I didn't get to see the Ben Thatcher challenge on Pedro Mendes until yesterday. For anyone wanting to relive the horror, you can find it here.
I know there is a lot of hyperbole surrounding football these days, but having watched this particular incident a dozen times, it gets worse with every viewing. I have genuinely not seen a worse assualt (I am reluctant to even call it a challenge considering the ball was long gone and you can tell that Thatcher never gave that the slightest consideration anyway) in a long long time.
This incident has raised a few interesting points.
Firstly, the FA have charged Thatcher with "serious foul play" even though referee Dermot Gallagher dealt with the incident at the time by awarding Thatcher a yellow card. Referees are not allowed to retrospectively upgrade red cards, but the FA is calling the matter "an exceptional case" and has charged the City defender.
I agree with the fact that Thatcher should be sanctioned, but it strikes me as yet another instance of the FA's complete inconsistency in dealing with disciplinary matters. Surely we either use retrospective video evidence, or we don't. If Andy Todd can use video evidence to appeal successfully against a red card then surely the FA ought to be able to use video evidence to retrospectively award a red card?
Secondly, Greater Manchester Police received several complaints following the match about the incident. So far they have not launched an investigation as they have yet to receive a formal complaint from either Mendes, Portsmouth or the FA. Notwithstanding this, it raises the interesting question of whether the police should get involved with incidents that happen on the field of play during a game.
There have been several incidents where they have become involved (and I don't mean for breach of the peace offences) - one recalls Gordon Watson's successful court case against Kevin Gray and Huddersfield when he suffered a double fracture of his leg following a reckless challenge.
There is always an argument trotted out that "if you elbowed someone like that on the street, you would be arrested". Whilst I can see that might be true, it is also true that you don't slide tackle pedestrians, or stand behind them to stop them getting into Sainsburys, or grab hold of their shirt to stop them getting onto the bus. Real life is not a football match. And to some degree a football match is not real life.
In this instance, I would like to see Thatcher banned/sacked/thrown out of the game as necessary as whilst there is a judgement call to be made about what constitutes a tough challenge and what constitutes a physical assault, I think this was so far into that second category that it becomes indefensible. You only have to see the reactions of Harry Redknapp, Mendes himself, other players and Stuart Pearce (who has been magnificent, in my opinion on the whole matter) to see that there is a consensus that what Thatcher did was completely inexcusable.
The final issue this raises is one that has always puzzled me. Referee Dermot Gallagher who only awarded a yellow card to Thatcher is facing a demotion to the Coca-Cola League as a punishment for not sending him off.
I always find this a little bizarre. Surely the Coca-Cola Leagues deserve exactly the same standard of refereeing as the Premiership? If a referee is deemed unsuitable to be officiating in the Premiership, how does that make him competent enough to referee another league? To me, it reinforces the divide between the leagues and somehow suggests that the League is getting an inferior standard of referee. If I was rubbish at my job, they wouldn't just shift me elsewhere to do it for a bit, they would stop me doing it altogether for a period. I don't agree with the demotion of referees anyway - they make mistakes in their job sometimes like we all do - but if they are going to punish referees they should simply suspend them from all competition for a period for "re-training" or something rather than tell Derby or Huddersfield or whoever else that they have a ref officiating their game who was deemed incompetent.
Finally, you will notice that Mike Dean was so scared that he would be demoted to the League's that he sent two players off in the same match yesterday for apparent use of the elbow. Both Herman Hreidarsson and Kevin Davies saw red in the Charlton v Bolton game for this offence. You watch - the knock on effect of demoting referees for not awarding a red card for an elbow will see a flurry of dismissals for this reason. And that can't be good for the game either, can it?