Caught on the blind side

August 24, 2007
By Dave Roberts

Inconsequential the question may seem, but for Premier League referee Rob Styles the answer is months of keeping his head down and a weekend away from what he loves. There's been plenty written about the Hampshire whistler and his high profile gaff, gifting Chelsea a way back against Liverpool at Anfield, but I've read nothing as to why he made the mistake.

Rob Styles
GettyImages / PhilColeRob Styles is unmoved by Liverpool's protests against the penalty decision

I've been there, done exactly that and got the nasty video to prove it. Styles got it hopelessly wrong, the reason? He tried to cheat, not in relation to his decision-making but in relation to his positioning. Using the 'C' word in relation to refereeing is like pouring petrol on a bonfire, so I better qualify.

The optimum angle to view any challenge between players is from a side on position. Sometimes to get there a referee has to take up a wider position than normal, or a deeper one, certainly exert a little more energy to get there. Basically you have to be alert, anticipate and ready to move very quickly, this is because a 'front on' view is useless, as you cannot see the contact.

Mistakes like this usually happen late on in games, at times when referees are tired. To conserve that little bit of energy we have in the dying embers of the game we forfeit a little bit of our positioning by failing to get wider and deeper. We run in straighter lines to cut off corners, we fail to track all the way to the corner flag when the defender holds the ball there, we fail to keep the ball between us and the assistant - the preferred protocol. All of this is designed to conserve energy because we are getting tired. Basically, we cheat with our exertions and we pray to the gods that nothing will happen.

Unfortunately for Rob Styles, he did and it did. Why he allowed this I do not know. Premier League referees have to be fit; their physical status is closely monitored. I can't imagine for one moment he is below par, however he got the wrong side of the challenge, had a front on position and guessed Finnan had kicked Malouda. As we know the Frenchman was simply jumping away, and a yard to the right or left and Styles would have seen the challenge for what it was.

My episode of shame also came during a live TV game, Balestier Khalsa vs Singapore U23s in the 2005 S-League. I had cheated on a challenge by moving inside - a straighter line and one considerably easier than running toward the touchline outside of the players. I did have the side on view of the challenge and was only six yards away as the two opponents slid into each other. Perfect, I even had a good view as the ball ran past my feet to make sure there were to be no 'afters' as the players remained on the floor; legs tangled.

Happy with this I then turned to refocus on the continuing play. Big problem, Singapore's new signing from China had been challenged knee high, off the ball, and was falling to the ground in agony. I saw no challenge; I could certainly guess what had happened. The difference between Rob Styles and myself was that he guessed wrong, whereas I did not act upon my guess. We both failed! Had I have taken up the correct but harder position in order to conserve that little bit of energy I would have still been looking in-field and would have seen the second challenge. Had Rob have done the same he would have seen his.

We both shared the embarrassment of having to watch TV recordings of our failings in cringing detail. He had to call Rafa Benitez to apologise, I had to write offering my apology and admission that had I have seen the tackle first hand I would have sent off the offender - he was subsequently fined and banned - see TV evidence does work.

Why? Styles was either un-fit, lazy or simply lost concentration, there can be no other excuse. He knows the optimum refereeing position for such an attack, he knows he should have been there, he wasn't, but I bet you he will be next time.

Dave Roberts is an Anchor on ESPN Soccernet Press Pass, Sportscenter and Soccernet Sportscenter. He is also an international referee.


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