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Mike Riley Should Never Referee a Big Match Again

If anyone deserves Liverpool man of the match award, it’s not a Liverpool player. Instead of the honor going to Fernando Torres, that award should be awarded to the man in the middle Mike Riley.

Every time I see Mike Riley as referee to any game, my thoughts immediately change from how the game is going to turn out to how Riley going to ruin this one. It’s probably not the best thing to admit, but that’s how I feel. Mike Riley in my mind is the biggest reason the respect campaign died a quick and disastrous death and after the job he did in the Liverpool v Chelsea match I have a feeling we’ll never hear the words respect and referee again used together.

Riley’s decision on the hour mark was simply incorrect. Alonso and Lampard going after the same bouncing ball, Lampard sliding and Alonso just looking to punt the ball forward. It was Lampard who got the first touch to it and it was Alonso who was late in getting the ball. The key moment to me was Alonso’s follow through. The follow through is a kick right onto the shin of Lampard. Both player’s studs come together and Alonso decides to make a meal out of the challenge, staying on the ground longer than he had any right to do. Riley spends approximately zero seconds thinking about it and sends Lampard off.

Nothing dangerous, nothing malicious, just two players doing their job and one of them is wrongfully punished for it. The color commentator for TWI on this match (I didn’t catch his name) said it perfectly ‘Alonso is as least as guilty if not more guilty than Lampard there.’ It was a red card that was never a red and in fact, play should have simply continued on.

What was even more embarrassing was the cameras picking up the laughter of Riley not too long after the incident in question. Hopefully the FA makes him explain why that was. With the game threatening to boil over after the red card, laughing was not the wisest thing to do.

How many more games have to be played with the laughable decisions Mike Riley make? His refereeing of big matches this season has done more harm to the Premier League than the quality of the league has on a whole. The sooner we see fresh blood refereeing big matches so they can get that kind of experience, the better off the Premier League will be.

But that said, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Chelsea were not going to win this game. Their football was nothing to be proud of and in fact before that red card, only had one shot in the game. Liverpool can be thankful that Alex decided to take the last two minutes of the ninety off so that Fernando Torres could give them the winning goal. Petr Cech while not playing a stellar game, came through on a few crucial saves, but it was never going to be enough.

All in all Liverpool were worthy winners on the day, it’s a pity one Mike Riley red card will end up over shadowing it.

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  1. football fan

    February 28, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    ref is damn,f**k off..
    they not do their responsiblity as well..
    i hate ref that not fair in game..
    they old..
    cant see very well..
    so they make to many mistake..
    i hope FIFA do something to change a better ref and a responsibilities as ref..
    i hope fifa use a young ref..
    and use a technology as ref also..
    ref at field will connect to the fer at the tv..
    ref control from office and tell the ref at field which is true..
    that more fair

  2. Helen

    February 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

    I think we need to look at this game in context – that it's a game where the opponents are challenging for the title. Like in any Cup knockout stages as well, I think red cards should be used VERY sparingly, only for the worst fouls or repeat fouls, because one silly red card call can totally change the complexion of the game, and often they cost teams more than a simple suspension.

    I also think the point is not which teams and which players are favoured by refs, but rather that refs should make consistent calls in their games. If Lampard knew that Riley has the tendency to send players off for high studs, then he would know not to tackle as he did. But because Gerrard got off with a warning, well why shouldn't Lampard do the same? Supporting Arsenal, I often feel like many many decisions go against us, but I've realised that bad decisions against the team you support never go unnoticed, whereas there are always decisions going against teams.

    The ref must blow to the best of his ability, i agree, but the ref is also trained to stand in positions where he can get the best views of whats going on, and I don't think Riley does well in that department. And neither does he consult his linesmen. In that sense I think there are MANY better referees, and in THAT sense I think Mike Riley is a poor ref.

  3. Tom

    February 2, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Man U get away with far more than ANYBODY which is why they and their fans have an entitlement mentality. Take the example of the penalty this week. Everyone knows that such calls are only reserved for top players and top teams and apparently Chelsea does not fall into that category. Gerrard should have been carded in the 3rd minute but he is above such a call. Rooney should have been carded in the Man U/Chelsea game for desent but he too is above such a call. Terry desents for Lampard's red card and gets carded. See how this all works?

  4. Tom

    February 1, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    “As much as we get on the refs about their decisions, could any of us have deciphered the Lampard red card incident without the benefit of replay?” Duh, of course we could have. Only Mike Riley would have missed that from less than ten yards. Mike Riley should be banned for life as a deterrant to other imcompetent referees in the league and there definitely is no denying the fact that some of the refs are below par.

