A couple of days on and I’m still in a mild state of disbelief at what I witnessed on Friday night. I am not usually one to moan about performances by officials, but I can honestly say that Stefan Johannesson’s was one of the most blatantly biased refereeing displays I’ve seen in all my years of watching live sport.
Yet trying to find evidence of this in reports of the match is not easy. From the left wing to the right wing press, reports describe the sending off of James Collins – just one of a vast array of bizarre decisions by the referee – as justified, the Daily Mail calling it a “horribly mistimed” tackle, whereas the Guardian states that Collins could have “no complaints.” Only the BBC’s online account of the match describes the sending off as “controversial” as Collins’ challenge was “marginally late”, and therefore the BBC seems to side with Wales manager, Coleman’s view that the ref was wrong to send him off.
Too fucking right he was wrong! I am not the Wales manager who has to be careful about what he says, nor an English reporter, who presumably had a different kind of bias, probably having to watch and report on this match with a degree of reluctance as England were playing on the same evening. I am not going to mince my words. There was no way on earth that was a red card offence. It did not look like it from the stands when the incident took place, and it didn’t look like it watching the replay several times over later that evening. Both players went for the ball in a similar fashion, and the BBC is correct to say Collins was only marginally late.
What made things worse was that up until that point, Collins was one of the outstanding players on the pitch, providing solid defence, and looking like he could be very useful in the air from set pieces at the other end. It was almost as if the ref felt that sending Collins off would provide a leveller for the Belgian side, despite their team being packed full of stars.
What made it worse for me was that it was almost as if I’d jinxed the incident, having just moments earlier quite vocally berated the Welsh team for standing off too much and not going in for tackles! Perhaps they knew about the likelihood of this ref ruling against them? As soon as the ref produced a red card, I was impulsively running down the steps of the stadium to shout at the ref and show him two fingers, so under-impressed with his decision was I.
With 10 men, Wales were going to have to rely on some pretty stout defending to even manage a draw. Particularly as no more assistance from the referee was forthcoming. If some refs like to unofficially even things up after an early red card by allowing the disadvantaged team to have more decisions go their way, this referee had no thoughts of that kind. The sending off was a mere aperitif to yet more stupendously harsh decisions to come.
Despite being by far the more attacking side, particularly after the red card, both of Belgium’s goals came after very poor refereeing. The first goal came from a corner for Belgium, which should never have been as Ashley Williams was clearly fouled just prior to the corner being given. The second goal came from a free kick awarded to Belgium for a non-existent foul. This goal came late in the second half, by which time we had pretty much given up on fair officiating, and perhaps the players had too as there seemed to be little complaint about it being given. Again, watching the replays shows absolutely no reason why this foul was given.
Watching the game over on Sky is interesting as the commentators pick up on what the Guardian and Daily Mail’s reporters apparently could not. Time after time, the commentators can be heard to say that they feel the ref is not being fair on Wales. During the second half, they twice say that the ref’s decision making is “getting ridiculous now.”
One of the poorest decisions was for the ref not to give Wales a free kick for an obvious push just outside the Belgian penalty area when the score was 0-1. Despite Belgium’s constant possession and territorial advantage, with just the one goal lead, it did seem as if a Wales equaliser was still possible, and a point in the circumstances would have been a great result for Wales. If Bale’s fantastic free kick – one of the rare decisions given to Wales, and one which the referee simply could not have ignored – had just been a couple of inches further to the right, things certainly could have been different. If this other almost as blatant foul had been given, Wales would have had an even easier opportunity to secure a draw.
But this was just one more among the ref’s catalogue of unfair decisions. There were countless fouls given the wrong way, or if they were against Wales, not given at all. Fouls against Wales that were given could frequently have been considered as bad as that of Collins, yet not even yellow cards were produced in these cases. The referee did show two Belgium players yellow cards towards the end of the match, and you wondered if this was so that, on paper at least, the match would not appear to be so biased, with Wales receiving 2 yellows and a red, and Belgium 2 yellows.
As mentioned, Coleman, who is being criticised as after 4 games under his charge, Wales have yet to score a goal, will feel that there is a limit to the extent that he can criticise the referee. I personally feel there should be an enquiry into this shocking display however. The only solace is that Wales would perhaps not have been expected to beat the team that will quite likely win the group. A draw, which was a credible outcome, would have really got the campaign off to a good start though. We now go to Serbia looking for elusive goals and points. It’s not unlikely if Wales play to the ability that they demonstrated in the match against Belgium. But how ridiculous to have to also hope that they are not met by an unfair official, or at least not one who masturbates with such fervent passion?