Football's Greatest Injustices
Football is a game that is powered by injustice. Not just as a consequence of idiotic behemoths like Pratini and Bladder, but ill fate, ill fame and ill fortune are all mawkish bedfellows for the average football fan. As a football fan, it is your right, nay, your duty, to exercise the largest persecution complex this side of the BNP. Every decision against you is the result of a carefully contrived conspiracy against you by sky or the referee or a pigeon in Cataluña that controls your goalkeeper`s legs and sends infra red signals to the linesman, forcing his arm to seizure and unnecessary offside flags to abrogate your side`s goals tally. I`ve a friend who last week alleged that Howard Webb had decided upon five minutes of injury time in our 4-4 draw at Anfield under the instruction of Sky television, whose motives were that the closer the title race, the more bloated the viewing figures. Of course the board for injury time went up precisely three seconds after Arshavin had put the Gunners 4-3 ahead, that Murdoch had time to communicate with the referee and then subsequently have him instruct the 4th official, all before Arshavin had even made it to the corner flag in celebration is very swift work indeed. But it is this perceived sense of injustice, the persistently moon faced disposition, the malcontented moans that keep the footballing world spinning. Hollywood always has such a hard time with football because they misunderstand it; it does have its Michael Thomas and Andy Linighan moments, very occasionally. But it is the misery, the despair, the constant feeling that the world is against you that really keeps us coming back. This weekend of course, injustice rages at the quarters of our next opponents. Characteristically weak officiating from referee and tippex addict Howard Webb firmly swung the Premiership pendulum towards Old Trafford again, just as it had begun to undulate towards some steely eyed Scousers. Then of course there was the news last evening that serial bench botherer Ryan Giggs has been awarded the PFA Players Player of the Year gong after a colossal 12 games and 1 goal. So integral in fact, has Giggs been to United`s trophy charge that he was left out of the 18 altogether this weekend. Below is a random, by numbers list of some of football`s biggest injustices that still get tongues wagging.
Leeds United versus West Bromwich Albion- April 17th, 1971- 38 years on largely derided as the one of the worst refereeing decisions of all time. Leeds fans still rage about it, more so than last season`s points penalty dished out by the F.A. Leeds and Arsenal were engaged in a water tight race for the Division 1 Championship when a West Brom side with nothing to play for rocked up at Elland Road. In a typically nervy encounter, 71 minutes had passed when a short pass to McCarthy found the West Brom man in the centre circle alone with no Leeds defenders in their own half. McCarthy nudged the ball forwards a few yards before halting in deference to the fact that he was a good six yards offside. Yet to his amazement, referee Ray Tinkler ignored the offside flag and instructed play on. McCarthy looked aghast, he had half expected to be booked for kicking the ball away before being told to play on, he did and made a beeline for Leeds` goal with all the whites` defenders upfield. To add salt to the exposed wound, McCarthy squared the ball to Jeff Astle, who was also clearly offside in the penalty area; yet again Tinkler waved away his linesman`s flag and allowed the goal to stand. Leeds` fans invaded the pitch in disgust, manager Don Revie ordered his players off the pitch in protest. Leeds were forced to play the first four home matches of the 1971-72 season behind closed doors such was the level of fury exhibited by the home fans. "Don Revie is going mad, and he has absolutely every right to go mad" wailed an incredulous Barry Davies in the commentary box. West Brom won the match 1-0, Arsenal ended up taking the title by a single point, having achieved a better goal average. Revie memorably said at the end of that season, "Ray Tinkler ruined nine months work." Tinkler never took charge of a Leeds game again.
Jimmy Glass v Plymouth Argyle. 7th May, 1999- One of football`s great last minute fairy tales, of course when Ole Solskjaer won Manchester United the Champions League with the last kick of the game a fortnight later, it was described as "doing a Jimmy Glass." Carlisle were staring relegation from the Football League in the face, needing to beat Plymouth at home on the last day, Carlisle were drawing 1-1 in the 95th minute when keeper Glass came up for a corner. Supporters of relegation rivals Scarborough had already begun invading the pitch at the McCain Stadium so sure were they of safety. Yet Glass dramatically scored with the last kick of the football league season to rescue Carlisle them from relegation. Carlisle fans invaded the pitch and Glass was given the freedom of the town. (Though under fire Chairman Michael Knighton amazingly refused to make his loan move permanent after baulking at Glass` request for a pay rise, despite Glass saving the Us millions). So why the injustice I hear you cry? The world has since forgotten as Glass has passed into pub quiz folklore, but Glass was signed by Carlisle on loan from Swindon Town after the transfer deadline. The cash strapped Cumbrians had sold their first choice goalie Tony Craig to Blackpool, leaving them with only one professional keeper who was then subsequently injured. The Football League bent the rules and allowed Carlisle to sign Glass outside of the window. The rule has since been changed in cite of this precedent and the Football League has now codified that they will consider allowing sides to sign keepers outside of the window in cases of dire emergency. But back in 1999, no such rule existed and the F.A`s lack of vigilance essentially cost Scarborough their place in the football league. Scarborough never resurfaced and their money problems resulted in the club being liquidated into extinction. Jimmy Glass now runs a taxi firm in Dorset.
