English FA: Unfair Use of Retrospective Punishment

...........Correspondent IJanuary 6, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Lee Bowyer of Birmingham City celebrates scoring an equalising goal as Edwin van der Sar of Manchester United protests during the Barclays Premier League match between Birmingham City and Manchester United at St Andrew's Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The recent retroactive punishment enacted against Birmingham City’s Lee Bowyer has once again opened the FA up to allegations of giving special treatment to bigger clubs.

Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager, accused the Football Association of giving "bigger clubs" preferential treatment when deciding whether to take disciplinary action against players.

No one is defending Bowyer’s actions as they are indefensible, but how often do we see players from bigger clubs being given retroactive punishment? The FA and some referees are building a reputation for favoring bigger clubs when making disciplinary decisions.

"We're looking for fairness," McLeish said. "We're not defending anybody if they have made a bad decision on the field. But we're looking for fairness. If it's going to be the smaller clubs that are scrutinized, then you've got to look at the bigger clubs as well."

The Scot made his comments as he prepared to lose Lee Bowyer for at least three matches after television footage showed the midfielder stamping on Bacary Sagna's right leg and raking his studs down the defender's Achilles in two separate incidents during Arsenal's 3-0 victory on Saturday.

The FA has charged Bowyer with violent conduct after Peter Walton, the referee at St Andrew's, confirmed he missed both offences. Bowyer has received a three-match ban after the match referee confirmed to the Football Association that had he seen the incident he would certainly have sent Bowyer off.

McLeish has expressed serious misgivings about how the FA uses "trial by television" and cited an incident involving Alan Hutton at St Andrew's last month, when the Tottenham Hotspur defender apparently head-butted Birmingham's David Murphy but escaped any retrospective punishment, to support his argument that the governing body was not treating every club in the same way.

"I'll give you an example," he said. "Alan Hutton—I never said anything about this after the game—head-butted one of our players a few weeks ago on the touchline and there was nothing done about that. In fact, Match of the Day 2 laughed about it and called him a little bull, saying it was the way a bull would head-butt somebody. They had a good laugh about it.

"But ours is a big furor: 'Bowyer has got to get done'. We didn't hear anybody screaming about Alan Hutton that day. And Alan came into the dressing room and apologized to David Murphy for it after the game. I was quite happy just to let it be swept under the carpet. I could have come out at the time and said: 'Why's he not being done?' I don't like to see trial by television, but if we are getting tried by television, then everyone has got to get tried by television."

All clubs and players should be tried in the same manner. If smaller clubs are being targeted with retroactive punishment and bigger clubs are not scrutinized in the same way, things should be changed.

"You know in a split second something can happen on the pitch and a player can see red," said McLeish, who felt Samir Nasri should have been sanctioned for a "bad tackle" on Stephen Carr on Saturday. "But Bowyer has been pretty mature in his time with us. I've not had any problems."

An FA spokesman said: "The FA apply retrospective action only to incidents that are deemed off the ball and have clearly not been seen by the referee. The application of this is consistent to all incidents that are brought to our attention."

Do you think that the FA are using retroactive punishment properly? Should it be used at all?

Retroactive punishment would not be necessary at all if the referees used video replays during the matches. All disciplinary action would be enacted during the match in a fair and balanced manner. A referee would be hard pressed to fail to give a free kick or a caution after a bad tackle or a foul is committed, it would clearly expose their bias, (here’s looking at you Mr. Webb). It would force players to cut down on cheating, because they would not get away with it.

What do you think of retroactive punishment, or trial by television?