Sendings off that changed a game

So, Manchester United felt hard done by following their Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid on Tuesday.  The cause of their beef lay in the red card Nani received, after which ‘the game totally changed’ according to Mike Phelan.  To say such a thing is entirely hypothetical, as no-one knows how the game would have continued had Nani stayed on the pitch – Mourinho may have sent on Luka Modric anyway, and encouraged his team to attack more, which may have reaped rewards even against 11 men.  But what is certain is that before the sending-off, United were winning and looking as comfortable as it is possible to look against a team brimming with such attacking talent; afterwards they conceded 2 goals, and, despite working hard and creating several half-chances, scored none.  It certainly seems like Phelan’s assertion is correct.

This got me thinking about other games, where a sending-off has apparently changed the course of a game, and here are a couple of examples:

Tony Gale, West Ham v Nottingham Forest, FA Cup Semi-Final 1991

‘I’ve never forgiven him’ said Tony Gale in 2011 about Keith Hackett, the referee who sent him off.  Twenty years after the incident, and the resentment clearly still lingered.  West Ham, were a Second Division side at the time (back in the days when Second Division meant Second Division, men were still men, and you were allowed to hack off an opponent’s leg without censure provided it happened in the first 10 minutes. Pah!), embroiled in an ultimately successful promotion campaign, and their side contained several excellent players – the silky smooth playmaker Ian Bishop, the flaky but occasionally unstoppable Stuart Slater on the wing, and Gale, the dictionary definition of good solid pro, at the back.  They had also notched up some noticeable results on the way to the semi-finals, thrashing First Division Luton 5-0 in a Fourth Round replay, and then surprising Everton 2-1 in the Quarter-Finals.  Their opponents would be a Nottingham Forest side, who always seemed to be bothering the latter stages of cup competitions in the late 80s/early 90s.

Brian Clough famously never won the FA Cup during his managerial career, and, with said career clearly coming to end (he bowed out 2 seasons later following Forest’s relegation) there was a certain amount of popular support for the green-jumper-wearing maverick.  However, despite all the posthumous Clough-worshipping, and the fact he was utterly unique and clearly an incredible manager with a knack for making almost every player play to his utmost potential, he was a bit of an obnoxious twat at times, and, given the Brit’s love of the underdog, I remember clearly wanting West Ham to win, as I settled down in front of the telly.

West Ham started the stronger, and were on the front foot when the incident occurred in the 22nd minute.  I have only a hazy memory of it, and the only YouTube video of the match scandalously omits the red card, but from what I remember, Forest’s right-winger Gary Crosby broke away at least 40 yards from goal, and was lightly bundled to the floor by Gale.  In all probability, by modern standards the red card would be justified; Gale was denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and the distance from goal or severity of foul is immaterial.  However, at the time, the ruling on professional fouls was less clear cut, and referees tended only to send players off for bad fouls, or ones much closer to goal.  Or so we thought.  In actual fact, during the preceding week league referees had been told, according to Hackett, that ‘a simple foul was all that was necessary for a sending-off.’  So, when Hackett produced the red card the shock was huge to everyone, be they player, spectator or commentator.  The Hammers held out until half-time, but once Crosby scored the first goal, they capitulated, and goals from Stuart Pearce, a young Roy Keane and Gary Charles ensured an ultimately comfortable 4-0 win for Forest.

To an extent this match has defined both Gale’s and Hackett’s career.  Gale played over 700 senior games, and won the League with Blackburn in 1995, but is most remembered for the day when he became the first high-profile casualty of the FA’s decision to tighten the rule on what referees call DOGSO (denial of goalscoring opportunity).  Hackett is now General Manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, but says ‘it’s all people ever talk to Gale about.  That goes for me too.’

Antonio Rattin, Argentina v England, World Cup Quarter-Final 1966

Horacio Troche, Uruguay v West Germany, World Cup Quarter-Final 1966

In a sense both of these sendings off are linked.  They occurred on the same day (July 23rd) and occurred in a World Cup Quarter-Final between a European team and a South American team.  A West German (Rudolf Kreitlein) sent off the Argentinean, and an Englishman (Jim Finney) sent off the Uruguayan.  Both matches showcased different styles of thuggery – straightforward strong tackling and clear fouling from the Europeans, more niggling, underhand tactics from the South Americans.  At least that’s how it’s seen in this country.

It’s easy to forget, given that they were playing with home advantage, how good England actually were in 1966.  Watch footage of their games, and the fluidity of their passing, along with the way the midfield change positions is reminiscent (or prescient) of, if not Holland 1974, then certainly the West German vintage of the same year, or maybe the Danish team of the mid 80s.  Yes they occasionally looked a little blunt up front, and too often resorted to speculative shots from long distance, but when one of the players taking said shots is Bobby Charlton, maybe that wasn’t such a bad tactic.

