Monday, 15 January 2018



THE manager of Doncaster Rovers. Darren Ferguson (pictured), faces sanctions from the football authorities over ill-considered comments he made following his club's home draw with  Plymouth Argyle on Saturday.

The 45-year-old  claimed his side were denied "a blatant penalty" and, when asked what he would like the Football Association to do about  referees, he said "shoot them".

Mr Ferguson believes  fitness standards fall short in some referees, and he was aggrieved that the officials appeared to be laughing after the final whistle.

On Monday, he backtracked with a statement made through the club's website

 “When asked after the game what I personally could do to raise standards, I said: ‘What can I do? Shoot them?"

Although clear to everyone in the room that my comment was a tongue-in-cheek response, it is worth clarifying my comments were borne out of frustration and I absolutely do not advocate violence against officials. 

“I am sorry for that comment and regret the wording, but, as was clear from my post-match comments, I felt the referee got some decisions wrong at key moments in the game.

“Referees have a tough job and I have a lot of respect for the challenges they face, but I would like to see more done to raise standards across the board and give them the best chance of getting decisions right.”

Ferguson's comments and subsequent apology have been noted by the EFL and his remarks passed on by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited to the FA for consideration. 

An EFL spokesman commented: ""Managers and officials are given guidance each season so that they are fully aware of their responsibilities in regard to commenting on match officials and their performance." 

The man in the middle was Andy Haines who is on record as saying he likes  to referee "with a smile on his face"

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Intriguing memoirs of globetrotting footballer

COULD playing chess make British managers and footballers more capable in their work?

Yes, according to Andrei Kanchelskis who enjoyed an illustrious career at Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton and Glasgow Rangers, plus clubs in Russia, Italy and Saudi, before taking up management himself.

In his excellent autobiography, Russian Winters, he writes: "Chess teaches you a lot about tactics and lateral thinking."

The book contains many fascinating insights and anecdotes, not just about his playing experiences but also about how he (and his family) adapted to living in different cultures where different languages are spoken.

On his arrival in Manchester, he  picked up a mischievous tip from  teammates about how he should address manager Alex Ferguson.

On meeting him in a corridor, the player startled his new boss with the greeting: "F- off, Scottish bastard."

Luckily, Ferguson twigged what had happened and saw the funny side.

Among other revelations in the fast-moving narrative, is that, before matches, Paul Ince  used to take a "little swig of brandy to settle himself for the game ahead".

Kanchelskis was the player nearest to  the infamous incident  when his colleague, Eric Cantona, aimed a kung-fu kick at a fan  after having been sent off for lashing out at  a tight-marking  opponent, Richard Shaw, in a match at Crystal Palace (where Alan Wilkie was the referee).

Says the author: "Cantona's opponents tried everything they could to needle him - they wanted him react, and generally they would get what they wanted . . .in January, 1995, at Crystal Palace, they hit the jackpot."

Selhurst Park - scene of the Cantona kung-fu incident
He reckons Cantona's suspension for the rest of the season probably cost his club the Premier League title.

Kanchelskis was released by Manchester United after his manager apparently became unhappy at his habit of not lifting his head when running with the ball, his indifferent  crossing and his lack of understanding on the English game.

The departing player mostly admired Ferguson's management style, but, despite playing alongside stars such as David Beckham and Ryan Giggs during what was an illustrious period for Manchester  United, he was happier after being transferred to Everton, managed by Joe Royle with whom  he got on well.

"He comments: "I didn't win a trophy in my 18 months at Everton, but I probably  enjoyed my football at Goodison Park more than anywhere else."

In his comparison of the British game and that in Italy, the author offers the view  that, tactically, Italian  defenders tend to be "more astute than their English counterparts"who are "physically strong but very weak when it came to knowing where to position themselves".

On the whole, Kanchelskis, now 49, preferred the pace, dynamism and physicality of the game in England to that in Italy where matches were constantly interrupted by players diving, feigning injury and the ref's whistle "shrilling every few minutes".

In Britain, some of his teammates  regularly used to visit  McDonald's restaurants, but when, as a  player at Fiorentina (his manager was Claudio Ranieri), he took his son, Andrei, to one, the author landed himself in hot water with the club hierarchy even though he had ordered nothing for himself.

After someone reported him to his club, he was contacted the next day by the technical  director who told him: "No Fiorentina player goes to McDonald's - ever."

During his spell in Saudi, Kanchelskis understandably declined an invitation  to watch an after-prayers public beheading in Riyadh's Deera Square (known gruesomely as "Chop-chop square") of 18 Filipinos who had been convicted of drug trafficking.

