It’s not a level playing field but it’s tough luck

Thursday, September 15, 2011
2:23 PM

Never did I foresee the day when I would agree publicly with Graham ‘three cards’ Poll.

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But agree I did after reading a selection of his comments following Norwich’s latest brush with officialdom after Sunday’s Premier League encounter against West Brom.

The esteemed former World Cup referee was willing to ‘guarantee’ none of the penalties City have conceded at an alarming ratio of one per league game would have conversely been awarded against Manchester United.

We’ll never know of course but it touches on a footballing fault line which seemingly every newly-promoted, small, unfashionable (delete as appropriate) club faces when they try to mix it with the bigger boys in the playground.

That at the heart of the beautiful game lies an imperceptible, subliminal, inherent bias towards the glamour clubs. For want of a better word. The ones with decorated footballing histories and global fan bases.

This is not intended as a lazy rant at referees. To concur with Paul Lambert following his private tete-a-tete with Mark Halsey on Sunday, they have a job few of us would wish on our least favourite inlaws. Or parking inspectors.

Halsey is one of the better exponents of a tough profession. Even allowing for what by common consent – both in real time and subsequent forensic television analysis – were the wrong calls over the two main talking points during Sunday’s defeat.

The Lancashire-based whistle blower is one of the more approachable men in the middle. Less prone to throwing cards about like confetti. Consensual rather than confrontational in his manner. Brave not only in a willingness to subject himself to potential ritual abuse, but to overcome his own personal battle with cancer to return to the top of his profession.

Nor would any right-minded supporter or pundit question the integrity of the officials. Not in this country. It shouldn’t matter whether Old Trafford, Anfield, Carrow Road…or The Walks for that matter is the destination of choice for the officials. But invariably it does.

City have now equalled Wimbledon’s unwanted top flight record of conceding four penalties in consecutive games.

Heaven forbid, a fifth follows at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium this weekend.

As it stands Norwich have conceded as many penalties in the first month of combat as Chelsea, Liverpool and United did in all bar one of the past ten completed seasons.

Furthermore, the champions in the same period have conceded seven penalties in total at Old Trafford. Seven in a decade. Mark Twain coined the phrase, ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ – whilst you get the sentiment those numbers do little to dispel the notion clubs like Norwich will always come out the wrong end of the equation.

Football isn’t fair. Neither is life. Lambert’s squad can either develop a persecution complex or suck it up and move on.

Not even the most biased Norwich fan would dispute City’s defensive naivety at vital moments has proved their undoing thus far. Yet to dismiss the theory out of hand is equally naïve.

I’ll let Simon Charlton have the final word. This was the former Norwich defender’s take on the Gabriel Tamas elbow incident involving James Vaughan which went unpunished on the day itself.

Charlton played the game at the highest professional level in a career that spanned two decades. He was on the inside. Not sat in the stands or the press box.

“If it had been Manchester United who had suffered that elbow, they would have got the penalty,” he told me, when I pestered him yesterday for some build up to this weekend’s latest Premier League game featuring two of his old clubs.

“I know the referee doesn’t have as much time or the replays that we all see.

“The lad has now been charged, but it’s one of those you think if it was one of the big clubs it would have been a different decision.

“I don’t think referees purposefully go out thinking about whether it is a big club or a so-called small club.

“But when you have your big name players, like Wayne Rooney or in my day the Roy Keane’s and Gary Neville’s surrounding a referee I think that is a big, big influence on officials.

“I still think it happens nowadays and I think if it had been the other way it would have been a penalty. That is the way things are and you just have to get on with it.”

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