By Colin Wiggins
From the moment Steven Gerrard kicked the ball away after being caught
offside, things looked ominous. A nod from top Premiership referee Mr Riley,
a glance back from Gerrard and the incident was over.
Rules are, of course, open to interpretation, but not this one. In response
to demands for consistency, carrying on after the whistle and hoofing the
ball some thirty yards away is now a mandatory yellow card offence. No
interpretation allowed. No second chance.
But Mr Riley knows better. He is well acquainted with Steve Gerrard. He
knows Gerrard is a great athlete playing for one of the biggest clubs in the
world, multi-European Champions, the Mighty Reds, the Kop, You'll Never Walk
Alone. Mr Riley has officiated Liverpool matches many times. He won't have
heard of Hameur... er, who is it again? And isn't Darlington a railway
So there must have been some mistake. The whistle rang out, shrilly. We all
heard it clearly from the noisy stands. In the middle of the pitch, on a
clear, cold night, it must have seemed even louder. But it's Stevie Gerrard,
a giant amongst giants! He doesn't kick the ball away in frustration! Lesser
players do, but not him! I will nod at him though, thinks Mr Riley, because
he knows me and I know him, I've refereed him on many occasions and although
we have no social contact, we both respect each other's supremacy in our
respective fields. Like me, he's slumming it a bit here in this funny
ground, with unknown players, where the empty main stand is falling down and
where not one single worthwhile trophy has gone, ever.
Therefore the correct decision is no yellow card. Mr Riley nods to Gerrard,
acknowledging that he has seen the incident and showing that he, a top
Premiership official, is so supremely good at his job that he recognizes it
was a mistake. Gerrard returns the nod with a glance, a silent thank-you
from one top professional to another. Mr Riley carries on, safe in the
knowledge that he is a Top Official.
Fast forward. Just before half-time. Young Hameur, ball at his feet, is six
yards out. Finnan comes scything in, feet first, studs showing. He carves
into the lad's ankles, whose legs crumble and he hits the ground. The
unplayed ball rolls harmlessly on. PENALTY we all shout! Clear cut, the
referee is perfectly placed, what great timing, one-all at half time, such
an opportunity for the next forty-five minutes!
But the game continues. Mr Riley, five yards away sees the incident. As
clear as day. No interpretation necessary. But hang on a minute, this can't
be right, that shouldn't have happened...this is Liverpool! That was Steve
Finnan, key member of the Republic of Ireland squad, experienced
international, he has played all over the world. He just doesn't do that!
At least, not against a side like...er, where am I again? Oh yes, Watford.
PLAY ON! NO FOUL!
Get up kid, show some respect, you are playing Liverpool. Don't worry Mr
Finnan, you're all right, I knew it was you....
See you again soon.