Another game, another controversial incident and refereeing decision, and another set of different accounts of what happened, this time from the players as well as the managers. And this time - unlike the Blizzard-Basey incident, which was blindingly obvious to all concerned except for a muppet called Trollope, with the TV footage to prove it - we’re the accused, not the accusers, and the clips from the BBC at least failed to clear up any uncertainty (to date I haven’t found anything on Youtube that covered the incident). Nicky Bailey has been branded a cheat by his former manager, Steve Tilson, for supposedly getting Southend’s Jean-Francois Christophe sent off – and for good measure Bailey has responded with a tirade of his own. Is there any way of telling what happened, beyond the obvious we’re right and they’re wrong?
For the record I honestly didn’t see what happened. We had just conceded a free kick on the edge of the area and I’d turned sideways to exchange knowing glances with friends (which without the need for words amounted to ‘don’t worry, Elliot will save this one brilliantly, although he might let an easy one under his body in a few minutes’). By the time I looked back, in response to the crowd noise, Bailey was on the ground. Only two people I spoke to on the night claimed more insight. One of our group was convinced that a punch had been thrown by Christophe and that there was at least intent, although she couldn’t say whether it landed (and given the view from where we were standing that’s not surprising). The other was a Southend supporter on the train back to London. He wasn’t sure about a punch but basically said Christophe is an idiot (he described him as his least favourite Southend player) and noted that there was no real complaint from the player when the red card was shown.
What can be gleaned from the accounts of the four main protagonists, Christophe, Bailey, Tilson and Parkinson? I think each of them are revealing in their own way, when you read between the lines and look at what each of them doesn’t say.
Christophe: According to the Southend website, Christophe (who now faces a four-game ban having been sent off earlier in the season) says “I just pushed him in the chest – I never hit him – and he fell to the floor like I had punched him in the face. The next thing I see is him rolling around like a dog – its a bit embarrassing. I was disappointed to see that, we are on the pitch to play football. I know I shouldn’t have pushed him but the way he reacted he knew exactly what he was doing which is bad for football and bad for us.” He added that “the strangest thing was that the referee only gave Bailey a yellow card which I felt was harsh” and that “the referee didn’t say anything to me. I just said ‘did you see what he did to me’ and he just gave me the red card”.
Tilson: Again from the Southend website, he said “we know what Bailey is about; he’s diving and rolling around on the pitch and that says it all. It’s not the first time he’s done it and it’s a pretty regular thing with Nicky”.
Parkinson: According to our website, he said: “Christophe's run over and punched Bailey. The only player that the Southend management should be disappointed in is their own player. When you run 20 yards and punch an opponent, you're off the pitch, and when someone that size punches you, you're going to go down. Sometimes as a player, you're best off going down and then you don't end up having a brawl. So Nick went down. He got punched, and that's it. It was a red card and I think when Steve Tilson sees that in the pictures, he can have no complaints. Nick ran over and pushed a player out of the way and then Christophe's run over and punched him, so I thought the ref called that about right. Nicky probably deserved his yellow. But it was also a definite red in my eyes.”
Bailey: From The Mirror this time: "I find his (Tilson’s) comments quite laughable. I was punched by one of the Southend players. To call me a cheat from 25 yards away at full-time and in all interviews after the game is a total disgrace. It was clearly stated that Tilson gave instructions to his team to wind me up and get me sent off. Cheating is not a word that I have ever been associated with. I still have many friends at Southend and just believe that Tilson was disappointed with the result, so someone had to take the flack."
A Shrimpers24 website seems to lay into Parkinson’s account of the incident, particularly the idea that a player might be ‘best off’ going down rather than having a brawl. But there’s more fun to be had from the Southend official website report on the game. This begins with the wonderful sentence: “it was an all too familiar case of déjà vu for Southend United ....” Now call me a linguistic pedant if you like, but I’ve never once come across an unfamiliar case of déjà vu. It goes on to describe Bailey’s “pathetic actions” and says that “as Christophe went to pick up the ball he was pushed in the back by Bailey and as the French midfielder confronted him, Bailey dramatically fell to the floor as if he was looking for a late entry into this year’s Oscars, even though there was no contact”. Well, overlooking the clumsy English ‘no contact’ is a hard position to defend in light of what Christophe has already owned up to. One advantage of being a blogger is being able make mistakes in accounts of games (even sometimes spouting utter nonsense) without being called to account. But an official match report surely has to aim a little higher, especially when the account is contradicted by what Christophe has said.
It is evident that the accounts of Tilson and Southend supporters (bar the reasonable one on the train) are heavily tainted by their feelings towards Bailey (the same comes across in other comments posted by Southend fans; they just don’t like him any more, hell hath no fury etc). Even if you take Christophe’s account verbatim at the least he got involved and made some sort of deliberate contact with Bailey. So I’m instructing the jury to disregard these testimonies. They are biased, prejudiced, and inaccurate. In the interests of balance, perhaps it’s also best to disregard what Parkinson said. He not surprisingly wants to defend our player. In any event, I don’t feel that his evidence is necessary for the case for the prosecution.
In the absence of conclusive video footage (which of course may yet emerge) I think the compelling evidence (exhibit A if you like) is still on the Southend site, in the photo gallery. The first image shows Bailey hitting the ground and Christophe’s right arm outstretched. Just looking at it suggests to me that Bailey and Christophe’s account of the ‘contact’ might not be contradictory. What the former calls a punch and the latter a shove can be one and the same, especially if a shove in the chest in an upward fashion extends to catching the player in the face. The photo at least shows Christophe’s fist not being clenched, supporting his choice of term, but that’s not to say that Bailey knew at the time whether or not it was a punch. And going back to Christophe’s account, he seems to be annoyed by the fact that Bailey was only given a yellow and him a red, not that either deserved to be let off.
Summing up, on the evidence available it seems to me that Christophe was perhaps a little unlucky to get a red card rather than a yellow, but that the action the referee took cannot be said to have been clearly wrong. The ref saw it as a punch and took the appropriate action. Christophe, like any other player, knows they lay themselves open to be red carded if they do something like that. Did Bailey overreact? Only he knows, but I think there’s no reason to doubt his account that he was caught in the face, whether or not with a punch or a shove in the chest that ended up in his face. In any event, how Bailey reacted is irrelevant to the actual offence.
Bottom line is that if Southend are really that aggrieved why aren’t they appealing against the red card? Perhaps they’re waiting for the referee’s report, but more likely they’re well aware that the outcome is more likely to be an extension to the ban for a frivolous appeal than the red card being overturned. We shall see.
Ah, were it that we were still in The Premiership. The incident would have been picked up by different cameras from different angles and we’d know for sure. But if that were the case that git Blizzard would be sitting out a long ban and we wouldn’t have to listen to BBC pundits drooling over a goal he scored at the weekend (stuck in the throat even if it was against Colchester). What happened to Arsenal’s Ramsey at the weekend was obviously horrific and he deserves all our sympathy. But the actual tackle by Shawcross looked far less malicious and reckless than that perpetrated by Blizzard (which is not to say that Blizzard intended to put Basey out for the season or that Shawcross doesn't deserve his coming ban). Wasn’t in The Premiership, so who cares?