by Tony Attwood
There was an incident in the first half last night in which a Middlesbrough player grabbed hold of Oliver Giroud in a rugby styled tackle in the penalty area and held on to him for several seconds, stopping him getting to the ball.
It was clearly shown on the live footage, so Sky had no chance to go back and edit it out, and thus the commentators were forced to deal with it, showing the replay a couple of times and suggesting that the Boro player was “very lucky” both in a) not giving away a penalty and b) not being sent off.
True the commentary could have gone a bit further in dealing with the incident itself, for example in wondering how the event of not getting an utterly obvious penalty would affect the Arsenal players, but the immediate coverage was reasonable. It was captured by the camera and treated as a major incident.
Except for one thing.
No one, either in the live commentary nor in the half time or post match resume (which on Sky goes on for quite a long time – I stayed tuned and watched it all) asked the most fundamental question: how on earth was it possible that neither the assistant referee covering that goal area nor the referee himself actually saw it. I mean, it wasn’t just a split second issue, it went on and on as Giroud tried to get away from the player’s arms that were completely around him.
That question, I would suggest, is fundamental to the whole game, for if the referee and his assistant could miss that, then what else were they missing. Indeed that incident threw the credibility of the whole game into question, and yet Sky did not mention it once, after it happened. Not in the game, not in the half time chatter, not in the long, long, oh so long, post match, lets draw lines on this magic box and argue, section of the programme.
Yet not only was it a major issue in the game, it is also one that would have been captured over and over again on the multiple cameras that the TV companies now use. I have seen them before use these to create a “referee’s view” of an incident to prove that he didn’t see something. But this time?
In essence one of the two officials must have seen it (because it was so blatant) or else they should be removed from officiating either for gross incompetence or corruption.
So given that Sky chose not to question the decision and non-action of the referee I want to ask, why not? Not even at half time, when they spent the whole of their time criticising the Boro goalkeeper over the goal, and showing it time and time again. In doing that it seemed as if they were trying very hard to stop us asking, “why did the ref not give a penalty and send the player off?” Also “why just call the player ‘lucky’? rather than a man who will stop at nothing – no matter how illegal – to try and keep Giroud away from the ball.”
There are two answers I guess.
One is because our referee preview pointed out that this sort of thing might happen and the media don’t like it when we are right. True we couldn’t know exactly what gross miscarriage of justice would occur (I simply added the headline phrase “If we end up with 11 on the pitch we’ll be lucky” to Andrew’s original headline to make the point) but we knew something would happen, because of this referee’s appalling history when in charge of an Arsenal game. Sky don’t like it when we are right.
Second, Sky, as part of its deal with the PL, has to sign up to the notion that PGMO is a straight organisation, whose officials have an accuracy level (as claimed again in their latest press release) of 98%.
But the fact is, since this event was potentially a game changer (robbing Arsenal of a penalty and possibly making them feel that this was another match with the ref against them), it was bizarre not to ask the question. Indeed unless the level of production in Sky is itself bordering on the grossly incompetent (which given the sophistication of the output, is hard to believe) the only way you can avoid this question about why and how the ref and linesman missed the event, is because you have been directed not to talk about it.
This is a real problem not just for Arsenal but for football, because history shows that all realities that are manipulated by the media eventually have a habit of bursting into the open. Indeed it is a question that goes beyond the media’s favourite topic concerning the future of our manager. For whatever manager we have next season the referee issue is going to be the same next season.
So, post match, we again had the long, long, long discussions about the goalkeeper’s positioning of his line for Arsenal’s first – which showed that Sky pundits can do “why” questions. But not the most interesting and revealing “why?” question.
That the issue was not picked up by the newspapers was no surprise – they, like Sky, are resolutely in the “referee is ok” camp. But the issue remains: how could the ref have missed the obvious penalty?
It was either gross incompetence or he had been bought. Of course I have no evidence that the referee was persuaded to give Middlesbrough a helping hand in the “Type III match fixing” style that we have examined so often before. But it either was an attempt at match fixing or gross incompetence, given that the event was not a quick split second issue, but one that lasted several seconds in an area of the pitch where all attention was focused. Sky’s failure to ask the question, suggests again either their incompetence or that they were ordered to let it go.
If it was incompetence this raises two questions: why is PGMO continuing to allow grossly incompetent referees and their assistants to continue to work at the highest level, and how come we were able to predict it, and no one else did?
I leave you to work it out.