France v Croatia, June 28th 1998- The injustice in this game occurred not so much as a result of the game- France beat Croatia 2-1 with both goals coming from Lillian Thuram. The controversy came in the second half when France had won a corner, all of a sudden, Croatia defender Slaven Bilic collapsed to the floor clutching his face in faux agony. Les Blues defender Laurent Blanc was sent off as a result and had to miss the World Cup Final in his home country despite replays showing that Blanc was not even three yards away from Bilic. A disgusting piece of cheating that robbed Blanc of a once in a lifetime opportunity. Franck Lebouef took his place in the Final starting line up and has worn a shit eating grin ever since.
Luton Town 30 point deduction 2008-09- Last summer Luton Town were docked 10 points for financial irregularities, owing to payments made to a third party agent. The Football League then levied the Hatters a further 20 point penalty for the 2008-09 season after exiting administration without a Company Voluntary Agreement. Of course, these were acts perpetrated by the club`s previous owners Jayten- all of whom had long since left the club following the Nick Owen fronted LTFC2020 group had taken the club over and the Football League`s judgement had been made. So the very people who actually committed these incorrect acts on Luton Town`s behalf were not punished in any way whatsoever. But the town, the fans, the players and the coaching staff of Luton Town were lumped with a 30 point deduction which led to their inevitable relegation from the Football League. The grand irony of course is that the financial irregularities that led to the initial ten point deduction were reported to the Football League by a vigilant and responsible Luton Town official who harboured suspicions as to where club monies were ending up. That act of integrity was cruelly punished and will now surely mean that any further corruption within football clubs will now go unreported as a result of the Football League`s short sighted and ill thought out punishment. For LTFC2020, it was the equivalent of being imprisoned for burglary having moved into the house of someone once convicted of that act. Everybody has suffered except for the guilty parties, an appalling indictment on Lord Mawhinney and his merry men and their complete inability to administer justice fairly and correctly. (At this point, I would be willing to cite the Carlos Tevez affair, but anything that gets on Neil Warnock`s wick is absolutely fine by me).
Manchester United v Arsenal. 24th October, 2004- Not one that causes too many ripples throughout the game of football beyond the parochial confines of N5, but hell, this is an Arsenal site, so it`s my party and I`ll cry if I want to. The Gunners journeyed to Old Trafford on the back of a record smashing 49 unbeaten league games. The chance to reach the heady milestone of 50 on Fergie`s doorstep was Sly Sports wet dream as the hype went into overdrive. After 71 minutes, the scores were at 0-0 with neither side looking like mounting a breakthrough, though United were extremely fortunate to still have a full compliment of players when Ferdinand hauled Ljungberg down en route to goal. That was until Wayne Rooney entered the penalty area and feigned contact with Sol Campbell`s foot. Down he went and Mike Riley awarded the penalty. This was the same Mike Riley who had awarded United 9 penalties in their previous league winning season of 2002-03. (Please see introduction, it is my right to have a persecution complex here). Dutch striker and he of many friends at Arsenal Ruud van Nistelrooy converted the penalty. Rooney himself added to the score in injury time as Arsenal chased the game. It was the first time Arsenal had lost for 49 games and the manner of the defeat was difficult to take. Particularly as a Robert Pires dive in a game against Portsmouth twelve months earlier had been replayed ad infinitum whilst Rooney`s was given scant mention. Of course the aftermath is the stuff of legend with the Arsenal players allegedly pelting Alex Ferguson with pizza and pasta. (Pizza? I`ve never understood, why the hell did Arsenal have pizza, the greasiest and unhealthiest snack of all, in the dressing room? And how did they get Dominos to deliver to the tunnel so soon after the game?) Some form of karmic retribution was in the offing when Arsenal robbed United blind in the Cup Final, but this one still rankles heavily with Gunners. A Champions League semi final victory might go some way to healing those wounds.
And finally…….Ashley Cole is paid £80,000 a week and, once he`s finished swerving his Bentley all the way home from Cobham Training Ground, he goes home to Cheryl from Girls Aloud.LD.