  5. Django

    February 1, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Er, wouldn't Man U have been the big winners if Liverpool and Chelsea drew? I think in this case it's basically a push, unless you want to get technical and say they're the big winners because they're still in first and after today there is one less game to play in the season. And Boswinga would have been sent off in the 93rd minute, after Liverpool was already ahead. Unless Gerrard's sent off earlier, then Boswinga might not have ever been in the position to be sent off and Liverpool might not be ahead 1-0. And if Gerrard was sent off then Lampard might not be sent off and then Bosingwa probably wouldn't be sent off either. And then it might not have been 2-0, it could have been 0-0 or 1-0 or 0-1 or 4-2 or who knows what. Bottom line, hypotheticals are like lying to your brain. And Liverpool won 2-0.

  6. Pat

    February 1, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Gerrard got away with murder…the lunge a minute before Lampard was sent off should have been at least his second card because if I recall correctly, he missed the ball. Bosingwa was lucky. Riley was in a poor position to make the call (on Lampard) despite his proximity. I think with Bosingwa and Gerrard gone, this match ends up nil-nil. With just Bosingwa gone, Liverpool have a slim chance of pulling off a 1 goal win. With all of the physical challenges going on, I can't believe Ashley Cole got a yellow. Man U were the big winners today.

  7. Phill

    February 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Riley is a friggin' prat….what the hec was he thinking? Lampard is a player that can turn a game…with the disgracefully wrong red card Riley made a massive impact on the game. Should have sent off Gerrard for his dreadful tackle….at least Lampard went for the ball and got the ball. Chelsea played 10 against 12….The red card should be cancelled and the game replayed.(but the FA has as much credibility as Riley)……and Scolari…you cocked it up again.

  8. The Gaffer

    February 1, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I feel a bit sorry for Mike Riley on this occasion. It was a difficult match to referee with physical tackles coming in left and right. Riley, on the day, made one mistake. A huge mistake, yes. But how many mistakes did both Liverpool and Chelsea make during the 90 minutes with bad pass after bad pass?

    Bosingwa deserved a straight red. I can't believe the assistant referee didn't call Mike Riley's attention on that one.

    The Gaffer

  9. Bishopville Red

    February 1, 2009 at 5:32 pm


    Is this more sarcasm? Evra missed 4 games for NOT throwing a punch against some Chelsea groundstaff yob who did. Simply because the FA decided not to believe his version of events. Or the CCTV. And despite apologizing afterward, they did not consider rescinding any of the 4 match ban.

    For all his diving, Cristiano Ronaldo gets grabbed and hauled to the ground in front of the ref TWICE without so much as a whistle, let alone the penalty they deserved. In the case against Chelsea and Carvalho, Ronaldo ended up getting carded for being bulldogged by the Chelsea defender.

    Rio Ferdinand misses 9 months for NOT taking drugs, while players who fail drug tests get shorter sentences.

    United take on FA Disciplinary for a large card count at Stamford Bridge despite the game being far from testy. Howard Webb (he of the “he's usually good, but…” ) just felt like throwing cards. Like he did when he sent off Ronaldo for a so-called intent-to-gain- unlawful-advantage handball.

    United have goals disallowed because the three blind mice are too clueless to notice when a ball has been touched into play.

    Scholes and Vidic both get suspended for Champions League matches because of cards accumulated in Non-CL matches.

    Vidic gets two dodgy yellows at Anfield, which means noting can be protested Suspension issued without recourse.

    Meanwhile John Terry rugby tackles players and gets his cards rescinded. Wait and see – Lampard will get this one rescinded too.

    Yeah – United get off scot-free all the time!

  10. Tom

    February 1, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    The issue is that if this Lampard was a Man U player, would Mike Riley have produced a red card? No he wouldn't. Calls are not uniformly made by referees. The linesman when Chelsea and Arsenal played got a very crucial desicion badly wrong also. I have seen very bad challenges from Man U players and there was no call. This is disgraceful and a tarnish to name of the game. The FA is quick to purnish teams (with the exception of Man U) and players but wont say a word when one of its refs really messes things up.

  11. cwy

    February 1, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    It was probably a poor decision, but in his defense, he saw Lampard go in studs up about six inches off the ground. Yes, Lampard got a slight touch on the ball, but if you were looking at it from the right (or wrong) angle, it would look like he got no touch.