The book contains much intriguing material on  what it was like to grow up in the Soviet Union (he was born in what is now the independent state of Ukraine), and the author notes wryly that, when he came to England, the only knowledge  people seemed to have of his country came from Bond movies. 

For visitors to the country, he offers the advice: "Russian beer is very cheap and not very good - you're better off buying imported German lager rather than Baltika, the biggest brand of Russian beer brewed in St Petersburg."

In recent years, the author has been managing clubs in Russia where he claims some referees were  "on the lookout for money". 

He continues: "One asked me how much I was prepared to pay to settle the result - I sent him away."

What was the name of the referee? Did he report the matter to the governing body? Kanchelskis does not say.

Mostly, the seems to have enjoyed his globetrotting footballing life but there have been tragedies along the way - notably  his wife Inna's loss of their first baby which, he says, temporarily "killed his desire for the game".

Subsequently, the couple had two children, but he was heartbroken  when Inna left him for a Russian pop star whom she had met after one of his concerts.

"I was shocked by what happened,"he recounts. "Stunned. I did not see it coming."

One thing that shines through in this superb book (co-written with consummate  skill by journalist Tim Rich) is the eminent good sense of the author who now lives in Moscow.

He has made a fortune out of being a football star, but he says modestly: "The money doesn't change you - it doesn't alter who you are.

"The money is a mask. It's  there for you to hide behind."

Russian Dreams is published at £20 by deCoubertin Books, a dynamic British publishing house which has steadily built up a most impressive list of sports titles.


Saturday, 6 January 2018


Mike Riley - briefings to Brighton and Palace
 REFEREES’ boss Mike Riley has updated players and management at both Brighton and Crystal Palace about how the Video Assistant Referee system will operate in advance of the clubs' 3rd Round FA Cup match on January 8.

Although the system has been used in other countries, Monday’s trial will represent a first in an English football competition.

It has been tweaked and re-tweaked at least times by the technical director of the International Football Association Board, David Elleray, a former top-flight referee whose bookish credentials were established first as a Geography student at Oxford University, then in a long career as a master at uppercrust public school Harrow (where, in earlier times, Sir Winston Churchill had been a pupil).

The two VARs for the Brighton-Palace match will be Premier League referee Neil Swarbrick (below) and assistant referee Peter Kirkup who has many years’ experience running the line in top-flight football..

The intention is for their intervention to be minimal (or even non-existent)  - only deployed in the following situations:
* Goals and whether there was a violation during the build up 
* Penalty decisions 
* Red card decisions (note that second yellow cards are not reviewable) 
* Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

According to FIFA regulations, the process begins with the video assistant referee and the assistant video assistant referee  reviewing the play in question on a bank of monitors in the video operation room  with the assistance of a replay operator.

This can be triggered by the referee requesting the review or by the VAR conducting a "check" to see if he or she should recommend a review to the referee. 

If the VAR finds nothing during the check, then communication with the referee is unnecessary, which is called a "silent check".

 If the VAR believes there has been a potential clear error, he or she will contact the referee with that judgment. 

The referee can then either (a) change the call on the advice of the VAR or (b) conduct an on-field review  by going to a designated spot on the sideline, called the referee review area , to review the video  or (c) decide that he/she is confident in the original call and not conduct a review. 

The referee is allowed to stop play to reverse a call or conduct a review  but is not supposed to do so when either team is engaged in good attacking  situation.

The official signal for a video review is by the referee making the outline of a rectangle with his index fingers (indicating a video screen). 

However, for most, if not all, of the Brighton-Palace match, it will be business as usual for in-the-middle  referee  Andre Marriner (below) and his assistants, Scott Ledger and Richard West.

Riley has insisted that, in the event of  the VAR becoming involved, players and management must not seek to harangue Mr Marriner about what decision he should reach.

If they do so, they will face the prospect of sanctions.

The regulation states:" Players who demand a video review by making the rectangle motion are to be cautioned with a yellow card. 

"Players who enter the area where the referee conducts a review are also to be cautioned with a yellow card, and team officials who do so are to be dismissed." 

Palace manager Roy Hodgson has expressed cautious optimism about VAR and its capacity to eliminate "clear miscarriages of justice".

However, he believes it will probably need some "honing" before it can demonstrate its long-term worth.

He commented: "I am not yet convinced that it will make things any better for referee - it might even make them more difficult."

