Artell, Suarez and the Fine Art of Discipline

luis_suarez_bite_30251[1]It’s been a good week for indignation. What a shame that the pointless fury of the nation has been directed against a bite in a football match rather than matters more appropriate for such ire, such as the refusal of police officers to testify at the Hillsborough inquiry. Instead the media has scrolled through the emotions from horror at what Luis Suarez did, through righteous indignation so powerful that David Cameron decided a tawdry populist intervention would be advantageous*, to a sense of astonishment as the FA hit him with a penalty so harsh that many actually started to feel sympathy for the Uruguayan. But ask Kidderminster about it and they’ll see it as small beer: they’ve had their own disciplinary scandal to get agitated over!

It would appear that the FA will be overhauling its disciplinary procedures over the Summer, a decision which seems to have already been made in Soho. How this will affect Wrexham will be interesting, as our own controversy centres around us not being under the FA’s jurisdiction in the first place.

Before the play-off first leg even kicked off on Tuesday there was a great deal of dissatisfaction being expressed from Kidderminster about David Artell’s availability for the match following his dismissal on Saturday. When he went and scored his first goal for the club their frustration turned into something more furious!

Their line of argument hasn’t really centred on the justice of the case, though, but the notion that as the F.A.W. handle our disciplinary matters we get a helping hand from our fellow countrymen. It’s a flawed argument in the extreme which says something a little worrying about the parochialism people in football seem to experience. (And let’s not pretend we wouldn’t be getting on our high horses if the roles were reversed. We’ve been guilty of it this season – remember the complaints when the referee in the Gateshead game turned out to live twelve miles from there? It simply didn’t automatically follow that he’d be biased towards them: as was pointed out on Red Passion, nobody in Gateshead supports their local team so why should someone from twelve miles away do so?)

The notion that the F.A.W. are biased towards us doesn’t make sense: they appoint a three-man commission of counsellors and, as their offices are in Cardiff, that means they’re always South Walians who sit on the panel because they can get called in at short notice. Conspiracy theorists might want to argue that Cardiff City might get preferential treatment in those circumstances, but I don’t see why we would. Relations with South Wales seem pretty cool from our perspective up here!

Anyway, if Welsh people are bound to ignore the facts and be biased in favour of their compatriots, would the same true in reverse? Do English clubs get an unfair advantage because their disciplinary matters are heard by an English panel? To suggest a panel made up of people for Ipswich, London and Dartford would be biased towards a Kidderminster appeal is absurd, of course. About as absurd as the notion that three people from Llannelli, Neath and Pontypool would be biased towards Wrexham.

Having seen the referee’s report, it’s pretty plain why we won the appeal. I’ve been saying all week that he displayed an unseemly enthusiasm to dismiss Artell, sprinting eagerly across the pitch to brandish his card as if somehow he would therefore earn himself an invite to the big Mansfield party that was going on all around him. It seems his eagerness to do what Paul Cox whispered in his ear was in Artell’s favour, because his lurid account of the incident exaggerated the offence, offering us an opportunity to argue against him.

Had he said Artell went in recklessly and kicked Colin Daniel then, like the Mansfield winger after he’d been clattered into, we wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on! Artell didn’t kick him intentionally; that much is clear to anyone at the game with an unbiased eye. However, he did kick him, and if the referee had limited himself to such a comment we’d have wasted £300 on the appeal.

However, the report instead made reference to Artell endangering Daniel’s safety. Plainly he didn’t do that as Daniel was up on his feet moments later, shaking hands with the centre back and clearly having an amicable conversation: unlike Branislav Ivanovic he plainly had the grace to accept the apology on the spot. Remember, the appeal is against the punishment, not the sending off itself. Thus, we’ve a pretty water-tight argument: the referee saw it wrongly, Artell endangered nobody and therefore a three-game ban is uncalled for.

Of course, endangerment of another player’s safety has been an issue for debate this week. When Suarez does something unacceptable and plainly a little disturbed, he deserves punishment. But he didn’t endanger Ivanovic in any way, assuming he doesn’t have rabies. A ten game ban seems ludicrously harsh, and we all know the comparisons which can quite legitimately be made to other punishments the FA have meted out.

It’ll raise the blood of any Wrexham fan to see that a Chester player – Sean Hessey – only got half as long a ban for the same offence in 2006! Seems like a good thing we don’t have to subject ourselves to such a lottery!

Clearly the system needs overhauling in England. Perhaps they could tender their disciplinary affairs out to the FAW! They seem keen to wash their hands of decisions made on their watch judging by the way they cravenly hide behind an independent panel, two-thirds of whom are there because of their affiliation to the FA, by the way. Why not hide behind the claim “It was the Welsh what done it” instead?

Seriously, there could be ramifications for us though. What if the FA, in overhauling their system, look to address the anomaly of five clubs in the pyramid having their punishments judged separately? I don’t think there’s a problem with that happening per se, but there is clearly a problem of perception. The argument that it’s unfair isn’t logical, but I can understand why some people see it that way. Will the FA want to close a loophole and remove the possibility of clubs crying that it isn’t fair, as Kidderminster have done this week?

If they do, and we’re brought into a new disciplinary set-up, let’s hope it’s a damn sight better organised than the current one!

Reform will come too late for Liverpool, who suffer a sense of injustice, having been clobbered by the English FA disciplinary panel. Hang on, I thought panels didn’t rule harshly against clubs from their own country?

*It’s interesting that, now Cameron has come under criticism from Brendan Rodgers for his intervention, he’s chosen to exploit his 7-year-old son to justify his comments, like David Mellor trying to ride out the revelation of an affair by lining up his family for photographs. Apparently Cameron wasn’t speaking in his capacity as Prime Minister (not that he made this plain at the time) but as a concerned parent. He doesn’t want his son to be set a bad example by a footballer biting someone. Isn’t cutting disability benefits a bad example to set a 7-year-old? Isn’t taxing the poor while protecting the rich a bad example to set a 7-year-old? Isn’t reading the lesson at the funeral of a woman under whose administration the deaths of ninety-six people was covered up a bad example to set a 7-year-old?

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