Sun, Jun

A decision sparks debate about respect for match officials.

Controversy — That word and sport in Trinidad and Tobago go hand in hand.

I journeyed to the St James Barracks last Sunday to cover the double-header in the Trinidad & Tobago Premier Football League for Sportsmax. The games were between Defence Force versus Caledonia United and in the second, Police FC came up against a very young and enthusiastic San Juan Jabloteh.

The first game went according to the form book, and the army boys came away with an easy and comprehensive 5-0 whipping of the inexperienced Caledonia outfit. Police were also expected to ease past the talented Jabloteh team, but they squandered chance after chance and at halftime, the scores were still tied up at 0-0. Based on the first half, I predicted that Police would take control of the game in the second half and walk away with a comfortable victory.

Police eventually got that elusive goal very early in the second half, so I and many others thought they would hold on to win it. However, an inspired substitution by the San Juan boys saw them equalise with 17 minutes to go. But, the real controversy came with 10 minutes left in the game when a long ball was played through to Jabloteh’s striker, Dwight Jordan, who went through on goal, beat the keeper and slotted the ball home. It was a moment where time stood still for everyone except Jordan and referee Cecile Hinds.

Assistant referee Roshan Baliram signalled for an offside offence as, when the ball was played, Jordan was “...nearer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent” according to the Laws of the Game; or as we all know it, offside. Baliram did not move despite referee Hinds seemingly overruling him - such was his confidence in his decision. On seeing the flag, none of the Police defenders tried to get back to put a challenge on Jordan, and referee Hinds never blew her whistle. When I was young, I was taught to play to the whistle, which Police failed to do.

After the goal was scored, referee Hinds went over to chat with him, but, as far as she was concerned, the goal should stand, so the lawmen became incensed. Eventually, when the 90 minutes ended, Police’s technical bench and their supporters were beside themselves with anger. They complained bitterly about Hinds and the number of letters they had written to the powers requesting that she not be allowed to referee any of their games.

Firstly, clubs cannot dictate who should referee or not referee their games but in sports, sometimes a team may feel that a particular referee or umpire is against you or your club. Let me clarify - I empathise with referees and umpires besides Alligator wrestling which must be one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Who in their right mind would want to be a referee?

My youngest son decided he wanted to be a referee, so I quietly informed him to be ready for the abuse from players and all the so-called “knowledgeable” fans that go to games. It seemed to be one of his passions, and I must say, trying my best to be objective, he is an excellent referee. Thankfully, he has migrated, so I don’t have to criticise him while doing commentary but it is a thankless job.

During my football coaching stint at Fatima College and Carib FC, I had several altercations with referees. Fatima was a little different as I felt that as a coach, I had to set an example for the boys, whereas at Carib FC there was this referee in the East Zone of the TTFA who seemed to dislike me and the Carib team and would give us a rough time.

In a champion of champions game, he evicted 2 of my players, and my assistant and I were removed from the dugout. We were still leading 2-1 when 90 minutes came up, the goodly gentleman played eight minutes of overtime, and when the opposition equalised in the 7th minute, he blew off the match. Perhaps, you could then understand why I was written up again. This is because officials need to be able to have a relationship with all teams. Respect must be earned, not commanded or expected.

According to some sources, a Police FC coach went to shake an official’s hand before the game, and one of them walked off. To me, it just does not make sense to have animosity built up before a game as it does not help the situation or the sport overall.

Referees are there to uphold the laws of the game and to ensure that the football match is played according to said laws. However, in doing so, there must be mutual respect. I have been told that some referees are too big for their boots which is unfortunate as they should not be the centre of attention. The best officials get the big calls correct and are not seen or spoken about after a game.

Based on television footage, referee Hinds got it wrong. It can only be assumed that she saw a deflection from a Police player when the long ball was played. Yes, this may be correct that the Police player made a touch but the offside law is quite clear. The action of the Police player was not deliberate as he was too close to the player making the long ball, so the Jabloteh striker - Dwight Jordan - gained an advantage from being in an offside position.

According to IFAB (the determining body of the Laws of the Game), “a ‘deliberate play’ is when a player has control of the ball with the possibility of passing the ball to a team-mate; or gaining possession of the ball; or clearing the ball (e.g. by kicking or heading it). None of these criteria was met for Hinds to have overruled her assistant referee in this situation. On the other hand, I empathise with her as she is at a disadvantage with not having the liberty of television replays aka VAR. As a result of her decision, coupled with her apparent lack of a professional relationship with the Police technical staff, all hell broke loose, and the dissent against the decision was palpable.

Indeed, it was a bitter and tough pill for Police to swallow, but they only have themselves to blame as they should have come away clear winners, having missed many chances. It will not be the last controversy that will crop up in the league.

Still, perhaps the time has come to get the coaches together with the referee’s body to understand one another better and set mutually agreed expectations. What do the coaches expect? What type of relationships do we want to see existing between referees and teams; and, whatever else can come out of it for more harmony and a better relationship between teams and match officials?