Today's Referee comments: As with many,  the Palace manager makes the mistake of hoping for "justice" to prevail in matches. Football is not a court of law - it is a game and, as such, subject to all sorts of  twists of fortune (just and unjust), not just the  whims of refereeing decisions. But the professional game seems intent of  making things ever more complicated. There is a real risk that VAR will generate more controversies than those it resolved. Whatever happened to the principle that players (and managers) should accept as final the referee's decision - whether they agreed with it or not? Alas, the spirit of sporstmanship  seems to belong to a  bygone age. And football is surely  the worse for it.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


Mike Dean - took flak from Wenger

THE  waspIsh response of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to referee Mike Dean’s  award of a late penalty to West Bromwich Albion  in the match on December 31, 2017,could land him with a hefty fine, a touchline  ban and possibly even tougher sanctions.

A three-man  FA tribunal will reach its verdict later this month at a hearing which will assess allegations that Wenger swore at the referee and questioned his integrity/competence  in the wake of the match which ended 1-1.

It does not help his cause that Wenger has form.

In the match between Arsenal and Burnley, played on January 22 last year, he was involved in an altercation with fourth official Anthony Taylor (the referee was Jon Moss) which resulted in his being fined £25,000, banned from the touchline for four months and warned about his future conduct.

On that occasion, his previous good behaviour worked in his favour, but at the forthcoming hearing, he will appear with a blemished record

The minutes of the last hearing have been published by the FA at:

Ironically, the referee for Arsenal’s match v
Chelsea this evening (January 3, 2018) is Anthony Taylor - the same official whom he swore at and shoved just under 12 months ago.

Monday, 1 January 2018


THE FA has published its findings into an incident in the match between Crystal Palace and Everton on November 18 in which referee Anthony Taylor (pictured) awarded a penalty to the visiting side.

A three-man panel chaired by former Blackburn Rovers player, Stuart Ripley, now a solicitor, ruled that Oumar Niasse of Everton FC “exaggerated” his fall to gain the decision.

Niasse’s punishment was a two-match ban.

Below are the findings of the panel after the FA brought a charge of misconduct against Oumar Niasse.

Regulatory Commission Decision

These are the written reasons for a decision made by an Independent Regulatory Commission which sat on Wednesday 22 November, 2017.

The Commission members were Mr S.Ripley (Chairman), Mr P. Raven and Mr. M. Johnson.

Mr. M. Ives of the FA Judicial Services Department acted as Secretary to the Regulatory Commission.

Mr Niasse was charged by The FA with misconduct for a breach of FA Rule E3.

The FA alleged that, in or around the 5th minute of the Crystal Palace FC v Everton FC, Premier League Fixture on 18th November 2017, Mr Niasse committed a clear act of simulation which led to a penalty being awarded and that his behaviour amounted to improper conduct.

Mr Niasse denied the charge by way of The FA’s Disciplinary Proceedings Reply Form, dated 21st November 2017and requested that documentation be put before the Regulatory Commission.

The FA relied on Email correspondence between Mr. N.Dutton of the FA’s Regulation Department and the threeSimulation Panel Members, dated  20th November 2017; the Guidance for Panel Members; and Video clips of the incident.

Everton FC submitted a letter from Mr David Harrison, Club Secretary and Head of Football Operations, dated 21st November 2017 and a witness statement from Mr Niasse, dated 21 November 2017 both of which the Commission noted the contents of and footage of the incident from various different angles as to that submitted by the FA.

The Commission noted the comments of the Premier League Delegate whose report on the Match Officials was contained within the documentation submitted by Everton FC who wrote: “The glaring example of simulation was the penalty award on 4 mins against Palace. In my view, Everton’s Niasse has dived to earn his team a penalty and Mr Taylor was successfully deceived. I accept there was contact made by Palace’s Dann. However the contact made is minimal - certainly not enough to make Niasse fall to the ground in the way he did.”

For the avoidance of doubt the Commission also considered the pointsubmitted by the Club that Mr Taylor (the Match Referee) “reiterated his view that he had made the right call because of the contact made.”

In contrast the Commission also noted that the Simulations Panel was composed of an experienced manager and ex-player, another experienced ex-player and an experienced ex-referee who all came to the conclusion that Mr Niasse had committed an act of simulation.

The Commission considered the written guidance provided to the Panel Members which read as follows: For a panel member to conclude that simulation has occurred they must conclude that there is clear and overwhelming evidence.

In judging these incidents, there are five key questions that should beconsidered in the decision-making process.

To identify whether an act of simulation has occurred, the following should be considered:

1. Is there contact between the players involved? Simulation is more likely in cases where a player attempts to deceive the referee when no contact occurred between the players.

