Why consistent Kevin Friend was right to send off Matt Duke


Okay, I’ll admit it. I was wrong. When Matt Duke stared up at that raised red card with the big, sad eyes of a puppy being ordered outside for peeing on the carpet, my heart broke. Bradford were done for. Already three goals down, now they were a player down. 

“Why did you have to go and do that, Kevin Friend?!” I tweeted. Because it’s his job, would have been the simple answer. Caught up in the excitement of an extraordinary atmosphere, I forgot to do mine. 

Friend was right. Duke had to go. There can be no room for sentiment in an official’s mindset, not least because it would have been a bit patronising. 

Manager Phil Parkinson begged to differ afterwards, which is to be expected, but what was Friend to do? Turn to the Swansea players and say, “Look lads, their squad only cost £7,500 and they haven’t had a shot yet. Some of their fans have travelled thousands of miles for this. If I give him a yellow card, will you all just nod politely and get on with it?” Actually, Swansea City seems like such a nice club, that’s probably exactly what they’d have done. 

It’s hard enough to referee a football match anyway without compromising the rule book on a heartstring-by-heartstring basis. But if we all agree that ‘consistency’ is the way to go, can we also agree to stick to our guns in the future?

There is little in football that annoys me more than people who demand ‘a bit of common sense’ one week and then veer off a week later to announce that all they are looking for is, “a bit of consistency.” You cannot have both, it doesn’t work like that. And don’t say, “Can’t we have consistent common sense,” because that by definition is ‘common sense.’ Pick a team.

In fact, pick the right team. Pick ‘consistency’. If you jump up and land both studs on the kneecap of another man inside the first 20 seconds of the game, then you’re off. And you’re an idiot. If you’re a 17-year old debutant and it’s your birthday and your mother’s last wish before she was eaten by that shark was for you to play Premier League football, it can make no difference. Consistency, you see. That way, we all know where we are. 

It’s how the referees are trained anyway, so we might as well get on board. The Premier League, with their assessors, the delegates and their detailed post-match prozone analysis, want each official to provide consistency over the course of their game. There is room for manoeuvre on a game-by-game basis where players might be handled slightly differently if, for example, there were heightened tensions, but over 90 minutes there has to be solidity. 

They’re trained pretty well too. The Premier League claim that their referees are getting 93% of the major decisions correct. They’re never going to get 100% of them right, not least because so much comes down to interpretation, not just of what they’ve seen,  but of what they conclude will happen next. Nevertheless, 93% will do me fine.

So, I’m sorry, Kevin. I knew I was wrong within sixty seconds of sending the tweet. Fortunately, you didn’t need that much time to make the right decision. 

Read more football opinions from the amazing Iain Macintosh