Continuing from my earlier post concerning yesterday’s Premier League game between Newcastle United and Liverpool, the most unsavory aspect of the afternoon other than Liverpool’s performance was James Perch’s involvement in the sending off of Pepe Reina.
Watching the incident as it happened, it looked like a gentle headbutt by Reina and a massive overreaction by Perch. Even so, I expected Reina to be dismissed because regardless of how much contact may actually have been made, there was clearly some violent intent and the laws of the game demand that a red card be issued for such an action.
But the replays also confirmed the exaggerated role played by Perch, with one angle even appearing to show the possibility that there wasn’t even any contact at all between the players.
Whether the reaction by Perch – instantly throwing himself to the ground and rolling around as if punched by a heavyweight boxer – had any bearing on the referee’s decision or not will be known only to the official himself.
There have, however, been similar instances when players have touched heads and only a yellow card given – one example being Liverpool’s league fixture at Fulham earlier in the season when Clint Dempsey reacted aggressively to what had actually been an entirely fair challenge by Bellamy. Dempsey clearly aimed a headbutt at Bellamy during a heated exchange between the pair but was only cautioned, perhaps because Bellamy had stayed on his feet.
So could Reina have escaped with only a caution yesterday had Perch not feigned injury in a manner which unfairly did a fellow professional no favours? Again, only Martin Atkinson could answer that question.
But given there was no need to go to ground holding his face, there should also be measures in place to issue retrospective punishment to players such as Perch who can clearly be proven to have reacted dishonestly. Had he stayed on his feet and Reina not been dismissed, there would have been ample opportunity for the FA to review the decision after the match and issue a suspension if it was felt that one was warranted.
On the whole, the FA have done well in their aims of stamping out dangerous two-footed challenges and elbowing and have recently stepped up their anti-racism campaign, but playacting is an area which the FA have never properly addressed. Too many players know that if they can get away with it at the time then there’ll be no further repercussions.
It’s one of the last forms of cheating that is simply accepted by the nation’s football authorities, and a change in approach to dealing with the problem by those at the FA and the Premier League is long overdue.
How many footballers would roll around pretending to be injured despite not having been touched whilst watching on as an opponent is sent off, if they knew that that their own actions would be scutinised and could themselves lead to a lengthy ban?
Perhaps it’s time to find out.