A Quick Word on Today’s Officiating Incident

I’ll have my full analysis as usual on Monday, but this warrants a quick piece in its own right. If you were at the game, I don’t need to explain what happened for Lincoln’s goal; if you weren’t there, you’ll be able to watch the highlights soon enough (there’s a clip doing the rounds on Twitter, but I’ll probably get made to take it down if I post it here). But the basics are as follows:

  • Matt Bloomfield and a Lincoln player (I’m not sure which – I’m sure someone can confirm) clash heads and both go down in the Wycombe six-yard box
  • The ball leaves the area and the play enters a new phase (between them, the referee (Christopher Sarginson) and assistant on the Frank Adams side must have seen the clash)
  • Lincoln carry on playing for 5-10 seconds, during which time Sarginson has a couple of looks over to the box – where the two players are still prostrate (the Lincoln player got up and continued in the end)
  • Sarginson puts his whistle to his lips but doesn’t blow (by now, the medical staff have legged it down the touchline and are ready to come on)
  • The ball comes back in and John Akinde scores for Lincoln
  • Wycombe goalkeeper Ryan Allsop can’t come for the ball as his path is blocked by the two players down (he’d probably have claimed it quite comfortably otherwise)

Usually you see big incidents and get irate in the heat of the moment, but you calm down by the time you get home. This wasn’t one of those incidents. The referee has failed in his duty of care to both players – particularly Bloomfield, who looked in a bad way, even if it sounds like he’s alright now.

Rather worryingly, I can’t find anything clearly set out in the laws stating that the game must be stopped immediately for a head injury. Maybe it’s just not obvious, or maybe what we think we know is wrong? Either way, if nothing else, it’s surely common sense to stop the game the moment you suspect any kind of head injury? It wasn’t even a case of the referee being slow to react today; he might as well not have reacted at all, the amount of time it took. If Lincoln hadn’t scored, when was he going to blow?

While this specific incident – which is nothing short of a disgrace, make no mistake about it – was very much on Christopher Sarginson, it’s indicative of a worrying, more serious problem in football. You might remember there being some confusion when Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen sustained what looked very much like a concussion last season’s Champions League semi-final. There is a concussion protocol in football, I think – the fact that I can’t be sure is quite concerning – but it really doesn’t seem that way. It’s seriously worrying. Any head injury should be treated as a worst case scenario and then de-escalate from there, surely? You only need to have watched a couple of episodes of ’24 Hours in A&E’ to realise how life-changing an ostensibly innocuous fall or bump can be.

Action needs to be taken. First and foremost, today’s entire officiating team should not be allowed anywhere near another game – at any level – until a full investigation has been conducted and they’ve been given ample training regarding such scenarios. They have to prove that they can be trusted – particularly the referee himself, as that’s whose shoulders upon which everything ultimately falls. As I’ve already said, I sincerely hope that the club will be filing a complaint with the EFL; this cannot be allowed to happen again.

Generally, the discussion about head injuries in football needs to be a whole lot bigger. As things stand, players’ safety and, horrible a thought though it is, lives are being endangered by sloppy, weak policy. The NFL’s relationship with concussion isn’t pleasant, and while American football and football are, of course, not directly comparable, but football should look at that whole situation as one it absolutely does not want on its hand. Alan Shearer’s 2017 documentary, ‘Dementia, Football and Me’ shone a light on a quite dark subject; that kind of thing needs to be front and centre and discussed at the very top of the game.

For now, I’ll leave it at ‘Get well soon, Blooms!’ and also this:

EFL, give us professional officials. Last time I saw, your stance on the issue was that we can only have them if clubs foot the bill. That is not on. You have bigger fish to fry right now, but this is not a small one by any means. Sort it out. I look forward to your statement regarding today’s disgusting incident.


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