Rarely has our flabber been so gasted as when we heard Charlton Athletic manager Alan Pardew on the radio last week recounting his half-time words to Graham Poll, the referee of his side's Premiership match against Reading, regarding Charlton's influential midfielder Alexandre Song who had been booked in the first half:
I said, 'If he makes another challenge which you are unhappy about I cannot do anything if it is a silly one, I know that but if he is making silly ones and the next one is going to be it, then please let me know'. I think that is within the rules... He sent me that signal. So Song had to come off.
Pardew's opposite number, Steve Coppell of Reading, felt that long before then Song could legitimately have acquired first use of the showers on the basis of Law 12, which mandates a referee to give a yellow card for persistent infringements. As it was Song was allowed 23 minutes after half-time of sailing very close to the disciplinary wind before Pardew felt the time had come to withdraw him. A red card would have seen him miss the remainder of the Reading match and at least one other in the coming weeks.
The Football Association stepped in pretty quickly not only to deny any suggestion of wrongdoing, but to go further and encourage the behaviour:
Our view on it is more broadly the issue of referees' communication with players and management. It has got to be beneficial to the game that referees keep team captains and management aware of any issues.
Poll appears to have claimed in response that he refused Pardew entry into the referee's room at half-time because it would have breached League Managers’ Association rules and he also denies reaching any formal agreement with the Charlton manager. Pardew later sought to clarify his initial remarks:
I didn't have a special agreement with him. He pointed to four areas of the pitch to suggest to the whole stadium that he was on his last warning... I just genuinely meant that he had made it quite obvious that the next foul was going to be troublesome - to the whole stadium not just me.
As far as we can tell, what nobody is denying is that Pardew made the request and that the referee later made a signal that was seen by him (amongst others) to the effect that Song was very close to being sent off.
Now, you have to understand here that if the FA says it was all absolutely fine by them then we have no wish to suggest anything other than that everyone involved has behaved with the utmost propriety. We hope, though, that they can understand that it leaves a few questions begging. Is this sort of co-operation with officials available to all managers at all clubs? If so, are both managers made aware of any such consultations? Should club lawyers be spending time drawing up lists of polite requests to be presented to referees before kickoff and does a referee, perhaps someone officiating their first Premiership match, have discretion as to how they react to such perfectly legitimate requests?
We can imagine that the English football authorities would be keen to emphasise that referees are not unduly influenced by club officials given the concerns expressed by UEFA, European football's governing body, last summer.
Photo via martin.rodvand's Flickr stream.
Premiership referees are assigned to matches by the Professional Game Match Officials Board, set up in 2001 and one third owned by each of the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association. UEFA's director of communications William Gaillard said:
Referees should be appointed completely independently of clubs and leagues. Leagues not complying with that are in breach of UEFA and FIFA statutes. The PGMO is a breach of these statutes.
UEFA had reason to be jittery at the time given the stories of malpractice emerging from across Europe, and in particular the Calciopoli scandal in Italy where, as far as anyone can tell, no money ever changed hands, but a system of illicit influence had grown up, where club officials sought to create the most favourable conditions possible for their teams, including seeking to ensure their matches were officiated by referees that, for whatever reason, they liked.
The English Premier League consists of 20 shareholder clubs so it seems that UEFA reasoned that, although they had no evidence at all of any corruption in the English game, the system for appointing referees was open to accusations, however baseless, of undue influence from club officials. Gaillard summed up his concerns as follows:
In England the response is to say we are more honest but we do not think this is good enough. There should be a systemic answer; people have to answer how and why a repeat of Calciopoli is impossible under their system. We have had no such response from anywhere.
We hope there's no need for one. And we wish referees were left to themselves during games.