was also being criticised the weekend of Gallagher's below-par display. He booked seven players at Filbert Street, five from Leeds, whose manager, George Graham, said: "The referee had a bad game. The bookings were crazy. The referees are like robots. You get a booking for just kicking the ball away."

This underlines the problem. It is more than five years since that became a bookable offence yet the poor leadership of many managers, the indiscipline of players, and inconsistency of referees means players still kick the ball away and are still surprised to be cautioned.

The suspension follows the world trend. An African referee was last week dropped from the World Cup list after a substandard performance in the African Nations' Cup while Uefa, the governing body of European football, has sacked two referees from its list this season. The Hungarian Sandor Puhl missed the controversial Paul Bosvelt tackle on Denis Irwin in Manchester United's Champions' League match with Feyenoord. He has since been dropped by Uefa and left off the World Cup list.

The other was the Frenchman Remi Harrel, who was bitterly criticised by Martin O'Neill after bizarrely sending off Garry Parker for taking a free-kick too quickly in Leicester's Uefa Cup tie with Atletico Madrid.