A comment was made by “goonergerry” in one of the articles we published at Untold. And it was a very interesting thing he mentioned which made me go back in time a bit. This is what he wrote:
Debatable Decision website has Arsenal receiving the benefit of only 7 out of 25 debatable decisions last season-consistent with this data.
What seems significant to me about DD is that Stoke City are out on their own at the top of the league – with not only far more debatable decisions – 37 in total but only 8 against them. Given that Stoke play muscular set piece football (putting it politely) – and Arsenal don’t – does this not point in the direction of the refs bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to those that play a traditional style of muscular English football and conversely with an antipathy towards foootballing teams like Arsenal.
If Arsene Wenger does have a compiled list of bad decisions – why doesn’t he take it to the PL and publicly ask for an explanation? It is important to know what advice is being given to referees by the PGMOL.”
And this brought back some memories from the time when I was around 12-13 years old. I played in a local team in Antwerp and we use to have an international tournament each year, mostly with teams coming from Germany or England. And then we got invited back to that team a few months later to play a tournament over there. So I visited England with my team as a 12 or 13 year old. it was my first visit to England. It was a place near Aldershot that is what I still remember but I have no idea of the name of the teams we played.
Now we had a team that ended around 4-5th place in our local league. So not that special, but we had a nice mixture of some very fast and technical attackers, some strong defenders and maybe our midfield was our weakest part of the team. But our manager was one of the first people to have an official grade to be a football manager in those days. And we played a game that was based on technical skill. I still remember our manager shouting and swearing if we would hoof the ball up field too much in a game.
So the first day we would play not the team that invited us but another local team. And much to our surprise after some 15 minutes playing we were 0-3 up. For some reason the other team could not cope with our swift attacking game. Playing them off the park one could say.
And then suddenly the game changed. I don’t know if they got the instruction to do what they would do, as my English wasn’t that good at the time and I was just concentrating on the game. But looking back at it, it looked that way. Because suddenly that other team started to rough us up. Every one of our players that got the ball and released it got a little kick after the ball was gone. As a result, almost half of the team got a knock on the ankle and were limping around. And the ref? He did nothing.
We were still trying to play our game but it affected us. You could see the not-that-brave ones trying to get rid of the ball before the other team could even come near to them and this resulted in more lost balls. And as if that wasn’t enough, they started playing some kind of rugby with us. I remember our centre forward going past the last man with just the keeper to beat. But the defender came back, threw himself round our striker with his harms around his hips, dragging him to the ground in the penalty area and the ref shouted: play on!
This was the start of a kick festival with all kinds of fouls being made and the ref did absolutely nothing. Of course, some of our defenders started to have enough of this and started to do the same. The final outcome was that it looked more a fight than a football game. And the ref enjoyed himself shouting “play on” as if the record had stuck.
Our manager and the people from our club who were looking at the game from the sidelines were shocked the longer all this went on. They tried all they could to get the attention of the ref and ask him to do his job. They started arguing with the ref when one of our players had to be carried off after another rash tackle. It was a complete nightmare.
I cannot even remember the score line at the moment that our manager summoned us to leave the field and stop playing whatever game the ref and the other team were playing. They didn’t allow us to risk our limps anymore.
As I say, my English wasn’t that good but the other team celebrated as if they had won the game and had taught us a lesson. Normally , we would have lost this game. But as we went to the people from the team that had invited us to complain about it and, after some arguments between all involved, the proposal was to replay the game with another ref.
The people from our team agreed but made it clear that if it would get out of hand again, they would stop and would refuse to play another game. Some parents refused to let their kids play again in the replay. Some players didn’t dare to play again as they got bruised legs and ankles. So in the replay, I had to play up front in attack and in those days I was a central defender. I remember missing some 5 or 6 open chances in that game but giving the assist to give us a narrow 1-0 win with a sort of backup team. The ref did his job and was strict so no complaints any more and at the end it turned out to be a good game of football.
The comment made by Goonergerry suddenly brought back this memory (my first experience with English football and English refs) and I wondered: did nothing change in those almost 40 years? In a way you could say that we (as soft foreigners with tippy tappy football) were like Arsenal. If you let us play we were superior (as Arsenal is most of the time), but if the ref let them kick the shit out of us we couldn’t impose ourselves anymore (just like Arsenal has problems)
And for those who want to know: we played the final of the tournament against the local team that had invited us over. Because of a heavy rain in the hours before the final the pitch got covered with water and mud and the game should have been cancelled. But as this was a tournament with us going away the next morning at 6 am the game had to be played. Our football with keeping the ball on the ground could not be played and we didn’t have a chance at all to pass the ball like we were used to. The local team could adapt and played the ball high in the air and we got a good beating. 6-0 was the final score I think as I lost count a bit after a while. But the ref was fair, the other team just was better overall (they had also beaten us on our own field a few months before but with a smaller margin).
So thanks Goonergerry for bringing this memory (my first English memory in fact) back, and my first meeting with refs in England. Which wasn’t that nice. So is it still the same after 40 years of football? Are some refs in the EPL still somehow stuck in those days? Of course, I know and realise that most refs will be much better and want to do it in the right way. But I do wonder if some refs are still doing it in the bad way I can recall from my own experience.
Published with permission from Untold Arsenal: Arsenal News. Supporting the Lord Wenger; coach of the decade.