Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
I’m getting sick of the Conference.
There are a lot of good clubs and an awful lot of nice people in the division. I’ve enjoyed some of the day trips and relished terrific performances. But the referees are starting to get to me.
Over the last few years it’s become a running joke among our commentary team to use the phrase “Conference ref” as a derogatory term. We’d mutter it in a resigned manner with a rueful shake of the head after another silly decision. Except the joke’s wearing thin now. Our results are being twisted by “Conference refs” far too regularly.
We reached a new low with the Hyde game, turned on its head by two remarkable penalty decisions given against us. The second was given in injury time by the linesman and was hard to take but the first, given against Brett Ormerod after he had the audacity to be tripped over in the penalty box, was astonishing.
I often see an incident one way at the time and reassess it when I’ve watched the video back. This was one of the rare occasions where my reaction at the time was that it was an horrendous decision, and when I watched it back again I realised it was actually an even worse call than I’d first thought!
I felt that decision was the worst I’d ever seen. And then Brett Huxtable came along.
Huxtable was the man in the middle last Tuesday, his remarkable decision to overrule his linesman’s offside flag condemning us to defeat. Man in the middle is the appropriate term. I’m reluctant to travel down the referee-baiting route and buy into notions that they crave the limelight. However, this referee’s eager demands for complimentary tickets for friends and family imply that here was a man keen to be seen taking control of a match at the biggest ground his career is liable to take him.
The best you could say about the decision was that it was deliberately perverse. Andy Morrell reported after the game that the official had told him that the move had entered a second phase. Frankly, that’s an absolute nonsense: the argument that there was a second phase of play is completely irrelevant and completely untenable.
He would have been on safer ground if he’d argued that Sean Marks wasn’t interfering with play. The rules define interfering with play as “playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate”. Marks didn’t touch it.
However, that’s ignoring the fact that Steve Tomassen wouldn’t have lunged in to play the ball if Marks hadn’t been there, and that a player is interfering “before playing or touching the ball, if…no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.” Marks was the only Braintree able to play the ball, so the referee’s perverse desire to give the goal is stymied at every turn. Except there’s no recourse to justice. Once more, the “Conference ref” has struck.