Days after Tamsin and I talked on our show about red card decisions there was the most hideous and unfortunate accident in The Premier League involving Everton’s Andre Gomes.
During the hard fought 1-1 draw between Everton and Spurs, there was a breakaway run down the wing and Gomes lead the charge before being tackled from behind by Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min. As soon as Son slid in, he raised his hands in the air, aware that he’d been a bit naughty. Seconds later he looked down at his opposition who’s ankle is in pieces.
The referee approaches Son with a yellow card in his hand (the correct decision for this sort of breakaway tackle). However, once he’s assessed the scene he changes the card in his hand to a straight red card. Admittedly the accident is brutal, Gomes appears to have broken his ankle severely, but the initial assessment was correct. It was a yellow card.
At this point as a neutral fan I was devastated. To see that sort of accident live on TV is so sad. It was so shocking in fact that Sky Sports didn’t replay the incident past the point of the initial tackle from Son. But to see Son Heung-Min’s reaction to what had happened was gut wrenching. He covered his face with his hands, weeping into them and had to be consoled by both Everton and Spurs players. It was a blessing in disguise that he didn’t have to play the remaining minutes as I don’t think he could’ve got through the remainder of the game.
However, my point still stands: it was not a red card.
I truly hope someone has sat down with Son and shown him his tackle. Shown him Gomes striding away from his tackle and then watching as his studs get caught in the grass causing an unfortunate tumble into fellow Spurs player Aurier. I hope they retract the red card in solidarity for both Gomes and Son, because if they don’t retract it then they need to stop tackles from taking place at all. A nudge in the shoulder could’ve caused that awkward fall or even a stroll in the park with your partner and your dog. These things happen. It gets worse... In the post match analysis the pundits raised an argument for potentially giving red cards to any player sliding in to stop a counter attack or a breakaway. This is the world we’re now entering, where football rules mirror netball rules.
Personally, I think we’ve become more and more obsessed with contact in the world of men’s football, despite the fact the red card referee laws haven’t changed in years and serious injuries at the top level are less common. In my opinion, this is mainly down to the nature of the modern male footballer and the wording of the referees rule book around "excessive force".
A tackle in the women’s game rarely merits the same interest from a referee as a tackle in the men’s game. On the most part, female footballers don’t milk it. If it’s a foul then they hit the ground and jump back up. If it’s not a foul then they play on. In men’s football, they have no shame (despite the evidence and replays being projected around the world to billions of people within milliseconds) and they’ll happily feign injury and roll around. I feel like referee decisions have moulded around the footballer rather than around the rules of the game.
If anything, due to the weight of the ball, the lightweight football boots and the hybrid turf at the top level there should be less painful injuries sustained and therefore less floor rolling. These days in the professional world of football it’s like falling onto a trampoline and kicking a cushion… however there are way more cards, way more dramatics and yet there are way less cynical challenges and injuries compared to the 70s, 80s and 90s. It doesn’t add up.
So, my call is to referees at the top level to review their stance on the rules of the game. Look at the challenge, not at the player. Don’t make decisions on a broken leg, make it on the challenge itself and really think long and hard about the words “excessive force” (the only words in the red card rule book which rely on personal opinions) when you’re reviewing any tackle (particularly when Neymar is involved)