Norwich City falling foul of referees

Have Norwich City suffered from “small club syndrome” in the controversial penalties awarded against them in each of their first four Premier League fixtures?

West Bromwich Albion became the fourth successive team to be handed a spot-kick against the newly-promoted Canaries when striker Steve Morison was adjudged to have fouled Steven Reid during Sunday’s Premier League match at Carrow Road.

Justice appeared to be done when goalkeeper Declan Rudd saved Peter Odemwingie’s second-half penalty, but former World Cup referee Graham Poll kept the debate bubbling yesterday when he argued that officials were, sub-consciously, more likely to give “soft” penalties against teams outside the top six.

Writing on a national newspaper website, Poll labelled Sunday’s award by referee Mark Halsey “as soft as you will see all season” and claimed the penalties given against City in the Wigan, Stoke and West Bromwich games would never have been given against Manchester United.

He said: “Poor ‘little’ Norwich - and don’t wince at that, you Canaries - four penalties conceded in the first four games would suggest that it is easier to give a penalty against the less established sides than the top six.”

He said no referee would deliberately set out to give soft penalties against small teams - but they would only give absolute certainties against the big clubs.

Poll claimed a referee’s sub-conscious mind kicked in to protect him from the fall-out involved in awarding a soft penalty against one of the big teams.

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However, Norfolk’s former FA Cup final referee, Alf Grey, dismissed Poll’s argument and insisted decisions had to be made instantly, with no time to worry about which teams or players were involved, or which manager was likely to blow a fuse.

“I am amazed that Graham has made that statement. Perhaps he is going by his own experience,” he said.

“Once you blow that whistle you are concentrating so much, you see an incident and if your eyes tell your brain that is a foul, without thinking you put your whistle to your mouth and blow, and all in a split second.

“You are concentrating like mad but from all your years of training, your eyes tell your brain it’s an infringement of the laws and it happens in an instant.

“It’s all about the recognition of intent and the quickness of perception and it’s amazing how swiftly you learn to do this thing.”

Grey, from Gorleston, who took charge of the 1983 FA Cup final and replay between Manchester United and Brighton, said he had not seen the Morison-Reid incident, but felt officials had a tougher job than he had in the 1970s and 80s.

He said: “It is more difficult for referees than in my day because there is more diving and it’s one of the most difficult things for referees to judge. It’s very 50-50 sometimes. But people forget that it all depends on the angle the referee sees it from. Where was he standing? I think it was easier for us because the game wasn’t as fast.”

Poll, who famously failed to send off Arsenal defender Lauren for bringing down City’s Darren Huckerby in a last man challenge at Carrow Road in 2004, said he now understood the perception that referees tended to favour the big teams. City’s record of conceding penalties in their first four games matches that of Wimbledon in the Premiership in 1999-2000. In that instance, all four were scored. But Poll argued that three out of the four penalties conceded by Norwich should not have been given, including Sunday’s spot-kick.

“Steven Reid clearly played for contact from Steve Morison and fell immediately he felt it,” he told the Mail Online. “Let me guarantee you this. None of the penalties given to Wigan Athletic, Stoke City or West Bromwich would have been awarded against Manchester United and yet they were against Norwich City. So are match officials really biased, do they deliberately favour the big teams?

“I don’t believe that any referee consciously goes out to give soft penalties against small teams but I know that they only give stone wall penalties against the biggest ones. One of the reasons for this is that they know the fall-out, from the managers and the media, if they give a soft penalty against one of the big teams and the sub-conscious mind kicks in to afford the referee a level of protection.”