Hull City 0 Hednesford Town 2

Imagine this. You are an overweight, middle-aged man. You have
a dead end job, where no one likes you. You dye your hair black
and sport a stupid little toothbrush moustache, but you still
enjoy not the slightest hint of success in your occasional forays
into your town’s bars in search of a pull. Not even your cheap
and nasty aftershave helps you when your chat-up line is “I’ve
got a lovely whistle”. Your own mother forgets your birthday. So
what do you do to try and cover up your deep feelings of anxiety
and inadequacy? You become a football referee, of course. And you
exercise your power-without-responsibility to the aggravation of
players county-wide, and eventually country-wide. The desperate
lack of refereeing competence in England means that one day you
find yourself elevated to take charge of an FA Cup tie between
a highly respected League club, with a tradition going back over
90 years, and a poorly supported bunch of non-League non-
entities, enjoying a brief flirtation with life outside the West
Midlands Sunday League. You know that the game is one of several
at which the Match of the Day cameras will be present, but if the
League side wins, the game will be no more than a footnote to the
programme, and your chance of TV fame will be lost. But if the
non-League team wins … well, it’ll be a featured match and you
will be in the news. Surely you might get some friends then, you
ponder …..

So what do you do? If you have the integrity and fair-mindedness
to put your personal inadequacies behind you, you get on and
referee the game in a sporting, impartial manner. In which case
Hull City would have defeated Hednesford yesterday by 2 or 3
clear goals. If, however, you are the “Mr D Laws” with whom we
were tragically saddled yesterday, you lie, cheat, steal your way
to victory for the visitors and the return home to put your feet
up with a steaming mug of Horlicks, to bask in your infamy.

For that is the story of this FA Cup tie. City were the victims
of rank corruption. We were the better side, by far. We performed
with commitment and skill. No complaints about City. But the
referee (and his linesmen) had written the script of this game
long before 3 o clock.

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Wright Greaves Hocking
Joyce Mann Hodges Peacock
Darby

We were the superior side in a largely lively first half. Our
closest chance came from a well-timed Joyce run down the middle,
thwarted only by a last-ditch tackle, sending the ball spinning
away for a corner. We had plenty of good possession, but couldn’t
quite pin down real goalscoring opportunities. The welcome return
of Mann and Darby already looked a big improvement, even though
both had traces of rustiness about their play. Hednesford were
in the game, and came close when a corner flew through a melee
at the near post, but Hocking, alert at the far post, headed the
ball clear as it seemed to be dipping into the net. Almost
immediately, the referee took a decisive hand. One of theirs
turned just inside the box past Gregor. I don’t think Gregor
touched him, but even if he did, it was the slightest nudge, and
in no way contributed to a ludicrous theatrical dive by their
man. As he fell in a pathetic heap, I was half enraged at the
deceit and half amused by how bad his acting was … and then I
saw the referee was pointing at the penalty spot. The visiting
players made clear their views with huge grins and mobbed
celebrations; they might as well have pulled up their jerseys
Ravanelli/Fowler-style to reveal a t-shirt beneath bearing the
words “Fooled you, ref!”. But maybe this ref planned to be fooled

Willo guessed correctly, diving to his left, but the ball was
cleanly struck high into the roof of the net.

We nearly levelled just before half-time, when Hocking headed
against the bar, which was followed by a desperate scramble. But
we were beginning to get the picture – had it gone in, a mystery
offside would have been produced like a rabbit out a rancid hat.

We came out with re-doubled determination after the break and
took complete control as we attacked Bunkers. Early on, a flick
header from a corner sailed over the line for the equaliser. One
of theirs tried to hack the ball clear, but his front foot was
behind the goal-line, so there could be no doubt that the
football itself had easily crossed the line. It was a goal.
Neither linesman nor referee were interested. O yes, we were
getting the picture all too clearly now. Atrocious bias was mixed
with appalling bad luck. A goal-bound Hocking header struck Darby
… the ball then dropped to Duane who tried a Whitby-style
backheel into the net … just wide. Then a shot took a looping
deflection to land in the side-netting; it looked as if it had
gone in, but it had flown just the wrong side of the post. Then
Duane turned neatly about eight yards out only to lose his
balance and scoop a soft shot into the lucky goalkeeper’s arms.
We were all over them, looking especially dangerous from corners.
But we couldn’t score. There was little to be seen of them –
Willo made a good save from a shot from 15 yards on pretty much
their only moment of possession in our half. But they didn’t need
to score – they had the lead and they had the ref.

Our torment went on. Peacock dribbled coolly and swung over a
long cross to the back post, where Duane, intelligently heading
the ball back across the face of the goal, saw his effort bounce
off the bar. We kept pressing. Fewings came on and pushed forward
energetically. The Duke joined the fray but had an unhappy cameo
appearance, let down by his first touch. Peacock looked most
likely to undo them; Duane, in his first game back, was now
visibly tiring. But the source of what should have been our
equaliser was our captain. Gregor cut inside from the left
touchline with one of his trademark barnstorming runs, scooting
past three of their men, and running thrillingly on into the box,
where he pushed the ball past the last defender, ready to line
up a glorious shooting opportunity. The last man strode into
Gregor’s path and, with a brutality that would have made an ice-
hockey crowd wince, cruelly body-checked him. Surely, we thought,
even this referee can’t ignore that … but he could. Play on.

They scored in injury time on the break.

I don’t doubt that the wicked Mr Laws has covered his back and
that the bare statistics of this match will suggest a fair deal.
We were awarded fouls, sure. But almost always in our own half,
where no damage could done – indeed, on occasion we were awarded
free kicks that denied us a promising advantage. And when we did
get an occasional free kick anywhere near their penalty area,
their wall would retreat 5 yards at most, if we were lucky, and
the ref would smile and direct that we take the kick. A similar
story at throw-ins, where they were getting the throw even when
it was plainly geometrically impossible, given the ball’s
trajectory, for it to have come off anyone other than a
Hednesford player. Above and beyond the fundamental issues of
giving them a non-penalty and denying us a cast-iron one, the
referee made sure all game long that we were at an insuperable
disadvantage.

Hednesford were rubbish. No, that’s not quite fair. They looked
shapeless, short of commitment and generally inferior to us. But
they were mostly old heads, they’ll doubtless have realised the
score with the referee from the start. They knew that all they
needed to do was to play sensibly and wait for gifts to be
showered on them. And so it proved. City too must have spotted
the impossible odds they were up against, but it is to the credit
of our players that they did not give up.

I’m not objective. But if we get beaten and deserve it, I’ll say
so. Not yesterday. I wish ill on Hednesford and piles on Mr Laws.
But ultimately there is a bottom line in Cup football. They are
in the next round, and we are not. Impotent rage and frustration,
which is what I’ve been feeling since shortly after 3 o clock
yesterday, isn’t going to change a thing. I’ve been watching
football for thirty years, from Moscow to Morecambe, Carlisle to
Cadiz, and I have never seen such bias. Bad refereeing, yes, we
see that most weeks. But cheating? I didn’t think it happened
here.

steve weatherill