Thanks to a spectacular WWE body slam and that red-mist Matic moment, the subject of retaliation is back in vogue.
Chelsea went to great, some might say extreme lengths to make their feelings clear on the issue this week, but where do you stand?
As someone that was once red carded for shoving an opponent to the floor (the appropriately named Boston United midfielder Jim Dick) I do have an opinion or two to share.
First thing's first: I wish I’d thumped said opponent in January 2001, rather than placing two hands on his chest, and electing to push. Given his tumble, fans with an obscured view would have assumed I had anyway.
The flare-up started when I was knocked to the floor in the 34th minute. With the ball still between my feet, I sat on my backside and one of those messy tangles quickly ensued. Boston wanted to snatch the ball from me. I didn’t want them to have it. No whistle had blown, so play was still alive.
Surrounded by bodies involved in the melee, Mr Dick callously stamped his studs right down my shin with great force, knowing that nobody would see. My pads luckily absorbed the impact but it was the most deliberate leg-breaker I’d ever experienced.
With the whistle now blown for a drop ball I leapt to my feet, politely asked the Pilgrims player what he was thinking (OK, I may sworn A LOT) and shoved him angrily in the chest. Four rolls later, and with their delightful manager Steve Evans screaming for a red card to be shown - along with two or three thousand home fans - I was inevitably given my marching orders.
A three-match ban was mine. So too, a crippling fine of two weeks wages from my club, Stevenage.
I didn’t think it was fair justice, but my appeal to the manager and chairman fell on deaf ears. You retaliated. You let the team down, son. No sympathy was forthcoming.
So, when I saw Jose Mourinho and co fighting so hard for Matic to be let off the hook this week, my initial reaction was one of personal envy. Why didn’t I get that support? Given I don’t believe Ashley Barnes meant to hurt the Serbian anyway, he was lucky to have such backing. After all, just like me, his reaction had let the rest of the side down.
Were the FA commission right to reduce Matic’s ban to two matches, citing ‘mitigation’? No. It was a poor decision in my view.
A can of dangerous worms has now been opened. Every player that sees red for a raging reaction can rightly argue that the provocation which came before it, should be taken into account for their actions.
Even though my experience was an unhappy one, if we think it’s wrong to retaliate (which I still do) then the action a player takes should be punishable on that alone, not what happened to provoke it. As a footballer I eventually accepted that.
Given no further action has been taken against Barnes it’s also surely contradictory to suggest there was ‘mitigation’ to Matic’s response? It makes no sense to me that Chelsea still feel ‘appalled’
Anyway…hopefully this episode will at least nudge the authorities into making their rules clearer when it comes to retaliation, or any other form of on-pitch violence.
To me it does seem ridiculous that a player who lightly brushes his head into another, or someone that pushes a rival in the chest, can get the same punishment as a career-threatening fouler, or someone like Worcester City’s Shab Khan, who executed a perfect body slam against Stockport last weekend.
The area is far too grey, and is too often dependent on the reaction (or acting skills) of the player who has been ‘struck’.
It’s wrong to grade retaliation on what happened to spark it, but it’s 100 per cent right to judge which offences are more serious and dangerous than another. That is what the FA should focus on instead.
And you know what also still rankles? Even though we lost three quick goals after I’d been sent off (and went down to nine men in the second half) Stevenage still fought back to draw 3-3. The team didn’t even miss me! Football, eh?