2. Is there fair/normal contact between the players, resulting in no offence being committed?

3. Is a player legitimately avoiding contact with his opponent to prevent injury?

4. Has the player initiated the contact between his opponent and himself in order to deceive the referee?

5. Does the player exaggerate the effect of a normal contact challenge in order to deceive the referee?

The Commission were unanimous that the video footage gave clear and overwhelming evidence that the player had exaggerated the effect of a normal contact in order to deceive the referee.

The Commission noted that there was contact between Scott Dann and Mr Niasse, but the Commission considered the contact to be normal, fair and expected contact in the situation that arose with Mr Niasse ‘taking on’ Mr Dann.

The Commission unanimously agree that the nature of the contact made by Scott Dann was minimal in nature and would not have thrown Mr Niasse off balance and knock him down in the way that Mr Niasse portrayed it to have done.

To the minds of the Commission members, the movements of Mr Niasse’s body, in particular the arching of the back and the collapsing of both legs, were simply not consistent with the amount of force exerted upon him by Mr Dann and in exaggerating the effect of the contact made between himself and Mr Dann, Mr Niasse deceived the referee and this led to a penalty being awarded by the referee.

As such the FA charge brought against Mr Niasse for simulation is found proven and therefore Mr Niasse will serve an automatic two-match suspension.

This decision is final and binding and not subject to any further right of appeal.

Stuart Ripley
Regulatory Commission Chairman
22nd November, 2017

* Photo: Courtesy, Match of The Day, BBC-TV

Thursday, 28 December 2017



Controversy! Referee Bobby Madley (left)  and his assistant, Simon Long
MOST baffling decision of the Premier League’s Boxing Day matches was that of Bobby Madley to overrule his linesman, Simon Long, and award a controversial equalising goal for Bournemouth in their home match v West Ham.

Long raised his flag for an infringement - thought to be offside. He was better placed than the referee, so why was he overruled? 

Controversy is part and parcel of football, and referees cannot be expected to justify every decision.

But, at least in this uniquely mysterious instance, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd surely owes football and its followers  an explanation.

Referees have a self-imposed ban on talking to the media, so the responsibility rests with PGMOL‘s general manager, Mike Riley,  to explain what happened and why. It is his duty.

If he fails to do so, perhaps one of the big-selling national newspapers - The Sun or the Daily Mail - might  engage the services of a lip reader to decipher  what was said in the conversation, then reveal the information to a puzzled public.

The probability is that Long flagged for offside, but Madley doubted that scorer Callum Wilson had touched the ball and was thus not interfering with play.

He sought clarification from Long who was unsure if Wilson had touched the ball - an uncertainty that persuaded the referee to allow the goal.

The episode highlights another hazard of refereeing. If a referee chooses to run over to his assistant, the controversy will almost inevitably be magnified.

Make yourselves scarce! The two officials certainly don't want the players' input
The reason I raised the flag . . . Long explains
The reason I am overruling you . . . Madley explains
At the final whisle, Long wisely keeps his distance as West Ham boss David Moyes demands answers
David Moyes laments the decision in his post-match interview on BBC TV's Match of The Day
The officials' conversation seemed "to take an age" - Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe reflects on what happened

It was "a touch of magic" - Callum Wilson's wry description of  his contentious goal

Tuesday, 26 December 2017




ARE Russian referees dodgy?

This view still seems to have held currency among some in Germany ever since that controversial goal in the 1966 World Cup Final.

To the outrage of Germans, it was awarded in England’s favour - on the say-so of a ‘Russian’ linesman - even though subsequent footage indicated that Geoff Hurst’s shot may never have crossed the line.

The fact that the linesman,Tofiq Bahramov, actually hailed from Azerbaijan, not Russia, seemed to make no difference to German opinion. After all, wasn’t Azerbaijan a Soviet state and thus a Russian satellite? 

In his excellent  autobiography, The Madness Is On The Pitch, former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann fast-forwards 40 years to confess his suspicions about the Russian referee, Ivan Ivanov, in the 2006 Champions League semi-final between The Gunners and Villareal.

Without evidence, Lehmann allows the reader to speculate that the Russian official may have awarded a last-minute penalty to the Spanish club as a favour to its president, a wealthy property developer.

As it happened, the incident worked to the goalkeeper’s favour. He saved the spotkick - the match was played in Spain - and the 0-0 draw allowed Arsenal to progress, 1-0 on aggregate, to the final.

Although forthright, Lehmann’s fascinating book is mostly refreshingly free of the petty vindictiveness and settling of old scores that characterises many sports autobiographies.

