Sunday, June 25, 2006


Looks like England's World Cup referee, Graham Poll, will be coming home before the team. After what can only be described as a shocker, Poll will most likely be told that he is surplus to requirements.

What is interesting in this fiasco are the reactions of FIFA President, Sepp Blatter and Sunday Times stand-in columnist, Rod Liddle. Neither one is even close to the mark.

"Silly Sepp", quoted in the EDP, thinks that referees are human and will always make mistakes, but Poll's errors were inexcusable. For those who may have missed the match, "Our Graham", who throughout the World Cup (in an astonishing act of parochialism) has been touted by the English press as "The best referee in the World" and a shoo-in to referee the final if England are not in it; gave three yellow cards to one Croatian, missed an Australian player being rugby tackled in the penalty area and a more than a few obvious handballs. Not a good day at the office.

What is more interesting than Poll's shortcomings as a match official is Blatter's comments regarding what Graham should have done. He said, "We have had four officials and what is not understandable is that nobody intervened." He is referring to the referee's assistants and the fourth official in the stands. He goes on, "I can't understand it. There are people there and one of them should have intervened and run on to the field and said, STOP, STOP!"

Right. Now this is exactly what is so exasperating about football and Mr Blatter. He is the world football chief and he is echoing what I've been saying for years and years. I blogged about this only a few days ago! Perhaps Sepp has been reading my blog. Stop the game, run on to the field and tell the referee that he has made a mistake and get it right. That's what Sepp is saying. Are you listening all you who masquerade as football purists?

Just for icing on the cake, FIFA communications director Marcus Siegler admitted that had Australia lost they would have had grounds to request a replay! Fantastic! This is the premier football tournament in the world?

In the Sunday Times, Ron Liddle is standing in for Hugh McIlvanney. Shame really - I like Hugh's style and wonder what take he would have on this woeful situation. Ron tried the humorous/exasperated/bemused and befuddled approach. Conveniently forgetting how the media have shamelessly built up Poll, he blames most of this fiasco on FIFA's instructions to referees. Ron thinks that FIFA are trying to take the physical aspects out of the game. Was he watching the same game? It was precisely because both sets of players were playing a version of a well-known computer game, Street Violence, instead of football that the problems occurred! Graham's problem was that the players were not playing the game. He could have easily sent off six or seven. He would have been crucified. This was a no-win situation if ever there was one.

Just to confirm that Ron is out of touch he then goes on to echo my sentiments regarding club v. country. Stopping short of advocating central contracts (the only sensible conclusion) he does, at least, acknowledge that players who are picked for England should be taken completely out of the club's control. His adjunct that if you don't want your players injured or unavailable for club selection because of national commitments you should stop signing international players is likely to be met with a shrug of the shoulders by managers who realise that the fans wouldn't permit it. That's how thick they are. The fans - not necessarily the club officials, I mean.

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