Referee Andre Marriner was involved in a shocking identity mixup in Arsenal’s big loss to Chelsea on Saturday, erroneously sending off Kieran Gibbs for a handball committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Marriner has subsequently been accused of racism as the two players bear some resemblance to each other and Arsenal fans have been demanding that Marriner be dropped for at least a week if not for the remainder of the season. But those accusations I feel are wide of the mark and actually help to hide what appears to be a much clearer problem. If you watch the replays you can clearly see that Marriner didn’t see the handball himself and only after hearing something in his earpiece then brandished a red card to Kieran Gibbs, despite the rather vehement protests of Oxlade-Chamberlain telling the referee that he was the one who had handled the ball. This raises a huge question for me, did referee Andre Marriner receive advice in his earpiece telling him to send “the Arsenal left back” off for handball?
The facts in this case are very clear. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard took a shot that was going well wide of the goal. In a moment of panic, Oxlade-Chamberlain dove, like a keeper, and punched the ball slightly. Neither Andre Marriner nor the sideline official waved for the foul because on first glance it looked like Ox had headed the ball wide instead of handling. But then Marriner is seen tapping his earpiece, a two-way communication device which allows all four officials to communicate, and at that point, Marriner blows up for the foul and produces a red card to Gibbs. The Arsenal players surround the ref and tell him that it wasn’t Gibbs but rather Ox who handled the ball and you can see Marriner actually have a conversation with Ox asking him “oh, it’s you who handled the ball? It’s you?” (~1min) and then shaking his head and pointing Gibbs to go to the showers.
After the match, Marriner apologized to Arsenal for the identity mixup. Arsenal appealed the red card, Gibbs was cleared, and Oxlade-Chamberlain was also cleared of the red card because his handball was not a red card offence since he didn’t deny an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Marriner has been subsequently backed by the PGMOL (the group that governs officials in the UK) and will referee next weekend.
The facts in this case lead to only one conclusion. Someone, somewhere, someone that Andre Marriner trusts completely, whispered in Marriner’s ear to “send off the Arsenal left back for handball”. This idea that he was only following orders explains why Marriner has been absolved of any wrongdoing and the idea that someone else got the call and the identity of the player wrong explains why Ox and Gibbs have also been absolved of any wrongdoing. The Football Association and the PGMOL have, implicitly, taken the blame for blowing this call.
They have taken the blame but they haven’t explained themselves. Who made that call? Was it the fourth official, Anthony Taylor? Anthony Taylor is the referee who gifted Chelsea a goal in their 4-1 win over Cardiff when he allowed Eto’o to kick the ball out of the hands of the Cardiff keeper. He also controversially sent Jose Mourinho to the stands for his constant protestations in that match. Prompting former referee Graham Poll to call for Taylor to be rested. He wasn’t.
Taylor also sent off two players in Everton’s 2-1 win over West Ham last season and both players’ red cards were rescinded. Taylor is scheduled to referee three matches this week, two as fourth official, more than any other official, unless he is dropped. After all, both matches he’s officiated this week were fraught with controversy — Taylor was the official for Tottenham’s come from behind 3-2 win over Southampton and was heavily criticized by Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino.
And if it wasn’t Taylor, whose every call seems to be a circus, then who was it and how did they make it? In order for Marriner to ignore the pleadings of Oxlade-Chamberlain and stand his ground in sending off Gibbs he had to have a level of certainty which is a bit unnerving, considering the fact that he hadn’t even seen the infringement. Did someone in a booth somewhere, watching the replay on television, make the call?
The implications for that last sentence should send shivers down the spine of every football fan in England because it means that the FA have been surreptitiously using video replay to help make calls and that they are such bungling buffoons that they can’t even use video replay to get the identity of a player correct, much less get the call right.
The controversy from this game has been over whether Andre Marriner is incapable of telling the difference between two similarly complected black players. But that controversy only serves to hide the true problems from this match: that someone else made that call, that they might have been using video replay, that they got the call completely wrong down to the identity of the player who supposedly made the infringement, and that the FA and PGMOL are hiding the facts in this case and trying to sweep this under the rug.
This isn’t about Arsenal. All football fans should be very concerned by the events in this match because they point to a system so irrevocably broken that a referee can look a player in the face, who is telling him that he committed a foul, and send off the wrong guy. And that referee didn’t even see the foul.