Mark Halsey and the Can of Worms

The Premier League season has kicked off with referees and rule-changing being at the heart of Stoke’s campaign. Twice the Potters have been penalised for contact in the penalty area thanks to new referee enforcements, which don’t seem to be carried out consistently through the rest of the FA’s officials. The controversy was added this weekend with the release of Mark Halsey’s autobiography. He claims that officiating bodies have put him “under pressure” to change his decisions post match on whether he had seen incidents in a match and, in turn, allow the FA to proceed with retrospective punishments. The incident he refers to involves Stoke and therefore a lot of Potters fans have been made aware of this breaking news. There have been many interpretations to this story: some of which are true, some exaggerated and some completely false; it’s only fair that fans are painted the correct picture of the situation and not left angry or concerned about things that are non-existent.


As mentioned earlier: former Premier League referee Mark Halsey released his autobiography recently and in it he writes a memoir regarding a certain situation concerning a match between Blackburn Rovers & Stoke City back in 2011. Playing for Rovers at the time was Steven N’Zonzi (who incidentally would join Stoke just months later) and in the game he was associated with two alleged incidents in which he elbowed two Stoke players. N’Zonzi was not punished by match official Halsey and was, controversially, not sent off for his actions. However, N’Zonzi was charged retrospectively by the FA for violent conduct and banned for three matches. The FA said that Halsey had not seen the incident and, looking back at video footage of the match, the governing body was able to enforce the ban on the Rovers midfielder.

Genuine Quotes

Five years later, with the release of his autobiography, Halsey spoke to the Sun newspaper about the incident and had this to say:

“I saw the incident between Steven Nzonzi and Ryan Shawcross and was happy it was not a red card. Then, when the assessor came in, he said there was no problem and that I’d refereed very well.

“On the Monday we had our get-together with referees at Warwick University and I was told, ‘Look at this’ and I was still happy with the decision. I was told to expect a call from the FA compliance department, which I duly got.

“When I got the call I said I was still happy — but they said my bosses weren’t happy. I was under pressure to say I hadn’t seen it.I was furious but no matter what industry you are in, you do what your bosses say. So he was charged and got three matches.

“I know it goes on because other referees have told me. Nothing can happen because nobody can say anything publically as a referee. But I suspect it does go on. There are outside influences on different situations.”

“I was furious, I didn’t want Steven Nzonzi charged. I was not happy. I’m honest but what can you do when the management tell you to do something? You can’t speak out but you should not be put in that situation anyway. It’s obvious why they do it, as some get charged and others don’t.”

Clearly, Halsey is suggesting that refereeing bodies are suggesting to referees to (incorrectly) say that they have missed incidents in matches and approve retrospective action. It’s important to say that Halsey means that this pressure comes from refereeing governing body PGMOL and not directly from the FA. This is a huge revelation, considering that retrospective action cannot be applied on a player if the match’s referee says he acknowledged the incident live in the game. If true, it would imply that PGMOL are trying to protect themselves and their referees from admitting that officials are not enforcing the FA’s rules in matches and further stirring the cauldron of inconsistency from one referee to another. Are we still seeing this problem today? Considering the new law surrounding man-handling in the penalty area and even Sergio Aguero’s elbow incident, in which he was charged with retrospective action since he was not punished in the game itself.

Halsey goes on to try and provide a little more substance In his book, he goes on further to say that former colleague, Lee Mason, also was victim of this problem. He talks in regard of “that time that time when Wayne Rooney swore into a TV camera in a game at West Ham.”

“No referee would have sent him off for that but Lee came under pressure to report that he hadn’t seen it but would have given a red card if he had seen it. That way, as in my case, the FA could take retrospective action.”

Mason has not yet answered to these quotes and it’s not exactly clear whether Halsey knows that Mason has struggled with the same pressure, or if he is just assuming this is the case. But if it’s known that ref’s have been advised to bend the truth on multiple occasions, then it adds to the argument that this is more than a one off affair and this kind of action is taken often. If this is the case, the correct thing for the PGMOL to do would be to allow officials to be able to be honest in their post-match assessments and acknowledge that there is an inconsistency between referees. Otherwise, even the governing body is becoming inconsistent in the application of the regulations!

The Wind-up

An image has been doing the rounds on social media in relation to these events containing a largely false quote from Halsey:


“I have been in that situation when I have seen an incident and have been told to say I haven’t seen it. To be fair to the FA… it’s not them. It comes from the PGMOL [Professional Game Match Officials Limited]. It doesn’t stop there. We’ve been told to give a certain amount of corners, or throw ins, or fouls, bookings etc. The Premier League is rife with spot fixing and bias towards certain clubs from the FA. Every referee in the Premier League could be infront (sic) of a court one day soon.”.

This quote is false and is the work of a notorious user (@WeahsCousin) on Twitter who is a repeat offender of releasing these mis-quote pranks. Halsey has inferred previously that he’s been in this situation previously and the problem stems from the PGMOL. But the remaining contents of the quote are completely fake and Halsey has not suggested that ref’s are given guidelines to follow throughout matches such as the ones wrote about in the image. Although funny and obviously no harm was meant from the Twitter user, when concerns that the quotes in this image are genuine it obviously causes some people to make incorrect claims about the game and can easily spread through the football community. Essentially, just be careful what you’re reading about this situation, and others in the future, because it’s easy in this age of social media dominance that you could be getting mugged off. Not that we don’t encourage these kinds of pranks: to be honest, it adds a bit of silly into quite a serious allegations.

Mark Halsey’s opened a can of worms, but football’s not gone to the dogs just yet.

Written by Ben Rowley

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