Controversy never seems to be too far away in our beautiful game. Whether Thierry Henry is breaking Irish hearts in Paris, or matches are being abandoned on the domestic front, there will always be room for debate in football.
Whilst most of the Football League were doing battle in the FA Cup second round, it was business as usual in the Championship. Despite the appalling conditions across the country as wind and rain of biblical proportions swept in again, the entire Championship fixture list went ahead as planned. However, Plymouth and Barnsley were unable to complete their match at Home Park, as referee Gavin Ward decided to abandon the game after 58 minutes. Of course this in itself is not unusual or indeed controversial. The resulting debate from this match lies in the manner in which Mr Ward took his decision.
Plymouth trailed their visitors 4-1 at the time of the abandonment. It is true that nothing is guaranteed in football, but it would seem a fairly safe bet that the Tykes were going to be taking all three points back to Oakwell. Less than a quarter of an hour into the second half however, Mr Ward took his decision for the safety of the players, apparently without having consulted either Paul Sturrock or Mark Robins. The decision to abandon any match ultimately lies in the hands of the match official, however, standard procedure is usually to at least consult the managers in question. Barnsley boss Robins was left fuming at the abandonment.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Barnsley in this instance. The journey to Plymouth for most teams is a long one, let alone when your side have travelled all the way from Yorkshire. On top of this, to have a near certain victory snatched away, as well as the prospect of having to return to Plymouth again later on in the season – a fixture that will probably fall on a Tuesday night – and it’s not hard to see that this decision is a real kick in the teeth for the Tykes.
Argyle manager Paul Sturrock has described the decision as a “get out of jail free card” for his side. He acknowledges that it is beneficial in that it gives Plymouth a second opportunity, but he rightly points out that Barnsley have every right to feel aggrieved. What is worth noting is that in spite of all this, the decision to call a halt to proceedings was probably the correct one. Players were sliding all over the place and the ball was getting held up in the standing water on the pitch. Not only was the game becoming unplayable and indeed a non-spectacle, the safety of the players was being brought into question. Nowadays, football is a business where clubs have to protect their assets for all that they are worth. Had a player suffered a serious injury, questions would have been asked as to why the fixture went ahead.
So it would seem that the official did make the correct decision. The debate springs from the manner in which his decision was taken. As previously mentioned, no consultation was taken with the managers. Even if not during the second half, surely a discussion could have been had during the half-time interval? A quick look at the footage of the match will show that the referee did not even wait until the ball went out of play. Almost inexplicably with the ball in the centre circle, the whistle was blown and the signal given that the match was to be abandoned. Of course, the conditions lent themselves to an abandonment, but would it not have been more sensible for a discussion between all parties, to see where everybody stood? Managers and referees don’t get on at the best of times and it would seem and this incident will have done little to improve relations.
So the referee made the right decision but he did so in the wrong way. Of course the match will have to be replayed but this opens up a brand new debate. The rearranged fixture will be a complete 90 minute match with the scores starting at 0-0. Considering the advantage that Barnsley held in the match, it seems more than unfair that they will have to graft to earn their three points all over again. So should the match be restarted on 58 minutes, with the score at 4-1? This has never happened before and with the rules as they are, nothing is about to change. As such it appears that Barnsley have been robbed of a near enough certain three points?
Many will say that the match should be declared in Barnsley’s favour. Others will state that when the two sides meet again, they should kick-off from when the match was abandoned. What is certain, however, is that this debate will continue for a long time to come. The Tykes have every right to feel aggrieved but unless some form of rule change is introduced, they will have to make the long trip to Plymouth again this season, and re-earn their victory.