Soccer

MARTIN SAMUEL: If kicking the ball is a red card, we're in trouble

MARTIN SAMUEL: The game is in trouble if kicking the ball is a red card… Officials should be suspended for a MONTH for a decision like the one that saw Fabian Balbuena sent off against Chelsea

  • Fabian Balbuena was sent off during West Ham’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea
  • West Ham defender was shown red after catching Ben Chilwell in follow through 
  • Referee Chris Kavanagh checked the monitor and deemed a red card necessary

It’s going to be rather hard, this football lark, if nobody is actually allowed to kick a ball.

You know, actually kick it — as in put a foot right through it. Heaven knows how Peter Lorimer would have got on, had Chris Kavanagh been a referee in the 1970s. He would probably have ended up as Elland Road’s car park attendant rather than its record goalscorer.

There are mistakes, and there is the decision Kavanagh made at the London Stadium, having been wrongfully encouraged by his foolish VAR, Peter Bankes. 

Fabian Balbuena (left) was sent off for catching Ben Chilwell after clearing the ball

Together, they made a judgment call so erroneous, so lacking in understanding and feeling for the game that it should preclude the match official taking charge of one for a month at least. 

‘It tells me that it is someone who has never played the game,’ said West Ham manager David Moyes. Under normal circumstances, most would sympathise with a referee who faced such an outburst.

We’ve all played the game. Not at professional level; but at school, with clubs, with friends. Referees have played the game, too. They should know the physical dynamics of kicking a football. 

That there was nothing Fabian Balbuena could do to stop the follow through of his clearing leg, clattering into Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell. That a strong clearance was his best option and any other decision could have placed his team in jeopardy. And that he slipped on impact with the ball, making control more difficult. 

Balbuena cleared the ball up the pitch but slow-motion replays made the incident look worse

Even if Kavanagh could not compute that in real time, he had the crutch of VAR and all the replays we saw at home — the same footage reviewed by former pros Chris Coleman, Danny Gabbidon, Gianfranco Zola, Gary Lineker and Ian Wright, who all came to the opposite — correct — conclusion.

You’ll notice something about those names, too. Three forwards. Players who spent their lives getting kicked. Not natural advocates of the nefarious, or of violent play. They saw Balbuena’s action for what it was. Chilwell’s safety was endangered, said former referee and newspaper expert Chris Foy. 

Yes, but so is the safety of any opponent when you cross the white line. It’s a contact sport. Maybe players should all stand still and see if they can move the ball by blowing on it. No danger for anyone there. And about as much sense as Kavanagh demonstrated on Saturday. He should be left to reassess his decision at leisure.


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