On Saturday we travelled down to Margate on a mild grey day for an afternoon by the sea. It’s one of the longer journeys that the team undertake since gaining promotion to the Ryman Premier Division. There are two rail routes from London down to Margate, the traditional one via the north Kent coast and the recent high-speed route via Ashford. The latter is operated as a premium services and costs £5-00 more for shaving 25 minutes off the journey time. I opted for the traditional route through the Medway towns from Victoria and boarded a Southern Railways class 375 electric unit for the journey with Noel once again as a travelling companion.
There is little more depressing than a seaside town in the grip of winter when the holiday makers and day trippers have gone away for another year. Apart from a modern pub/restaurant and a cafe, everything else as we walked from the station was closed with the shutters pulled down. There was even a car park that was closed to all except a few residents of an adjacent tower block. Such was the nature of the short walk from the station to Margate FC’s ground at the Hartsdown Park Stadium.
If the small section of the town that we passed through seemed dead, at least the stadium was alive with locals out for an afternoon’s football. The burger bar was doing a brisk trade and was closely scrutinised by gulls hoping to mug passing football fans for their chips. After the trip down it was the ideal place to get some food while waiting for the action on the pitch to begin.
The Blues fans had travelled down in the hope of a good result following the previous week’s home win. Margate have been struggling to win at home and it seemed that at least a point was up for grabs and possibly more. Unfortunately, the first two minutes and the subsequent refereeing performance destroyed any possibility of a result for the visitors.
Two minutes into the match and Bobby Aisien does the splits, losing his footing as he tries to intercept Margate’s Duane Jackman. With Jackman bearing down, Bobby Smith comes out of his goal and brings him down on the edge of the area. There are differing opinions about what the correct course of action by the referee should have been at this point. You hope that the referee will look at the situation and assess all the options – the striker had knocked the ball forwards beyond his immediate control (you can clearly see that from Margate’s own photos from the match and I could tell from the opposite end of the ground). He could have hurdled the keeper’s glove rather than dragging his foot through it. (No criticism of the striker here – he obviously knew he couldn’t reach the ball to score and took the opportunity to try and win a penalty. I’d expect 90% of strikers to do the same for their team). These are things that you hope the referee will take into account when reaching a decision. In similar circumstances most refs will give the penalty and issue a yellow card to the keeper. The fly in the ointment on this occasion was that there was a Football Association Assessor in the stand marking the referee’s performance. Encouraged by shouts of Off! Off! Off! by the home fans behind the goal he pulled out the red card and sent Bobby to the dressing room.
Many football fans will remember the sending off of Ross Flitney in the Manchester United v Barnet league Cup match in 2005 – An eagerly anticipated game of David v Goliath which was destroyed by a similarly dismissive wave of the red card by a ref more concerned with the letter of the law than its spirit. The effect here was much the same and the decisions of the referee throughout the rest of the match were often so picky that even some Margate fans (whose team were generally benefitting from them) were asking ‘why is he doing that?’, ‘what’s that card for?’
Anyway – the immediate result of the sending off was that Ahmet offered to take over in goal and we were treated to the sight of his ripped undershorts as he and Bobby exchanged kit – photo not attached as I’m still trying to extort some beer money from him for not publishing 😉 The penalty was saved by Ahmet but the taker, Kwesi Appiah, was able to score from the rebound as he followed in.
Wingate & Finchley didn’t lay down and die – despite the numerical disadvantage they continued to play their football but the Margate side were defending well and Leon found himself often ploughing a lone furrow into their penalty area. He got one good strike in on target but the keeper pulled off a good save and the resulting corner didn’t produce anything for the visitors. Marc Weatherstone found a bit of space on one occasion and smacked a nice curling shot that drifted wide of the right hand upright, but much of the time was spent defending probing attacks by Margate. They scored a second on the 23rd minute when Dan Stubbs got a free header from a cross and put the ball across Ahmet and into the opposite top corner of the goal.
Late in the half, Appiah went down in the box and appealed for a penalty. The ref blew the whistle and… gave a free kick to the visitors! It was one of possibly a half-dozen decisions that he gave our way all game! It caused consternation amongst some Margate fans – ‘If it ain’t a penalty then you’ve got to book him for diving’ yelled one stood close to me. Sure enough, the ref did wave the yellow card. But discussions afterwards revealed that the ref had given the free kick for a foul on one of our defenders and he was shown the yellow card because he argued with the decision, not for simulation.
The Margate report of the first half says that Wingate were always dangerous on the break – which is kind of their reporter. In reality we were missing the key link man between the midfield and the striker. Whilst the decision to put Ahmet in goal was the only realistic choice given that we didn’t have a keeper named amongst our substitutes, it limited the team’s flexibility going forwards.
The second half started despite one set of floodlights being out – not sure how that fits with the rules of the game? Another issue that the ref seemed happy to allow the home side to get away with – though I appreciate it’s in his discretion (much like the sending off of our keeper where he showed no discretion at all)! Then a second one went out and after a few minutes of struggling in the gloom the Wingate & Finchley players decided that conditions were too dangerous to continue and left the pitch – playing in the dark will lead to misjudged tackles and injuries. But the referee shouldn’t have let it come to this – he should have had the lighting issue resolved before starting the second half – he has a duty to the players to ensure their safety. In cricket they use a light meter to gauge whether it’s unsafe conditions. There were three of us (serious) photographers present – any one of us could have told him that the light was appalling and unacceptable for playing football. We do know the difference between bad for photography and bad for football!