    As for using younger refs in the big games to get expierence. The first time they have a poor send off or give a dubious penalty, people will be screaming why such inexpeirenced refs are doing these games and not Webb or a Mike Dean.

  12. Chang

    February 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Amusing comments here – both insightful and downright ridiculous.

    As much as we get on the refs about their decisions, could any of us have deciphered the Lampard red card incident without the benefit of replay? I certainly couldn't. I can imagine that Wiley saw that Lampard had gone to ground with studs up/off the ground by a fair bit. Yes, with replay, all of us can see that it was two men going after the ball hard, but in the heat of the moment?

    Bottom line, did he get it wrong? Likely, yes, but I'm sure a lot of us would've gotten it wrong at game speed.

    Regarding Riley smiling and chuckling a bit after the fact… the FA will likely not give a crap about it. Why? The two are likely UNRELATED as he was chuckling at a comment from a Chelsea player. Personally, I thought that it showed that Riley had moved past the decision and was watching the game in the present. Who would want him to have the decision weighing on his mind for later calls? I certainly wouldn't. I believe that Riley should actually be praised for that part of the game.

  13. Charles

    February 1, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    It does help, and I don't suppose we really disagree that much.

    The Bosingwa thing was terrible, but IIRC the linesman was right on top of it and didn't do anything. Seems like he should have done something there. That's the sort of thing I wouldn't expect the head ref to be in charge of because they can't go bustling into corners or they'll be caught off guard once the ball is cleared. They have to assume their assistants will catch things like that. That said, I wasn't paying that close attention, so I have no idea where Riley was at that point, or if it was legitimate to expect him to miss it.

  14. Johnathan Starling

    February 1, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    And if you thought he had a good game apart from that mistake, what about Bosingwa in second half injury time not being sent off for in my mind was a definite red card? I do hope the FA get a hold of that one and take action.

    As for referees who I think do a good job, while people will disagree with this one, I think Howard Webb does a good job. I also think Chris Foy, Mark Halsey and Steve Bennett do a good job.

    Guys who I think are average would be Andre Marriner, Lee Mason, Martin Atkinson, Peter Walton, and Phil Dowd.

    The referees who I question their judgment more times than I would like to remember are Mike Riley, Mike Dean, Rob Styles and Alan Wiley. I hope that list helps you.

    What do I think makes a good referee. First off, you don't blow the big calls consistently. Yes referee's are human beings just like we are, but you don't time in and time out make the same mistakes. Secondly, you have authority of the match you referee and don't take any BS off of anyone. Another thing I like to see in referees is the fact they know when to let the game flow and not allow the game to become start/stop just for the sake of hearing the whistle. Finally, stay out of the way and make the calls when they need to be made.

    Hope all that helps.

  15. Charles

    February 1, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    The point of the Zaki comment is to demonstrate the different standards that are applied to referees. People seem quite capable of recognizing that a single mistake (no matter how egregious) is just that – when it comes in the context of a huge body of work. Except when it comes to referees. There, people only pay attention to failures.

    Even the comment that the job of the referee is to “not end up the center of attention” demonstrates this point. The job of the referee is to officiate the game to the best of his ability. There are 90 minutes of the game and it only takes one second to make a mistake with large ramifications.

    There are countless things that go into being a good referee. Control of the game, judicious use of cards, keeping out of the run of play while maintaining good positioning, perfect memory of the entire rulebook, the pace to keep up with the game, the quick reflexes necessary identity important areas of contention, the ability to hold the snapshot of an image in your mind to give yourself more than the split-second in which to consider the decision. And plenty more.

    Obviously, a breakdown like Riley's today results from a failure of one or more of these. But just as obviously, if you are interested in actually determining who is most likely to referee games well, you can't simply operate on the “makes big mistakes – fire him!” attitude because that washes away all the complexities that go into the job.

    Let me put it this way: who do you think is a good referee? How many good referees are there in England right now? For most people that list is vanishingly small because they operate on precisely the principle of “a ref is good when I don't notice him.” And that's fine if you aren't going to engage in analysis. But once you start saying things like “Mike Riley Should Never Referee a Big Match Again” you are in the business of judging relative referee quality.

    There is a very clear difference between “calling out” a mistake, which obviously is fine, and treating that one mistake as sufficient evidence to declare him unfit for the job. Doing the latter is exactly the kind of shallow analysis that drives me away from a lot of football sites and fans and toward places like this.

