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The Adam Doyle column: Referees, yellow cards, and Woking records

Just before I sat down to write this piece, referee’s chief Mike Riley (pictured) made the somewhat unprecedented step of apologising to Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez.

According to Martinez, Riley phoned to emphasise with the Wigan manager’s paroxysm of rage after his team’s weekend defeat at the hands of Chelsea, with Riley admitting that that two crucial decisions had gone against Wigan and that the officials in charge really should have made a more accurate judgement.

Luckily for me and, I dare say, you readers, this is tenuously linked with part of this week’s article: namely the declining standards of referees and the eradication of contact from football.

As a man who currently has 15 yellow cards (yes, that’s fifteen, and I believe this is a Woking record) to his name this season and is two thirds of the way through a 3-match suspension, one could say that my opinion on referees is nothing if a little distorted.

The stats certainly tell their own story: one of ill-discipline and some seriously persistent foul play. However, beneath the ocean of yellow cards lies a different, slightly more balanced story and it is one that I’d like to tell.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly dirty player and to my knowledge I’ve never been overly aggressive towards match officials, to which the lack of any yellow cards for dissent will testify.

However, it can be said that I am fully committed when I play and strongly believe that the game of football is a contact sport.

Push the limits

Now, I do occasionally push the limits of what is considered fair play and I’m sure many a striker has felt me grasping at their shirt tails as I proceed to swallow a mouthful of their rapidly vanishing dust. Yet on the whole I am fair and firm when I conduct myself on the pitch.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of referees and their assistants tend to take the opposite view. Such has been the regularity of my cautions it has often felt like I have a direct debit straight into the coffers of the FA.

Perhaps as a result of my mixed sports background when I spent my formative years playing rugby as well as football, I consider the physical nature of football to be an important part of the whole, not merely a side-line to technique, tactics, and the rest.

Maybe this is the problem. Football has evolved and I have not. I’m an analog footballer in a digital world. But the problem is: nobody told me.

As far as I’m aware players are still allowed to tackle each other and to use their body mass to manipulate the position of the ball. Yet on more than one occasion this season I’ve been booked for what I would consider to be ‘harmless’ activity – such a shoulder charge.

Cautioned – for winning the ball cleanly

In fact on a recent away trip at Weston-Super-Mare the referee, under instruction from his assistant, cautioned me for winning the ball cleanly. The linesman said that because I knocked the opposition player over (I might add this was after winning the ball) it warranted a caution.

The fact that the opposition player was equally as committed but just got to the ball a second later had obviously escaped the assistant’s attention. Had he reached the ball first I’m sure I too would have ended up on the floor.

To my mind this was an example of the officials not being aware of the physical nature of the game.

As the saying goes, to truly understand someone you must walk a mile in their shoes, and this is exactly the problem I have faced this season. My perspective as a player and that of the officials as non-players is so far apart that it beggars belief.

Until we draft in officials that have played a standard of football relative to the one they are officiating, we will continue to face the same problem.

I’m not so delusional as to think that every caution I have received this season has been unwarranted. Far from it. Undoubtedly I have been correctly cautioned for some cynical play (although I would argue that upon occasion such cynical play has at times been a great service to the team) but on the whole I think 15 cautions is not representative of the way I have played.

I would say it represents the increasing frequency of punishment dealt out for what is often nothing more than innocuous contact. Unfortunately I fear that this gradual change is irreversible and that eventually the game will descend into a haven for contactless activity.

The one thing I would ask from the FA and their officials is consistency. If contact goes the way of the back pass I will be sad but ultimately will have to adhere. But if they could have the courtesy to let me know first, that’d be great.

Please, for the sake of my manager’s rapidly thinning hair and my increasingly depleted bank balance, I can’t afford any more bookings!

If you have any thoughts on this subject you can get in touch via twitter @adamhdoyle

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