I would not be writing this Post if we had lost.
Because in the crapstorm that would have inevitably followed, any complaints about the referee would have been written off as sour grapes.
But, basking in the still-warm afterglow of that most tortuous, thrilling and ultimately satisfying of Cup Final victories, I feel that Probert’s performance should not pass without detailed comment.
Frankly he was appalling.
The vast majority of his misjudgments went against The Arsenal, but Hull were also on the wrong end of a couple of decisions (not least the fact that the corner that led to our equaliser should actually have been a goal kick).
In the first half he allowed Hull’s clearly deliberate tactic of rotational fouling to go unpunished for far too long.
You didn’t have to be Einstein to work out that part of Steve Bruce’s pre-game instructions to his players would have been to “get in our faces” and disrupt the fluidity of our midfield work.
Rotational fouling (where players take it in turns to commit the fouls to reduce the likelihood of yellow cards) is a tactic straight out of the Alex Ferguson playbook and one with which Bruce is undoubtedly familiar.
These days referees are meant to be alert to the tactic and will normally issue a yellow after, say, the third deliberate little foul even if it is only the first offence for that particular player.
Probert allowed foul after foul to go by without producing a card. Although Arsenal started the game hesitantly, the referee’s refusal to deal with this illegal Hull tactic undoubtedly contributed to our slow start.
This is from the BBC’s Live Blog of the game:
Foul by Stephen Quinn (Hull City).
Foul by Liam Rosenior (Hull City).
Foul by Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull City).
Foul by David Meyler (Hull City).
Foul by Alex Bruce (Hull City).
Foul by Alex Bruce (Hull City).
Foul by Liam Rosenior (Hull City).
Foul by Jake Livermore (Hull City).
Foul by Tom Huddlestone (Hull City).
Foul by Matty Fryatt (Hull City).
Ten fouls in a little over half an hour, by seven different players: a textbook example of Rotational Fouling in action.
The fact that Probert did not produce a yellow card for a Hull player until well into the second half (Tom Hundredstone was booked on the hour mark) is simply terrible officiating.
I have already mentioned that we should not have been awarded the corner that led to our second goal (the ball went straight out off Sanogo’s heel) and it’s no surprise that that’s the one aspect of Probert’s performance the media have focused on. But it’s also worth noting that Hull’s second goal came from a free kick that was not a free kick (it should have been a throw-in to Hull).
Then we come to the penalties. Or, rather, the non-penalties, since they were not given.
Here’s what I remember from watching live:
A Hull defender saving a possible goal inside his own six yard box with his hands: the ball deflected onto his hands from quite close by – but it should have been a penalty because his hands were not in a “natural” position – they were raised above his head in the manner of a goalkeeper.
Giroud being dragged to the ground by Hundredstone, whose trailing arm was around the Frenchman’s throat.
Santi Cazorla skinning Davies in the Hull area then getting tripped.
Santi being bundled over in the area with an elbow in the back moments before the ball had reached him (I make this latter point because there could have been an argument – still flimsy – that, had he been in possession of the ball, it was a legitimate attempt at a tackle. But without the ball – a clear and blatant foul).
I may even have missed one, but the four penalty shouts above were all, to me, clear penalties.
You never expect to get all your legitimate penalty shouts (especially if you’re an Arsenal fan) but to get zero out of four? Very, very odd.
Which brings us back to Probert.
Is it possible that he had it in for Arsenal? Well, if this were an episode of CSI, you wouldn’t have to look far for a motive. In 2009 he was the fourth official at Old Trafford when Arsene Wenger was sent to sit among the United supporters for the heinous crime of kicking a water bottle.
When the League Managers Association subsequently apologised to Le Boss, its chief executive Richard Bevan said
“Probert totally failed to manage the situation and created a needless pressure point taking the focus away from the pitch in a big event with only a minute to go.“
No-one likes to be publicly criticized – and for those who are it is often easier not to focus on their own failings and, instead, to project the blame onto the true victim (in this case, Arsene).
Could Probert have a grudge against Arsene Wenger? Possibly.
But perhaps a more realistic explanation was given by Shard in the comments here on AA:
“I didn’t think he was necessarily out to screw us. But this is where the media coverage makes a difference. He knows he’ll get a much easier ride in the media (and hence with his bosses) if it’s Arsenal he screws over rather than Hull. Hence his reluctance to give a penalty even when they were quite obvious.
“Because just in case it shouldn’t have been a penalty, he would be slaughtered. As it is the media are focusing on a wrongly awarded corner to Arsenal from which we scored and the penalties are forgotten. Can you imagine the uproar if any similar penalty incidents went against Hull? It doesn’t excuse his abysmal performance, but perhaps it explains it.”
Perhaps it does indeed.
I have written before about how Arsenal regularly gets poor treatment from referees partly because of the media-inspired campaign against Wenger and aginst the whole culture of our club.
Add to that the layer of the “romance of the Cup” with “plucky underdogs” taking on big, bad Arsenal and you can get a sense of why Probert may have made the decisions he did.
It’s reminiscent of the way Phil Dowd, in the game at Newcastle where we were 4-0 up at half time and ended up drawing 4-4, got totally wrapped up in the “’Toon comeback” to the extent that he stopped being an impartial officiator and became part of the process of making the fairytale come true.
Probert may have crossed the same line without even consciously being aware of it.
It doesn’t excuse his performance (I hope he re-watches it several times and pauses to consider just how awful it was) but it might just explain it.
I’m sorry if this comes off as a negative Post – I’m not feeling in the tiniest bit negative: I am truly very happy.
But I have no doubt that we triumphed in the Cup Final despite Probert – and that’s quite a damning indictment of a supposedly professional referee in the English game’s biggest occasion of the year.