West Germany were also a terrific side.  Next time you have a spare moment, watch a compilation of Beckenbauer’s moments from the 1966 World Cup – it’s a true joy to behold, some of football’s most aesthetically pleasing moments.  Helmut Haller was an uncompromising goal machine up front, Wolfgang Overath could run and pass until he dropped, and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger was a superb left-back. 

As for the South Americans, both teams were seen as talented but pragmatic.  Gone was the fragile, beautiful Argentinean team of the 40s and 50s, scarred forever by a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Czechoslovakia in 1958.  In their stead was a group of hard but skilful individuals, marshalled by the metronomic passing of Antonio Rattin, and spearheaded by finisher supreme Luis Artime (24 goals in 25 internationals).  Gone too was the Uruguay of 1950 and 1954, full of attacking intent, and always looking to force the play.  In their stead was defensive organisation, coupled with the knowledge that players such as Pedro Rocha and Julio Cesar Cortes could be relied upon to provide attacking inspiration if need be.  The only goal they had conceded in the group games had been a penalty given for a foul committed outside the penalty area.

To the games.  It is difficult to find a balanced view on the England v Argentina game in this country – but it appears that the England players were subjected to sly digs behind the referee’s back from the first whistle.  At a time when even bookings were relatively rare, Rudolf Kreitlein had cautioned 5 players within the first half-hour, including Rattin and (surprisingly) Bobby Charlton.  There were few clear cut chances within this time, just a couple of long range efforts that whistled wide, before Kreitlein, with Argentina faffing about in their own left-back area, suddenly pointed Rattin towards the dressing room.  What happened next is well-known with Rattin refusing to leave the field (he later claimed he was asking for an interpreter, although a referee pointing a player off the pitch is fairly clear in terms of body language) and then encouraging the rest of the team to follow him off.  Eight minutes of wrangling ensued before the game could continue, with Rattin slowly making his way around the perimeter of the pitch.  A man light, Argentina (who had been warned about their conduct earlier in the tournament following a bad-tempered draw against West Germany) became less and less subtle in their violence, and as a result England struggled to find any rhythm to their game.  Eventually, Geoff Hurst (replacing the injured Jimmy Greaves) neatly glanced in a Martin Peters cross, and England prevailed, but Rattin’s dismissal meant Argentina were even less inclined than in the group games to show themselves as an attacking force.  This game really started the England-Argentina football rivalry, inflamed by Alf Ramsey preventing George Cohen from swapping shirts with Alberto Gonzalez at the end of the game, although the Argentinean just wandered over to Ray Wilson and swapped with him instead.

Meanwhile, up at Hillsborough, a similar game was being played.  The difference in this one is that the West Germans took a fluky lead after 11 minutes, Haller unwittingly deflecting in Siggi Held’s shot, forcing Uruguay to come out of their shell, which they did to great effect.  Goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski made two excellent saves, as did defender Schnellinger.  For some unfathomable reason, however, the referee failed to notice that Schnellinger had clearly used his hands in making said save (it’s crystal clear on the TV footage), which helped fuel a Uruguayan sense of injustice.  What also niggled them was the tendency of the West Germans to exaggerate the effect of any foul they suffered (probably influencing a 2-year-old Jurgen Klinsmann).  Five minutes into the second half, with the South Americans looking the more likely to break the deadlock, captain Troche lost his cool, kicking Lothar Emmerich in the stomach.  Five minutes later, Hector Silva, who earlier had flicked a boot at Tilkowski as he collected a loose ball, was sent off for absolutely leathering Haller near the centre circle, before, hilariously, going over to the stricken West German, pretending to apologise, while grinding his studs into his ankle.  Two men down, Uruguay continued to try and score, but were picked off with ease by the Europeans, and lost 4-0.

There were dark mutterings from the South Americans about a FIFA directive instructing referees to go easy on the more muscular type of play preferred by the Europeans (Pele and Brazil were kicked out of the tournament by Portugal), and in a tournament of 5 sendings off, 4 were against West Germany.  Plausible as that may sound, it is more probable that European referees were used to European tackling, South American players were not, and therefore a sense of injustice grew within them as games, and the tournament, progressed.

An interesting post-script to the England v Argentina game; in the wake of the Rattin incident where he appeared not to understand that he had been sent off, and the fact that Jack Charlton didn’t realise he’d been cautioned during the match until afterwards, Ken Aston, head of the FIFA Referee’s Committee at the time, decided to look into a clearer method of indicating when a player had been booked or sent off.  With the help of a set of traffic lights, red and yellow cards were born.


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