Football – harden the f*ck up!

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It’s been a season to forget so far for a lot of Hyundai A-League referees with the men in black (or blue, yellow or whatever colour they sport these days) hogging the spotlight more often than they should.

Last night’s game between Perth Glory and the Central Coast Mariners saw Matt Gillett take centre stage just before the half hour when he showed a straight red card for what he deemed to be a dangerous challenge on Josh Mitchell.

While Gillett’s defenders will point to the laws of the game and other legislation imposed by FIFA in the last few years, the fact is that football is becoming sanitised almost to the point of being beyond recognition as a contact sport.

Mitchell’s challenge was firmly one footed, with which he got the ball, before making contact with Oliver Bozanic’s shin with his follow through.

There was no malice in the challenge, Bozanic was perfectly ok, and the game could have continued as an 11 v 11 affair.

Instead, Gillett’s snap decision to dismiss the Glory defender effectively ended the game as a contest before it was even a third of the way through.

It is interesting to note that both managers disagreed with the decision when questioned in the post match press conference.

“I think it was disgraceful, that’s my opinion,” said irate Glory boss Ian Ferguson afterwards.

“I thought it was a good tackle. There was no malice. The ball was there for two players to go and win, and he’s won it. Simple as that.”

His opposite number, Graham Arnold, agreed and believes that Gillett got it wrong.

“I must say I thought it was a harsh red card,” he said.

“I feel sorry for Fergie with that. It’s not nice to be a coach in that position. But that’s football and these things happen.”

Indeed they do, and it’s not the first time this season that a club has been left scratching its head at a red card decision.

The now infamous performance of Ben Williams in the Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar game earlier in the campaign drew widespread criticism from fans across the country, especially when the official was spotted having a laugh as he left the field at half time.

His hasty dismissal of Victory youngster Matthew Foschini was arguably his biggest mistake, yet, worryingly, the FFA upheld the ban and even added an additional game to it for the ‘frivolous appeal’.

Chris Beath, who was in charge of the 2-2 draw between Victory and Glory in November, is someone who was punished by the FFA for his handling of a game.

Beath sent off Liam Miller for a foul committed as the last man, despite Glory having at least one defender in the vicinity, while he also awarded a penalty against defender Bas Van den Brink for what transpired to be a text book challenge on Archie Thompson in the penalty area.

The obvious solution in all of this is for referees to go professional, however that will only solve some of the problems as the officials can only follow the rules they are given.

What the powers that be at the top are forgetting is that the sport is football, not netball, and there will be contact between players.

While many of the changes to the game recently have been for the best, the continued attempts to outlaw the sliding challenge will be to the detriment of what is an important part of the art of defending.

Unfortunately such decisions are above the A-League; we just have to deal with the fallout.

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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