Looking for respect as Bradford City travel to AFC Wimbledon

AFC Wimbledon vs Bradford City match preview

@The Kingsmeadow Stadium on Saturday 11 February, 2012

So then…no pressure on referee Gary Sutton tomorrow!

Bradford City joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn’s extraordinary attack on refereeing standards in the Telegraph & Argus this week has sparked a wide-ranging flurry of reactions from supporters. But whatever the rights and wrongs of Lawn’s blunt style, it’s difficult to dispute that he is correct in what he had to say.

Lawn blasted the officials’ standards of fitness, and questioned how well they cope with refereeing in front of League Two’s largest crowds. Without much effort we can all recall debatable decisions which have cost the team points and hampered progress. It might be easy to write them off as excuses, but they’ve occurred too regularly to be dismissed by the cliché that poor refereeing decisions eventually even themselves out.

City’s last match at Bristol Rovers two weeks ago should have seen Kyel Reid earn a last minute penalty, after he was clearly tripped inside the box. TV replays of the incident show the referee Christopher Sarginson was some distance away from the action – backing up Lawn’s fitness question. Two weeks earlier, Morecambe’s Kevin Ellison took out Ritchie Jones right in front of the referee, as part of a break forward that resulted in his team netting an equaliser. At Rotherham a fortnight before that, Phil Parkinson complained bitterly about a penalty awarded against Jon McLaughlin.

It keeps happening.

The cost of poor decisions is often more than just the game it occurs in. Take Andrew Davies’ ridiculous red card against Swindon back in October. In the four games Davies missed through suspension, City conceded five goals. In the four games that followed his return, just one goal ended up in the Bantams net. Who knows how January might have gone for City if David Syers’ appeal for a red card against Shrewsbury hadn’t been rejected?

It would be wrong to argue there is a conspiracy against City – it is simply a case of poor refereeing standards, which have occurred too often all season. How many games have we supporters departed feeling enraged by a dismal display from the officials? Week by week, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. When results are being dictated by referees applying different standards in how they control matches, you begin to fear that this sport is becoming too much about the person we’re supposed to barely notice.

Respect is the hub of the issue. It’s almost four years since the FA launched a laudable Respect campaign, which encouraged greater appreciation – from players, management and supporters – over how difficult a job it is for referees. Yet this respect doesn’t seem to work both ways, and there is no visible sign that – when a referee makes a poor decision or produces a bad performance – they are ever held accountable for it or hold their hands up.

At Macclesfield Town earlier in the season City lost 1-0 to a hotly disputed penalty. After the game, referee Rob Lewis was accused of swearing at Craig Fagan in the tunnel and City submitted a formal complaint. Publicly, we have heard nothing over whether the Football League upheld it or whether Lewis was punished. A request to read the referee report of the match was flatly rejected.

It should not be considered a witch hunt, but those of us who spent time and money attending that fixture surely deserve to know the consequences of Lewis’ performance and behaviour that night. Even if the Football League cleared him and an assessor rated his performance good, greater transparency in revealing this would at least give us confidence in the system.

As City head to Wimbledon tomorrow and with a busy run of fixtures over the next few weeks, a close eye will be kept on whether Lawn’s comments have any impact on future refereeing decisions. In 2009, Stuart McCall had criticised referee Stuart Atwell for sending off Gareth Evans in a fixture at Morecambe, but elected not to appeal the red card. In the weeks and months that followed, it seemed as though City couldn’t get a break from the officials and were on the wrong end of a number of poor decisions. This may not have been linked with McCall’s outburst, but failing to back up his strong words with action appeared to count against City.

Imagine that a City player goes down in the area against Port Vale at Valley Parade on Tuesday night? Will the referee be aware of Lawn’s attack and have it playing on his mind? If so, will it influence the way he judges an incident he is not 100% sure about? If City profit from good fortune from the ref, Micky Adams’ post-match comments will certainly make interesting reading.

At least Sutton won’t be under such a potentially intense spotlight at the Kingsmeadow Stadium tomorrow. Hosts AFC Wimbledon may have drifted following a promising start to the season, but three wins from the last four games have kept them clear of the relegation battle that the Bantams still find themselves locked into. They’ve lost eight times at home; only Hereford, Dagenham and Northampton have been defeated on their own patch more often.

But on the other side of the coin, every team in League Two has won more often on the road than the Bantams this season. The solitary victory – at Southend just before Christmas – at the time meant City were unbeaten in three away games; but the subsequent trips from Valley Parade have yielded zero points. It’s almost three months since City were last beaten on their own patch, but away form needs to improve quickly if relegation fears are to ease.

McLaughlin continues in goal in front of a defence that welcomes Luke Oliver back, almost a month to the day since he pulled a hamstring against Morecambe. Despite Lee Bullock filling in manfully alongside Davies over the past two games, runaway-player-of-the-season-Oliver has clearly been missed.

Right back has also been a problem, and Rob Kozluk’s suspension for a red card last time out – there’s another contentious decision – will probably see Marcel Seip move to right back and Robbie Threlfall recalled on the left. Seip might have remained in his now-regular left back slot, but Chris Mitchell – who can play at right back – is  injured and Andrew Burns has apparently been made available to go out on loan (earlier in the season, requests to loan Burns were rejected).

In midfield Reid will probably be recalled on the left after his impressive return off the bench at Bristol Rovers, following his injury. Fagan should remain on the right as Parkinson looks for a solid shape, with Syers and Ricky Ravenhill in the centre. Michael Flynn is back in contention and offers a solidness recently missing, but for now Jones is probably ahead of him in the pecking order. Will Atkinson – who made a poor start at Bristol Rovers – is expected to start from the bench.

Up front James Hanson and Deane Smalley looks the most likely starting combination. Nakhi Wells has been hugely impressive, but seemed to have hit a brick wall in the Burton and Bristol Rovers games. Perhaps a fortnight of no first team matches will have seen Wells’ energy levels restored, but it’s likely Smalley would have started the Crawley game and Parkinson will probably stick with this plan.

Whoever does play up front, it’s to be hoped they or their team mates provide tomorrow’s talking points, and for the right reasons. It would be nice if Lawn’s midweek attack on officials is the last time we have to talk about referees for a long, long time.

Over to you then, Mr Sutton.



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1 reply

  1. For once I totally agree with chairman lawns comments regarding the fitness of officials at our level.
    In tennis a top class player can serve the ball at around 120-130 mph.
    And if a players feels he’s had an injustice done, the player can challenge the official (was the ball in or out etc).
    in rugby, cricket, the list goes on, modern technology is used to help officials and the sport to make the right decisions.

    The standard of officials this year at valley parade has been diabolical to say the least.

    Football needs to stop living in the dark ages and at least have modern technology in place for the big decisions I.e. penaltys , sending offs, and was the ball over the line.

    We have an official that stands near the dugouts.
    Why are they there????.
    All they seem to get is total abuse from managers when decisions are wrong.

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