Beleaguered Poll is modern model of the ideal referee

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I blinked when I read on Ceefax that Paolo Di Canio had appeared as a 75th minute substitute for Bradford City against Liverpool. Clearly for Benito Carbone it was a classic case of guilt by association - Di Canio has entered the English language as a synonym for talented but troublesome foreigner.

I blinked when I read on Ceefax that Paolo Di Canio had appeared as a 75th minute substitute for Bradford City against Liverpool. Clearly for Benito Carbone it was a classic case of guilt by association - Di Canio has entered the English language as a synonym for talented but troublesome foreigner.

How long before Patrick Vieira similarly becomes synonymous with reckless and dangerous? It was difficult to agree with those who claimed in the aftermath of Arsenal's recent match with Liverpool that he was unlucky to be sent off for receiving a second yellow card after his tackle on Dietmar Hamann.

Granted, his first contact was with the ball, but the red mist had descended when he went in two-footed with studs showing, admittedly incensed by Jamie Carragher's forearm which had led to both players being cautioned shortly before.

The new disciplinary panel, set up this season by the Football Association to review incidents on video and aimed at injecting added professionalism and consistency, was asked by Liverpool to examine the sending off of Gary McAllister for his high tackle on Vieira. They concluded that it was not a sending-off offence and rescinded the red card.

This concerns me because it gives no support to referees, who are trying hard to eliminate the dangerous tackle from behind, which has put a number of players out of the game. McAllister's tackle clearly incensed the Arsenal players and I believe it deserved a red card.

I was saddened to see that respected figures in the game criticised referee Graham Poll. It seems that there is one indisputable fact about referees. They just cannot win whatever they do.

Mr Poll, despite allowing Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz considerable latitude to commit three offences before showing him the yellow card, exercised tight control over the players, unlike Mike Riley who was subjected to criticism by Sir Alex Ferguson for being too lenient in the early stages of the FA Charity Shield.

Henchoz, in fact, escaped censure for a tug on an Arsenal shirt, precisely the offence for which Hamann received his second yellow card, subsequently rescinded by Mr Poll.

Hamann had no right of appeal against his one-match suspension.

Only appeals against three-match bans or claims of mistaken identity are entertained.

"No one at the FA can explain why yellow cards cannot be reviewed," proclaimed one reporter last week. That may have been the case, but I can.

A one-match ban is much less significant than a three-match suspension and appeals against single yellow cards were abolished at a time when frivolous and tactical appeals were prevalent in the game.

Time-consuming and expensive hearings would be convened to hear a challenge against a referee's decision which might subsequently lead to a suspension for the player. The Football Association made a significant concession to the Professional Footballers' Association when it scrapped appeals against single cautions.

It discontinued the practice of fining players, except for persistent offenders. Maybe there is a quid pro quo here, whereby fines could be reintroduced for cautions which could indeed be contested. This would entail quite a windfall for some lucky charity at the current rate of yellow cards. We have long ago lost sight of the fact that cautions were originally merely a means of warning a player to watch his step.

Delving into Rothmans, as part of the research for which this column has long been built, I came across an illuminating quote from the former chairman of Arsenal Denis Hill-Wood some years ago.

Reflecting angrily on the alleged poaching of backroom staff by West Bromwich Albion, he said: "There is nothing I can do, except ignore them."

Oh for the days when to be ignored by an old Etonian might have meant something.

There will be a lot of hot air expelled before the disciplinary headlines abate, but the season has already seen plenty of uneventful matches when the players (and referees) just got on with their jobs. One such game was at London Road, Peterborough, the other Sunday when Bristol Rovers' Nathan Ellington demonstrated why the phrase "mazy dribble" was coined. The teenager, signed from Walton and Hersham for £150,000 last year, left a burly defender for dead on the touchline just inside the Peterborough half, sped down the wing and jinxed into the penalty area before slipping the ball home from the corner of the goal-area.

I was disturbed to read that the Arsÿne Wenger charge was discussed beforehand with the Arsenal club. Maybe this was not the case. I hope so, for this is just what should not happen. The disciplinary procedures must be transparently independent and free from influence from the interested parties.

Graham Poll's statement, 48 hours after the match, was a model of this sort.

It seems that referees in the modern Premiership have to be masters of corporate speak, capable of selling their decisions off the pitch as well as on it and able to make clear statements of intent on behalf of the game.

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