THE WANDERER COLUMN: Game has changed when refs apologise

REMEMBER when referees were figures of discipline? The man in the middle, who was messed with by no-one?

There was once a time when even a match-day programme had to call the official “Mr” before making the obligatory concession of putting his home town in brackets.

Mr Jack Taylor (Wolverhampton), Mr Pierluigi Collina (Bologna), Mr Clive Thomas (Treorchy) all commanded respect.

So what message does it really send out when Mike Riley, the man responsible for whistleblowers at the very highest level, calls up West Brom boss Steve Clarke to offer his apologies for a penalty awarded against Chelsea?

Riley – someone who may still own a boxed set of DVDs sent to him by Owen Coyle exhibiting a string of bad decisions awarded against Wanderers over the course of a couple of years in the Premier League – appears to be softening his stance.

As a working official he was hard enough to deal with; just ask Sam Allardyce.

Or perhaps look at You Tube and see how many times Middlesbrough’s Bolo Zenden touched the ball before scoring a decisive penalty in the League Cup final in 2004?

Footage of Ugo Ehiogu’s handball late in the game from Stelios’s shot does not seem to be available, more’s the pity.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho moaned that Riley has set a dangerous precedent, and I’m inclined to agree with him. What is going to happen next?

Should Jermaine Beckford be forced to do lines for missing that penalty at the Riverside? Hang on, perhaps we should get Dean Holdsworth back in town to explain that miss against Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final at the turn of the millennium?

Referees are human and make human errors like all of us. Football is not an exact science and that is one of the most marvellous things about it. The unexpected can happen and that is a great leveller.

If we start apologising for every single referee’s error then the only winner is whatever phone company supplies Mr Riley with his pay-as-you-go mobile top-ups.

Referees already have a tough enough job without the men at the top of the game making it harder for them by undermining their actions.

Sorry seems to be the easiest word in this case – but not necessarily the right one.


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