    It may well be the case that Riley isn't particularly good. But I will say that apart from this mistake, I thought he had a pretty good game.

  16. Johnathan Starling

    February 1, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Django, I blame not having the morning cup of coffee on that one. My apologies.

    And Django you are absolutely right. Bosingwa should have not only been red carded, but to me that's five matches he should be thinking about his actions. That was absurd, stupid, and quite frankly pathetic.

  17. Django

    February 1, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Obviously a terrible call, equally bad, if not worse, was the incident late when Boswinga planted a boot squarely in Benayoun's back. Simply horrible, and no call. And Jonathan, quick to call out who doesn't understand sarcasm. I seem to remember sarcastically attributing one of your columns to my comment and you racing to your own defense. Easy fella.

  18. Sue

    February 1, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Well that's Riley for you. As ever he gives Referees a bad name.

  19. Robbie

    February 1, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Chelsea is a dirty team, always was and will be. They dont play football, they play to kill. Chelsea will always be pretenders to the title, always. Cheers lads.

  20. Sue

    February 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Mike Riley should never referee any game again let alone a big match. He should be suspended permanently. Lets all complain to the FA about him. He let Gerrard, who should not have been on the field anyway, perform the most atrocious tackles, and then sent Frank Lampard off for a much less worse tackle. It begs the question as to how much Riley recieved.

  21. RF Interference

    February 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    It can't believe captain fantastic wasn't carded when he deliberately kicked the ball into a downed Blue (I'm not saying red, but certainly warranted a yellow).

    Oh, wait, it was at Anfield, makes perfect sense now (Mike Riley would need a spine to make that call).

  22. The ref.

    February 1, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    For a red it needs to be reckless and dangerous, it was neither.
    Its never a red no matter how hard it is to be a referee, he was standing right there, Lampard connects with the ball, at which time Alonso was about a ayrd away, he then lowers his studs and Alonso kicks him, a reckless tackle by Alonso. And he desreved a yellow. but in fairness it should have been advantage Chelsea.

  23. matt

    February 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Even the guest referee on sky sports after the game said it was a shocking descision.

  24. Johnathan Starling

    February 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    The Amr Zaki comment I believes falls into the category of sarcasm. Apparently you don't understand that word.

    As for Riley, sorry but he has a pattern of taking big games and ruining them. I've seen it too many times. If it was one strike, fine. However this isn't strike one.

    The referee's job is to not end up the center of attention. Sadly Riley does an exceptional job of becoming the center of attention in most games he officiates. He had a perfect vantage of what happened, there was no one in his way, yet blew it. Sorry that is going to get called out by me every single time.

    However I do agree that the FA's judgment of referees after every match should be made public. Then we can all see who they think are doing a good job.

  25. Charles

    February 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Comments like this reveal a disturbing lack of understanding about the difficulties of being a ref. Did you make a similar post a couple weeks ago that Amr Zaki should never be allowed to take the field after his terrible miss?

    He got that call wrong, to be sure, but in the moment it did look quite bad. With the benefit of replays it became clear that while Lampard had gone in feet-first, it wasn't in a malicious or particularly dangerous way. And the reason why Alonso went sprawling had a lot to do with his own momentum caused by leaping into the challenge.

    Sure, it would have been better for Riley to get it right, but the way people talk about referees, they act as though it's simply expected that they'll be able to see every single moment from every angle of the entire 90 minutes. It's not possible, and the fact that people act like this says a lot more about their own desire to grandstand than anything else. A ref is simply a man performing a job like anyone else. They will *always* get things wrong. There is not, and can never be, a perfect ref. Acting like it's an ever-lasting strike against a guy that he got one (admittedly big) call wrong is a recipe for ending up with no refs at all.

    I'd take this sort of comment a lot more seriously if people ever (EVER) commented about refs that had good games, or demonstrated a recognition that a ref has to make hundreds of split-second calls in every game – many of which go completely unnoticed because they involve the decision to let things go.

    I personally would love to have the stats compiled by the folks that rate the refs made publicly available. I think it would help a lot to clarify who is consistently making good decisions and poor ones. And it might just possibly reduce the number of comments like this one, which take a single example and turn it into some sort of judgment about the entire character and capability of a man.

  26. Raatzie

    February 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Man U, the 'Pool is coming for you!!!!!!!!!!

    /not really
    //distant second in the league
    ///just wanted to flex a little, on a day that I felt like I could.

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