In his career which also included spells with AC Milan and various German clubs, he was sent off seven times, but he mostly spares referees his scorn, with the exception of Ivanov and a particular Bundesliga official, Wolfgang Stark.

He recalls: “During my last year in Stuttgart, I took extra care to associate well with referees, but in some cases this was difficult thing.

“Alongside really good and relaxed people, there was also Wolfgang Stark, from Bavaria, who was notorious for being terribly arrogant.

“He would brandish yellow cards whenever players called attention to an error in a normal tone of voice.

“The fact that we players did not have any respect for him went without saying. How he was allowed to become a FIFA referee, I will never understand."

By his own admission, Lehmann sometimes had a short fuse - he could be hot-headed, not to say down right bellicose, even with fans.

On one occasion in a match in German, he became so incensed at the flak he had been taking  that he grabbed his tormentor by the scruff of his neck with such vigour that it dislodged the man’s hearing aid.

Years later, following another match, he snatched the spectacles from an abusive supporter who then had to plead to him for their return.

There is much to commend in this informative and highly entertaining account of  what motivates high-achieving footballers and what goes on behind the scenes at top level.

Sometimes Lehmann provides his own interpretation (not necessarily authoritative) of why things go wrong as in  this observation: “Over the course of career, I saw teammates who suddenly cracked completely in pressure situations, who failed to perform during finals, a relegation  battle or a penalty shoot-out.

“Often these were people who came from unstable backgrounds - the parents divorced, the father disappeared, things like that.

“When they were on a knife edge, they would think this is going to go belly up again,”

Later, he adds: “The soft factors - for instance, a player’s wellbeing and his family’s happiness all have a decided impact on his performance.”

Lehmann has little truck with the vanity of some contemporary players who, before games and even at half-time, stand in front of mirror to do their hair, applying gel.

During one match, he took matters into his own hands after convincing himself that Stuttgart colleague Khalid Boulahrouz could not hear what he was shouting because his headband was covering his ears.

“I ripped the piece of material off his head - he was the first player I had ever seen wear such a thing.”

For up-and-coming goalkeepers, some of the insights contained in The Madness is on The Pitch should be particularly valuable.

He writes: “First and foremost, the goalkeeper should be an organiser.

“He must be able to give orders, particularly during risky situations in the box, as often the defenders no longer have a feeling either for the ball or for the opposing players.

“One moment they are watching the ball, the next they are looking for their opponent in the process they lose their view of the whole game.

“This view needs to be preserved by the goalkeeper and translated into pinpoint stage directions, especially if the ball is in motion."

At corners and crosses, most keepers prefer to stay within the goal area for two main reasons - firstly, it reduces the risk of being hurt by an opponent’s foot, knee or elbow and, secondly, it spares the possibility of failing to catch or punch clear the ball.

There is nothing more annoying and embarrassing for any top goalkeeper when watching a TV replay of his match than to hear the commentator exclaim that the keeper has “flapped” at the ball

But, throughout his career, Lehmann was always prepared to take that risk because he saw it as his mission to dominate the penalty area, to give confidence to his teammates and to intimidate his opponents who soon learned that, whenever things turned physical, he could give as he got. 

He writes: “My style involved frequently having to leave the safe harbour of my six-yard box in order to intercept crosses, through balls and ricocheted shots.

“On the line it is easy to look good, Usually, you do not get hurt while you are there, but every excursion away from it can bring pain; the opponent can end up kicking or hitting you, whether on purpose or not.

“You have to leave behind this entirely natural protective reflex.”

Lehmann also emphasises the importance of concentration which, he reckons, is aided by reading.

Among the titles on his shelf, there was one he found particularly helpful - Dr Joseph Murphy’s, Das Erfolgsbuch (Success Book) which describes  the importance of the subconscious in generating positive energy. 

Lehmann  also has some amusing one-liners, such as: “Humiliations are like power plants - ugly things but you draw power from them.”

Here is another: “A team is a community of purpose - it functions like a wolf-pack.”

Among the players she most admired in his career were two Arsenal players, Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera, with the latter described as “a kind of lighthouse on the pitch thanks to his physical presence and fantastic technique”.

Of his longtime Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger he says: “The system made the players successful, not the other way round - conductor Wenger managed to have everyone in his perfect orchestra stand out through synergy with their colleagues.”

Lehmann’s collaborator in the writing of the book was Christof Siemes, and the translator from the German is Ceylan Hussein.

The publishers are highly-rated Liverpool-based deCoubertin Books whose other titles are listed at

* The Russian Linesman is now available (price £0.99)  as an e-book via Amazon