By Tony Attwood
Sitting in the Emirates and watching the game from the upper level one sees most of the game once – the replays don’t show any controversial moments, fouls and the like.
So one can take a view on a game which is later shown to be quite wrong, when one has the benefit of the TV cameras and replays. And for this reason I don’t normally wade in with a review of a match without first watching it again on TV.
Thus my opening views, straight after watching the match, might be completely wrong.
But since Walter was at the match and will still be making the long and arduous trip back to Antwerp while I write this I thought I would take a chance and commit to the blog my instant post-match thoughts, just for once. You may scoff and laugh, but I just feel I would like to put my thoughts down, before anyone else.
It seems to me that with this game one has to start by taking a view on the refereeing: was it of a decent standard – a professional standard – or not. For me it was not. In fact it was just about the worse standard of refereeing I think I have seen in the Premier League for quite a long time. I saw fouls never given, endless pushes in the back that were not penalised, awful leg breaking fouls, which merely got a free kick… indeed we were even back to things I had not seen in years like a player ready to take a throw in having the ball pushed out of his hands by an opposition player running from behind, the ball being kicked away from a player lining up to take a free kick…
Now if you did not see such things, then ok we have a totally different vision of this match – and our views are so far apart there is probably no conversation we can have. Maybe your view is right, and I am somehow seeing things that are not there – but we just have to go our separate ways.
If you did see, as I did, a match in which the refereeing was of an extraordinarily low level, you have to decide if this was because the referee was grossly incompetent, or because he was biased. I do not find this too hard to judge, because I cannot believe that a professional referee can make mistakes on such a huge scale, and in such a lopsided manner, by error. Yes, a part time ref in the Conference can – I have seen it – but at this level, no. I don’t think it is possible. If you do think it can happen, well, again, you have your view, and I have mine. But I would say that such a view must cast into doubt the whole basis on which PGMOL works – for to suggest that a pro ref can be this awful through errors is to say that the whole basis of professional refereeing must be questioned in England.
You will see from this that my view is that this was a particularly awful event for the ref, and that I find it hard to believe that he was simply having a bad day. In which case the only explanation is that someone somewhere has persuaded the ref to fix the match. Of course I have no proof, there is no “smoking gun”. Proof is merely offered where match after match after match produces odd decision making against certain clubs and in favour of another. Here I am looking at one game only, and I believe something has gone wrong. I give only my opinion, not assertions.
But to follow my opinion through, where does it lead?
If the match was in some way “influenced” who would be doing that influencing? Surely not Norwich, who are too small a club to be involved in such things. Indeed if we suggest that a club like Norwich would be involved in match fixing then we suggest any club could be – and that every match is open to match fixing. Norwich have no chance of a finish in the Euro places, and no chance of relegation, so it all seems too unlikely.
So who then?
Presumably clubs that wanted to ensure Arsenal were hampered in their attempt to secure third position in the league. That would suggest Tottenham, Newcastle, and Chelsea. It doesn’t suggest that any of them have been attempting to fix referees all season but it does suggest that one of them might have thought it worth enhancing their chances now.
If you think that is all too unlikely then fine – but I do suggest you might consider: was it a fairly refereed match, or was it a badly refereed match – and if the latter, why.
There was much that I saw that was wrong. The tackle by Hoolahan (sorry I don’t know the exact spelling, my apologies) on Coquelin seconds after he came on, was utterly awful. Not just a bad tackle, but one of such intent that it deserved serious action from the ref. One full back had just been carried off, and here we have an immediate awful foul on his replacement. The intent was, I believe, clear. Watch out mate, we’ll get you as well – that was the intention behind that, and I believe a ref has a duty to stamp out such actions.
There were the numerous penalty appeals. As I say I have only seen them in real time, but certainly a couple looked sure fire penalties to me. And there was that dreadful occasion when a Norwich player went down holding his head, had two trainers on, would not go off the pitch, and then eventually, having gone off, sprinted from the goal round the pitch to the halfway line to come back on. Now, I don’t know if you have had a serious head injury in a game that has left you lying on the floor for a couple of minutes. Sadly I have, and I can tell you that the chance of getting up and running like that, after any real head injury is about zero. This was clearly an example of simulation – and the ref did… nothing.
I could go on, but it would be boring, and the ref review will do a much better job. But for me, and I stress this is my personal view having just watched the match in the stadium, it was clear to the players from the off that there was something wrong, and so the frustration and tension built up as they knew that every nudge and push would go unpunished. I think for many of the team it was a novel experience to see such lopsided refereeing.
If I am right, what should Arsenal do? Carry on regardless, knowing that there is a chance that any match can be fixed? Should Arsenal get involved in what seems to be quite a widespread activity? I think neither, and I hope that the club will be gathering evidence to give to the Premier League about what is going on, and will point out the integrity of the league is at issue here and suggest that unless action is taken they will make their views public.
If you believe the match was played fair and square under the rules, or that we just happened to have a ref who was having a singular off day, then ok that’s your view. But as I think back to the game I have just seen, it is not mine.