Never ascribe to treachery that which can be adequately explained by mere incompetence.
That said, sometimes the world of sports presents us with instances where it’s very, very hard not to suspect something sinister at work. Such was the case earlier today at Loftus Road in London, where referee Chris Foy put on an appalling display that pretty much single-handedly awarded Queens Park Rangers an upset victory over visiting Chelsea.
- In the eighth minute, Chelsea center back David Luiz lightly bumped Ranger Heidar Helguson in the box on a high bouncing ball. Helguson went down like he’d been blind-sided by a wrecking ball. Despite the fact that the average Premiership match features 20-30 plays in the penalty area with more egregious contact than this, Foy inexplicably awarded QPR a penalty kick, which Helguson converted for a 1-0 lead.
- A few minutes later on an attack down the left side, the Blues’ Jose Bosingwa and Sean Wright-Phillips of QPR were side by side on a Ranger through ball. As is usually the case on such plays both players had arms and hands involved in jockeying for the ball. Bosingwa earned the inside track and played the ball as both men went down. Replays revealed no grounds for a foul call of any sort on either player, but Foy blew the whistle and showed Bosingwa a straight red card.
- Later in the half Didier Drogba executed a two-footed tackle that was perhaps ill-advised, but with only about a half step-in before contact (and given that the pitch was obvious slick) it was hardly the sort of full-throated lunge that EPL officials have been instructed to punish with banishment. Nonetheless, off went Drogba. In a match that was being competently and fairly officiated this decision could have been accepted, although a close review of the replay indicated that a simple caution might have been more appropriate.
- The second half saw no fewer than three or four plays that, if the standards employed in the first half were applied consistently, would have found Chelsea on the penalty spot. Twice (at least) David Luiz was clearly held (as in, both the defender’s arms were wrapped around him on balls into the box) and once he was knocked down in the process. Another time center midfielder Frank Lampard was tripped as he went for a cross that could have potentially tied the game. In a game officiated by the standards Premiership fans are used to seeing, none of these fouls might have been called (although the Lampard trip was clear – still, we’ve seen worse go unpenalized). However, in all of these cases, the QPR players were guilty of worse than what was whistled against Chelsea in the first half.
A horrible call? Happens to every ref who ever lived. Two horrible calls? Sure – everybody has their really bad days, too, if they do it long enough. But six, seven, eight horrible calls, all favoring one team? At some point you can’t help leaning forward on your stool and saying “wait a damned minute.” Today’s officiating performance was just such a moment, as Chris Foy turned in a performance so blatantly inept it would have embarrassed a ref who was officially on the take. (Or perhaps Foy has a personal grudge – has John Terry slept with his wife?) There is little in Foy’s record to indicate any particular issue with Chelsea, but then again, there’s also nothing that would have helped us predict this degree of incompetence, either. So what was going on?
At this point, I should qualify my analysis with some observations.
- Yes, I’m a Chelsea fan. That makes me want Chelsea to win, but my fellow Rocky Mountain Blues Supporters’ Clubbers will tell you that I’m fair in evaluating calls. When Fernando Torres was sent off for a ridiculous two-footed lunge a few weeks ago I not only didn’t protest it, I applauded the official and rained abuse on the stupidity of our star striker. And in this game, I didn’t bitch overly about the Drogba red. I can look at the replay and say it ought to have been a yellow, but I can also argue that the red was fair.
- I used to be a ref. I never called games at the pro level, but I did call ~1,000 games at lower levels (everything from rec to scholastic to competitive club). So when I make observations about things like what an official was in a position to see, for instance, it’s at the least a moderately informed opinion. The baffling part about today’s game is that in all the plays noted above Foy was in perfect position to see what happened. If he’d been screened or out of position, that might explain things.
- Finally, if you doubt my objectivity, let me merely say that: 1) the television analysts (who, despite desperate attempts to remain as objective as possible) were unanimous in the opinion that Foy was in error; 2) there are replays, one assumes, going up on YouTube even as we speak. (Here’s a link that should help your search.) By all means, don’t take my word for it. And 3) The Manchester United supporter sitting next to us in the pub was shaking his head and wondering what the referee was doing. If you don’t know your Brit football all that well, this is analogous to an Alabama fan complaining that Auburn got screwed. Do what you will with this.
The Soccernet match report, by the way, is embarrassing even by “sports journalism” standards, playing it straight as though there were no controversies about any of the calls (or subsequent no-calls). If you think the ref got it right, say that, but don’t pretend there’s no elephant on the pitch. That makes you look stupid. I expect better from British reporters, honestly.
In the end, expect a lot more coverage of this dumpster fire in the coming days. I’ve seen sadder displays of officiating, but they’re usually reserved for university intramural matches. Chris Foy produced one of the four or five worst performances that I have ever seen at this level (far, far worse even than the infamous Koman Coulibaly debacle in the 2010 World Cup match between the US and Slovenia, to reference a game that American fans in particular are more likely to remember).
Foy isn’t a referee with a long track record of incompetence of this magnitude, but no ref capable of this degree of ineptitude can be allowed on the pitch, period. It’s harsh to call for a man’s firing, but at the minimum this display was bad enough that the Premier League has no choice but to suspend him and to conduct an investigation. If he is, in fact, this incapable he must be dismissed. And the failure to take action and examine such an outing in greater detail undermines the credibility of the entire EPL officiating organization. Some of these officials are among the best in the world and they don’t deserve to be tainted, even by faint association, with what Chris Foy perpetrated earlier today.
Also, the Bosingwa red card must be immediately rescinded.