Referees far too slow in penalising time-wasters
The Thursday column
When it comes to getting key decisions right the standard of refereeing in England remains monumentally high, as illustrated by the superb performance of Jon Moss at the Emirates on Sunday when he calmly made bold, correct calls that caused supposedly sane managers and players to react with embarrassing, misplaced anger.
However, referees are not doing a few of the basic things right and it is time they tightened up on some of the lower-profile stuff that may not grab the headlines as borderline penalty calls do but have the annoying effect of slowing matches down.
The two key areas of weakness are the now absurd delays in taking free kicks and the tolerance of small individual pieces of time-wasting that, when aggregated, cut the total amount of actual playing time in a match considerably.
On Friday night Sheffield Wednesday won a free kick on the edge of the Brighton penalty area in a central position. There was no need for any treatment to an injured player and no prolonged dispute over the decision.
Theoretically play could have restarted within a second. Instead the ball was not kicked again until one minute and 50 seconds after the foul had taken place.
That means two per cent of the 90 minutes was taken up by this single incident. And there was nothing in the subsequent amount of added time played to suggest this stoppage was factored into the figure that appeared on the fourth official’s board.
A minute and 50 seconds is a long period. Some humans can run more than half a mile in that time. Yet that’s how long it took the players to ready themselves for the resumption of play, as they either faffed around organising their defensive formation or stood there watching as that slowly took place. It was ludicrous.
This is an extreme example of something that happens in virtually every match these days, and it is caused by a general failure by refs to remember that football is a fast-moving game and that restarting play should be regarded as an essential requirement.
Instead, when a free kick is awarded in a position that means a shot on goal is likely we fall into a slow-motion world in which the ref loiters at the point of the infringement for ages for no particular reason before finally pacing out ten yards, spraying the turf, getting the painstakingly assembled and aligned wall to back off and then, to complete the palaver, blowing his whistle.
The whole thing is frankly a joke. The team who have been fouled should be free to take the kick whenever they choose, and if the defenders have not backed off ten yards as a matter of urgency they should be booked. That’s what used to happen and the game was the better for it.
It is illogical and ridiculous that a team can commit a foul and then be allowed as much time as they need to create the most perfectly effective wall possible.
This threatens to become football’s equivalent of the scrum, a pointless pause that kills the tempo of a match and totally wrecks any other attempts to keep games flowing.
Almost as annoying is refs completely ignoring the six-second rule, something goalies have long since cottoned on to and are exploiting to the max.
Towards the end of Swansea’s shock victory at Anfield on Saturday Lukasz Fabianski, the visitors’ keeper, with his side in front and desperate to hear the final whistle, gathered the ball and kept hold of it for 14 seconds.
First, he did what they all do these days and fell forwards on to the ground for no apparent reason other than to wind down the clock. Then he finally deigned to clamber to his feet, looked around at his options and, when he was finally ready and under no duress from the arbiter, launched it upfield.
The six-second rule is a perfectly justifiable weapon in the war on time-wasting yet referees rarely enforce it even though when they rigidly apply other laws such as players getting booked for celebrating a goal by removing their shirts we are told they have no choice.
It is peculiar that some laws are deemed unbreakable while others are applied with such casual indifference, with the encroaching of players when a penalty is taken and keepers moving off their line before spot-kicks are struck being two that, like the six-second rule, are regarded as relatively unimportant.
By and large our referees are wonderful, but it is possible they are so busy having their big decisions closely scrutinised they have not been told for too long to remember the application of the lesser laws too.
ITV Racing is travelling nicely
Moments after ITV Racing had concluded its first transmission, this newspaper asked its Twitter followers whether they preferred the new show to its old equivalent on Channel 4. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they liked C4 better.
This week I asked Twitter the same question. This time, the number of people who expressed a preference for Channel 4’s racing coverage dropped to 42 per cent.
The consequent rise in ITV’s approval rating borders on the remarkable, given it has been on our screens for only four weeks, and two of those have been badly affected by adverse weather, with the debut transmission from Cheltenham taking place in a howling monsoon and last Saturday’s broadcast losing its big-ticket item, the meeting at Ascot.
It is still too early to be able to draw rigid conclusions from the new shows, but here are some first impressions:
1 Ed Chamberlin is a brilliant presenter
The former Sky football front man had arguably the hardest act to follow given Nick Luck’s excellence, but he has taken his move to racing incredibly smoothly and it is fair to say he is the key to ITV having been received so positively. He blends warmth with authority, is always keen to broadcast with a smile and knits shows together with remarkable slickness.
2 The Opening Show is a hit
Oli Bell has hit the ground running. His new Morning Line equivalent has a nice feel to it and it is already more appealing than its predecessor.
3 Old faces are shining
There is a freshness to ITV’s output and that is not hampered by the presence in the line-up of a number of broadcasters who could not be described as unknowns, because they almost all seem to have been given a new lease of life by the move to a new team. That remark applies most noticeably to Luke Harvey, who is a big factor in ITV’s fast start, but Mick Fitzgerald is also benefiting from a change of scenery.
4 Hoiles oils the wheels
Richard Hoiles is proving so much more than a fine commentator. He is also making significant contributions to the programmes by chipping in with comment and analysis between races and it is doing no harm at all for his commentaries to be interspersed with the views of the pundits.
5 Chapman in control
I was concerned by Matt Chapman’s display on New Year’s Day. He was like a wild man, far too desperate to impress and generally acting like a 15-year-old at his first party.
But since then he has calmed down while still maintaining the positive characteristics that make him such an effervescent broadcaster when he is curbing his excesses. There will be occasions when the manic Chapman is an asset, but if he can keep a lid on his enthusiasm without his flame going out altogether he and the show will prosper.
Magic of the cup yet to materialise
If you had asked a football expert to take the 64 teams that qualified for the third round of the FA Cup and urged them to create 32 pairings that combined them to provide the dullest possible draw it is hard to believe they could have done a better job that the actual draw did.
The result was a horribly turgid weekend, and things look no better for the fourth round, which is chronically short of interesting clashes.
To make matters worse there is a full Premier League midweek programme next week so you can be sure a number of sides will field weakened teams.
We might just be rewarded for these two rounds of torpor with a fascinating climax to the competition as the big guns do battle from the round of 16 onwards, but as things stand this has a good chance of being the least magical edition of the FA Cup of all time.