Carlton Cole and Darron Gibson were both correctly sent off by referee Anthony Taylor on Saturday at Upton Park as Everton beat West Ham, but you would not have known it if you had paid any attention to the numerous commentators reporting and analysing the game.
Having not actually seen the match until Monday morning for a combination of reasons, I had heard all of the criticism of Taylor and the reports of the numerous decisions he got wrong on Saturday. Actually, as it turned out, he got them right. It was the punditry, the likes of Radio 5 Live and Alan Hansen on BBC Match of the Day, who were completely wrong.
At the heart of the confusion lies one curious facet of English football – managers, pundits and many others do not understand the rules of the game. Reckless tackles are red card offences. If raising your boot in the general direction of an opponent’s head is not a red card, even if it is unintentional, then whatever is?
Carlton Cole was guilty of precisely that on Saturday, and was correctly sent off by the referee. Darron Gibson also raised his foot to head height in injury time and was also rightly given his marching orders. That neither Sam Allardyce or David Moyes could admit the referee was right is either ignorance or wilfully misleading. Dangerous tackles are red card offences. What on earth was English punditry talking about on Saturday night? Have many fans or commentators actually read the rules of the game? There is a curiously English perception that some of the rules around tackling do not apply to them. Tackling is, contrary to habits on these shores, not an art form. Tackling is the result of a player desperately trying to get as close as possible to an opponent about to easily run past them. Often, this manifests itself into dangerous tackling - players almost decapitating opponents, breaking legs or worse in desperate and unlikely attempts to win the ball.
All of this appears to have been ignored by coaches in this country for a long time. Criticism such as that from Moyes and Allardyce on Saturday is the result of this incorrect interpretation of the laws of the game. More pertinently pointed out was Allardyce’s observation that Victor Anichebe should also have been sent off earlier in the game for the same offence. He should have. Had the referee seen that, Cole may not have raised his boot later in the game.
The other major decision the referee got “wrong” was to disallow Leon Osman’s header at the start of the game. Whilst it is difficult to agree with, there is certainly a side of the story that backs up Taylor’s judgment. The goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen was being impeded by an Everton player, although to what extent is questionable.
But then Everton are right to be aggrieved about one aspect of the affair. After all, last week Marouane Fellaini got himself in trouble after the referee in the Stoke v Everton game continually ignored Ryan Shawcross’s attempts to turn a footballing contest into a wrestling match up with the Belgian. When a referee fails to take action against a defender continually fouling a forward, it should be no surprise when the forward tries to take justice into his own hands.
That though, is the exception. Usually referees get it right. The mistakes are always highlighted, but they are fewer than you would think given the disproportionate attention paid to the infrequent errors that take place. And as Saturday shows, many of those mistakes being highlighted are actually, not mistakes at all.