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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 19/01/03, 12pm
Norwich City
A tale of two refs
By Peter Wilson

Excuse my ramblings, but I have a confession to make. With Watford's game moved to a Sunday I went to watch St Albans on the Saturday and have to talk about two referees. Unlike others who traipsed to Old Trafford to watch some Premiership fare, at least I stayed loyal to watching my local club!

The newly revitalised Saints have had a pretty good season so far in the Ryman League and managed a really hard won game against Harrow Borough, in a pretty dire match. Most Saints fans would have settled for that after a disappointing mid-week defeat against Berkhamsted Town in the Herts Senior Cup.

Nothing to write home about other than what possibly could be the most bizarre refereeing performance I've ever witnessed. Inexplicable decisions were made throughout the match by the man in the middle, obviously a sense of power and a whistle can have a profound effect on the wielder of the red and yellow cards. A non-descript first half faded into memory as the ref surpassed himself in the second half.

Firstly, Harrow Borough's goalkeeper, in tipping over a cross, jammed his fingers around the crossbar, after swinging on the bar for ten seconds he fell to earth rolling around in agony. Very bizarre - after what must have been after minutes treatment, the game resumed with a Saints corner. What I can only presume was the ref's ire at the goalie's time-wasting can only explain what happened next.

The corner was swung over, the keeper charged out, caught the ball, ran into a Saints player who in 99.9% of cases would have been seen as "backing in" and fell through the air and dropped the ball. "Foul", we all thought, but a quick thinking Saints player popped the ball into the net. The ref points to the centre spot - goal!

The Saints players celebrate the goal after realising it was allowed, whilst the Harrow players are stunned. It truly must rank as the worst refereeing decision I've ever witnessed. If there is a video of the incident, it would end up on one of those "what ever happened next" compilations. Truly dreadful. The ref surpassed himself with a penalty decision against the Saints keeper (no booking) and a sending off a Harrow player for two yellow card offences.

If I was a Harrow player, I'd have thought at the end of the match that Clarence Park resembled Anfield in the Eighties or modern Old Trafford for such a refereeing "homer". A truly fantastic performance if you were a Saints fan or neutral. Though if you were one of the twenty odd Harrow fans you'd be wanting to learn how to make a voodoo doll of the ref....

Meanwhile the following day at Vicarage Road, the referee had a more settled game - i.e. both sets of fans had gripes with him about decisions made in the course of the afternoon. For Watford fans, the usually meek Vernazza was lucky to stay on the field with, in normal circumstances a second yellow card offence. Meanwhile, a boot to Helguson's head and a cast-iron penalty appeal for handball in the Norwich area were missed. All's fair in love and war and if the ref could get it wrong for both sides then that's fair enough in my book.

Watford needed a win against Norwich. Marooned in mid-table by the Saturday results and hurting from the trouncing at the New Den the previous weekend, Watford desperately needed the three points on offer. Conditions and a glue pot of a pitch didn't make for pretty football, Norwich seemed quite happy to keep men back and break out when they could. With a poor away record the Canaries were not going to give anything away.

The prospect of half time was on, when Allan Nielsen crept into the box to tuck away Jermaine Pennant's cross - the ref blew up shortly afterwards - the Vic heaved a sigh of relief at the score.

Early in the second half, Iwan Roberts fell down and handled the ball, Watford free-kick? No, Norwich ball. From the resulting cross, an inadvert but alas sublime touch by Neil Cox and the ball rolled into the net. The loud and proud Canaries following had something to celebrate. Lots of mumbled cursing from the Rookery.

Whilst the Hornets huffed and puffed it didn't look like we'd get anything out of the game. Smudger came on for an injured GNW and the talismanic Anthony McNamee replaced the excellent Nielsen. The bloke beside me, who happened to see the game at Old Trafford the day before, was moaning that he couldn't see a Watford striker scoring. Lo and behold, a corner was awarded at the Norwich end in extra time.

We're all thinking, what a great time to score a goal - the Rookery is stood up as one. Macca steps up and hits the ball with his left foot, hard and fast which said "Someone in a yellow shirt, get on the end of that!". Unmarked and free, Heidar Helguson swooped in - thump - and the ball went off his head into the back of the Norwich net. That's the way to score a goal, I turned to the bloke beside and held my thumb and index finger together - "You know this much about Watford's strikers." The goal, the verbal retaliation and the final result made for a great afternoon out.

The match itself couldn't have made much of an impression on the TV viewers, though the three points have brought Watford back in touch with the teams chasing for a play-off place. Whilst a top half finish would have been beyond most Watford fans' expectations at the start of the season, it is great to see that there is some hope of some end of season games. Keep up the good work Ray, Terry and the lads.

As for referees..."you can't live with them, but you can't live without them."