As the game of football continues to receive criticism from certain quarters for failing to embrace modern technology – particularly the introduction of video referees – the encounter on Monday night between Charlton and Bristol Rovers in League One served to highlight a prevailing injustice in the game. Dominic Blizzard, of Rovers, was booked 12 seconds into this match, whilst Grant Basey of Charlton was substituted off, taken to hospital and diagnosed with a suspected broken ankle before the 6,000 strong audience had finished their first chant.
A clearer red-card offence would be difficult to point out, but such was the speed with which Blizzard had, well, attacked his opponent that the referee may have felt that the game was at too embryonic a stage to reduce the number of men on the field. Phil Parkinson, the Charlton manager, had no doubts about the offence: “Instantly, as soon as it happened, I thought the lad had to be sent off, and the referee has got to deal with it. From my memory, he wasn’t far away from the incident. If he deals with it straight away, then it’s a different game.”
Whether or not the referee should have been so swayed – or, indeed, whether a fourth official acting as video referee would have intervened and strengthened the punishment – is a side issue. The point is that the victims here were Charlton, and not just because Basey has been in sparkling form and is an integral part of the London club’s aspirations of a play-off spot and perhaps eventual promotion. Nor is it the fact that Bristol Rovers went on to win this game, or even that Blizzard remained on the field, swinging in the corner that led to Bristol Rovers’ first and crucial goal, as Charlton struggled to regroup following the removal of Basey at left-back. Incidentally, Basey normally defends the short ball to the near post, the area which Bristol Rovers attacked and were able to head on for Steve Elliott to finish smartly with a volleyed effort that opened the scoring for Rovers. If Charlton had been facing 10-men, as they should have been, the result could, and probably would, have been different.
Charlton were doubly punished here because they were forced to use one of their three permitted substitutions as the direct result of a horrendous challenge from an opposing player. With only two changes available to Parkinson, the Addicks finished the game with 10-men themselves as he had been forced into using all his substitutes. When David Mooney had to come off with a head injury, Parkinson had no substitutions left from which to replace him. Charlton scored a late goal and if the numbers had been stacked in their favour, Parkinson believes that could have made all the difference: “As it happened, scoring our late goal could have been important. Bristol Rovers are a team low on confidence and with one more change you never know what might have happened in an extra two or three minutes.”
Forget video refereeing and extra officials on the goal-lines because there is an easy redressing of justice that the Football League can fix at once. If a player has injured another to the extent he has to leave the field, and the referee has deemed intent (i.e. booked the player in question), then the victim’s team should be allowed a free substitution. Perhaps even dock the offending player’s team one of their allocated changes if needs be. Rugby Union have recognised this with rolling substitutions and sin-bin periods for yellow cards. If a player has committed a serious infringement, numerical advantage is given to the team that has been offended against, even if it is not a red-card offence. Football should recognise, in an era where physicality and aggression lead to serious injuries because of the speed of the modern game, those that target opponents should be punished adequately, both individually and as a team. Phil Parkinson, Grant Basey and Charlton Football Club would have had a slightly less bitter pill to swallow yesterday morning if they had not been the victims of a prevailing injustice in our game. Just ask Ashley Cole and Chelsea if they agree after their trip to Goodison Park last week.