During the outage Ahmet and Danny Neils’ swapped gloves and kit – the manager wanted Ahmet’s firepower up front. I might have done it differently – take a central defender off and bring on a fresh pair of legs up front, leaving Ahmet in goal where he has some experience. Ahmet’s move to the front didn’t really make a lot of difference – not for want of trying – because the second half was peppered with refereeing decisions that only ever went one way. A Wingate player breathes on a Margate player – free kick. A Margate player tries to pull a Wingate player’s arm out of its socket – play on, no foul. It was one of the most uneven pieces of refereeing I have ever seen. I could not believe how bad it was and unfortunately it got to the stage where Wingate fans were singing ‘Three Nil to the Referee’ after the home side bagged their third from an innocuous free kick that he wouldn’t have awarded to us but was happy to give to the home side.
Danny Neils’ in goal… What can I say! He doesn’t have a pedigree there and he’s certainly not our tallest outfield player. Margate scored 3 goals against him in that second half but 2 of those were almost certainly beyond the ability of our normal keepers to save and he made 2 great saves that I was pleased to congratulate him on in the bar afterwards. The question was asked – not for the first time – why don’t we name a full time keeper on the bench? Maybe our Manager will tell us one day but he sometimes reminds me of the old monk in Kung Fu – I almost expect him to greet a player with the words ‘Ahh! Glasshopper…’
Some fans of teams in the higher levels of football would be seeking managerial resignations after a 5-0 defeat. That’s not our way here, though we will always chat about the manager’s decisions after a game and, in all honesty, we sometimes find some of Dave’s a bit confusing. Dave has done great things for the club and often with a certain inscrutable approach that leaves the fans and opposition guessing 🙂 I’m sure he’ll find a way to get the team up to speed for Saturday’s away game against Lewes.
The official stance from the managerial / coaching team in the bar after the match was that a number of players had experienced a bad day at the office. Talking to some of the players after the game was interesting. Marc had a notebook and pen in his hand. I joked, ‘Are you going to write down all the dodgy refereeing decisions in that?, to which he replied that he’d need a much bigger note book! I was approached by Mark Henry – one of our most laid back players. I can’t remember Mark having a bad word to say about anybody in the past. He asked me – “was it as bad out there as it seemed to us”. I had to say “yes and we had the time to analyse every decision!”
I want to make a quick point here – None of my report diminishes Margate’s efforts. Kwesi Appiah was superb on the day – every bit as unstoppable as Leon Smith when he’s in his pomp 🙂 He looks a class act and I wonder why Margate have struggled in the early part of the season. Their defence were excellent and their keeper had a great game.
It just felt that we spent 85 minutes playing as 10 men against 12 with around 75% of decisions going Margate’s way. Perhaps the ref can explain – yes you can reply to my blog ref and I’m not going to abuse you – why it was okay for our forward on the left wing to almost be robbed of his shirt whilst trying to put a cross in without it being a foul. Just one example and there were many more. This is not, ironically, a dispute of the result – Margate deserved their win. Without the referee’s interventions I’d guess at 2-0 based on their performance.
We congregated in the bar – the officials from both clubs gathered in a separate area along with the referee, assistants and the assessor – and discussed the game overa beer. All credit to the Margate faithful that they accepted their win with dignity and didn’t seek to rub it in. After a while they filtered out and we got the chance to ask our senior people what had been discussed with the assessor. Apparently the referee had a fine game, did nothing wrong, etc… I always wonder whether assessors live on the same planet?
One of our senior officials said to me ‘Why should I put all the effort into writing a report of the referee’s performance if the assessor says he performed ok – it’s a couple of hours I could better spend elsewhere’ because the FA will just say it’s sour grapes! I think that sums it up. I have to ask, what is the remit of the FA assessors? Is it just to check that those decisions that the referee does choose to make are correct or is it to assess his entire performance? It seems to be the former – there is no way that the performance of the referee at this match could be interpreted as having been even-handed – though I would not for one minute suggest that he made decisions in a partisan manner. If the assessor was required to check for that he’d have been highlighting it as an issue. So back to you FA, what are the assessors supposed to be checking? It’s a big issue among fans at all levels including the Premiership that you care so much about. There is nothing that annoys fans more than refereeing that appears one-sided. Why do you think that fans like me are asking the ref if his name is Simpson? – it’s because a lot of fans believe that certain ref’s are ‘Homer’s’! If assessors are supposed to assess the referee’s even-handedness then this was a failure and don’t read me the ‘respect’ stuff while you don’t ensure an even-handed approach from your referees – that’s an insult! Don’t you think it’s time you addressed this issue?
I wandered home via the train – a chance to enjoy some real life beyond the vagaries of FA Football. At least a Bus is a Bus is a Bus… except when it’s a train 😉
All thoughts expressed are my own and do not represent the views of Wingate & Finchley FC.