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Trial by television


Filed: Wednesday, 16th May 2007
By: Peter Coombs


Imagine a situation last Sunday whereby Carlos Tevez had for whatever reason not played for West Ham; instead Marlon Harewood had started the game.

Imagine also that during the game Harewood had been put through on goal and been fouled by Wes Brown when clean through. Imagine that Wes Brown was only booked for the challenge and with Tevez not on the pitch, the resulting free kick was hit straight at the wall.

Imagine lastly that with the game at Old Trafford being nil-nil after 90 minutes and with Wigan winning at Sheffield United, Wes Brown had then popped up with an injury time winner to send West Ham down. An imaginary scenario yes, but not beyond the realms of possibility as we have seen with certain decisions made this season in the Premiership (and those of us who remember Ronald Koeman’s free kick in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers).

Would West Ham have grounds to ask for the game to be replayed - or at the very least have Wes Brown suspended for the Cup Final - if trial by television had showed he was guilty of a red card offence? There would certainly be people asking for this, but in our heart of hearts we would all know that the answer to that would always be and to protect the integrity of the game’s officials, have to be no. Because the referee, the game’s official, had meted out the punishment he saw fit at the time the offence was committed.

The rules are clear; if a player is punished for an offence on the field of play, the punishment cannot be increased after the event unless the referee has not seen the offence and has taken no action at the time of it. The offence can be micro-analysed by the Sky cameras a million times, and from every conceivable angle - but the result stands. This one incident would not have relegated West Ham – our poor performance over the course of the 38-game season would have done.

So to West Ham and the Tevez, Mascherano affair. Having been punished for our offence should we then be punished further because a team then finds themselves in the Championship next season having been 10 points ahead of us earlier in the campaign? The answer as above, is no; it goes against the principles, spirit and laws of the game. The officials see the offence, they punish the guilty party and the game moves on.

I do feel genuine sympathy for Sheffield United and their fans; the Premiership needs clubs with large loyal following and a famous name (sorry Wigan, that doesn’t include you) and I do hope they come straight back up. Relegation is never nice, but the knee jerk reaction to ask for West Ham to take their place is clearly wrong. It’s emotion rather than sense speaking.

The reasons Sheffield United got relegated are clear; they were not good enough over 38 games – not the fault of West Ham United. Had Phil Jagielka decided not to play basketball in his own area on Sunday they would have stayed up - West Ham United cannot be blamed for this. Had the post been half an inch thinner and Danny Webber’s effort had not rebounded back off the upright they would have stayed up – again, not West Ham’s fault. We have taken our punishment and got on with it, the other clubs should have done the same.

In a case whereby punishment is meted and then successfully challenged by an aggrieved third party we set a dangerous precedent. If West Ham had been relegated could we have asked for our game against Newcastle in January to be replayed because we had a perfectly good goal disallowed that would have put us 3-1 up. Could we ask for Liverpool to be forced to replay their recent game with Fulham and play a stronger side than they did? No because it would be utter carnage. Challenge would follow counter challenge and the game being played on the pitch would be replaced by it being played out in the courtrooms and arbitration rooms up and down the country.

A lot of what is driving the current push to have West Ham further punished is the media; we are now to an extent a victim of the so-called trial by television, or newspaper. Why have the media given so many column inches to this? Because it is a good story and it sells.

Look guys - the relegated clubs are aggrieved; they feel West Ham staying up is because, being a bigger club, they were not punished the same way smaller clubs would have been. Let’s stoke the flame, let’s make it a soap opera that can fill the back pages over the summer when there is no football being played. This sells papers so milk it for what is worth.

Football carries a lot of emotion, especially at the end of the season. Relegation is the end of the world. Those who experience it will cling to any faint hopes that by a technicality they can carry on in the Premiership gravy train. And the media lap the story up – it’s their job. Given the column inches and television coverage, those who feel they have been on the wrong end of an injustice suddenly begin to believe that their cause has the backing of the football world and this gives them hope. But the media are not on their side; they just love a story that sells.

The so-called ‘gang of four’ agreed to stick together no matter who went down before matters were decided last Sunday. This is obviously an insurance policy for all of those involved; one team may go so let’s agree to stick together before hand. For Wigan and Fulham this is now a case of old-fashioned musketeer spirit – one for all and all for one and about an agreement concocted before any of these teams were safe. Not about what they feel is right or wrong. But I go back to my original point. We have faced the panel, been found guilty of an offence and have received punishment.

As to the offence itself, third party ownership of a player. I believe this now sets a precedent whereby loans between Premiership clubs should now be made illegal. The case of Manchester United this season playing four of their 38 games against reserve goalkeepers due to the loans and transfer clauses of Ben Foster at Watford and Tim Howard at Manchester United shows that Premiership games can be influenced by third party ownership. Had Tim Howard played for Everton in the recent game at Goodison would he have dropped the same ball that Iain Turner did to give Manchester United their lifeline. Will Chelsea be suing over this?

West Ham made a technical error with regards to the player’s contracts and MSI. We held our hands up and bought the error to the attention of the Premier League. The current administration at the club has acted fairly and above board and a £5.5million fine was deemed to be fit punishment. There is an argument that playing a player not owned by West Ham is reason enough to have points deducted. Will Wigan dock themselves points for the games won and drew when Chris Kirkland, on loan from Liverpool, played for them?

There is also an argument that by tearing up the original contract and “re-signing Tevez” that we created our own transfer window to do this. Middlesbrough signed Jonathan Woodgate permanently outside of the transfer window thereby changing the contract they had with both Real Madrid and the player. Will they dock themselves the last six points they gained this season?

To make our game’s rules watertight there should be no grey areas. The clubs should own players that play for them in the Premier League and loans should be for their original purpose, for young players to again experience in the lower leagues.

The league need to look at this and draw up a clear set of rules governing ownership of players and allow all clubs in the competition a set period to get their houses in order. Set punishments should also be clearly written, circulated and agreed on with regards to the future breaking of these rules and as is already the case, all 20 clubs in the league need to agree to abide by and agree with any punishment that is given out in future breaches of the rule book.

One of the things I agree with Paul Jewell on, is the timing of the commission, which probably did give West Ham a boost a day before the game with Wigan. On the other side of the coin any points deduction would have had the same positive effect for Wigan. One team was always going to lose in this situation. These things need to be investigated but the timing needs to be thought about and where possible avoided at the business end of the season.

West Ham made a mistake during a previous regime, we were punished. It is not up to us to decide when, where and how severely we are punished. This is up to the Premier League and their independent commission. They have acted and we all live by that decision. It’s time the media and the “gang of four” accept this and concentrate their efforts on next season, one that promises to be one the toughest Premier League and Championship seasons ever.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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