Referee’s red cards ruled as obvious errors by the FA!

In the last week’s English Premier League game between West Ham and Everton, the referee Anthony Taylor sent off West Ham’s Carlton Cole and Everton’s Darron Gibson for what he apparently perceived to be dangerous high-foot challenges that put the safety of their opponents at risk. The first red card was awarded in the 67th minute of the game to Carlton Cole after he challenged for the ball with his leg fully extended and studs up while Everton’s Leighton Baines was challenging for the ball with his head. Mr. Taylor almost immediately pulled the red card from his pocket and dismissed Cole. However, even though the replays showed that Cole’s foot was dangerously high and close to Baines’ head, he was going for the ball and there appear to be no intent on his part to injure or intimidate the Everton player. What’s more, Baines was barely grazed by Carlton’s foot and, to his credit, he did not embellish any injury from the contact. The second red card was awarded in the 90th minute of the game to Darron Gibson for a similar high-footed challenge on West Ham’s Mark Noble. Like the Cole’s challenge, Gibson’s tackle did not appear malicious or retaliatory in nature and he did not appear to intentionally target his opponent. (See the video below.)

After the game, both managers criticized the referee’s decisions to award both red cards and vowed to appeal them. Everton’s skipper David Moyes was reported as saying that “I did not think either were red cards and we’ll appeal.” West Ham’s manager Sam Allardyce also promised to appeal Cole’s red and and further added that he “didn’t think Gibson’s was a red card either.” Sure enough, both teams appealed the referee’s red card decisions and the FA’s three-man disciplinary commission, under the newly promulgated rules allowing the rescission of red cards in instances of “obvious error”, unanimously granted the appeals and rescinded the two red cards. The statement on the FA website stated that:

“The FA can confirm that red cards shown to West Ham United’s Carlton Cole and Everton’s Darron Gibson have been rescinded. Both players were sent from the field of play in the premier League fixture between the two clubs at Upton Park on Saturday 22 December. Their three match suspensions have been withdrawn immediately. Written reasons will be provided at a later date.”

Like the two team managers — and now the FA – most commenters agreed that the two red cards were undeserved and were rightfully rescinded. Unlike many other blogs and writers, we prefer to first analyze and review the applicable Laws of the Game and FIFA interpretations/guidance and apply them to the situation at hand before jumping into any conclusions. So here’s our analysis and take.

According to the Laws of the Game, there are seven sending-off offenses but we will focus on the one applicable here. In their pertinent part, the Law 12 states that a “player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits … serious foul play.” IFAB’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees explains that “a player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.” In addition, “using excessive force means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.”

In the opinion of the referee Mr. Taylor, both players were guilty of “serious foul play” and were immediately sent-off. Indeed, as the video clearly demonstrates, Cole’s and Gibson’s legs were raised high enough to endanger the safety of their opponents who were challenging for the ball. In particular, Cole’s challenge appeared much more menacing and had greater potential for causing an injury. His leg was fully outstretched, studs showing and it missed Baines’ head by only a few inches. Similarly, Gibson’s leg was fully outstretched with studs up although his leg was somewhat lower in relation to the opposing player’s head and thus arguably posed less risk of injury. With the benefit of slow motion replays, however, we can see that Cole and Gibson were both focused on the ball and did not intend to harm, harass or intimidate their opponents. In addition, given that there is a renewed focus by FIFA, the FA and other National Member Associations on protecting players from head injuries, we can certainly understand how Mr. Taylor could have viewed the challenges as “serious foul plays.”

However, in our opinion, neither Cole nor Gibson deserved to be dismissed for their challenges. Neither Cole nor Gibson intended to use their feet/studs as “weapons” and did not seem to put their opponents in danger intentionally. Neither foul was totally beyond the bounds of “reckless” play as to amount to “serious foul play.” We view these two challenges as “reckless” (defined as acting “with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent”), requiring the referee to simply caution the two players. Still, we view the FA’s ruling that Mr. Taylor committed “obvious errors” when he awarded the two red cards as somewhat severe and misguided (or pehaps pressured by the two teams and media onslaught). After all, the fact that the two players committed the fouls – dangerous fouls – was never questioned and, for reasons stated above, Mr. Taylor’s judgment was not so obviously erroneous. We believe that the FA should have exercised more restraint and let Mr. Taylor’s decisions stand. Let us know what you think? Did the referee commit “obvious errors”?

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