LARRY RYAN: Referees can’t simply bow to the ballers

The word is that a Carl Froch-George Groves rematch may take place at Wembley — suitable acknowledgement of a week when boxing pulled off a giant-killing to knock football out of the Controvassy Cup.

Much of what passes for controvassy in pro boxing is really marketing. The “war of words”. The disrespect campaigns.

Hate gets them through the gate and Froch and Groves gave this the hard sell. In that sense, controvassy keeps the sport alive. But you fear there might also come a day when controvassy is what lands it on the canvas.

Football can organise a war of words too, when the time is right, but its controvassy industry is largely bloodless.

We got another insight last weekend into how impressively self-sustaining the whole thing is when Wayne Rooney more or less kicked Jordan Mutch up the arse.

If we can briefly digress; you suspect that the emergence of a revitalised Manchester United in Germany midweek was not entirely unrelated to this episode, as though a whole club realised that if you can occasionally get away with kicking an opponent up the arse, some of the old Fergie magic might still endure. And maybe they all looked a little deeper inside themselves for it.

But that’s neither here nor there. The Rooney kick was the dedicated controvasser’s bread and butter; a “flashpoint”. Better still, the Roon later went on Twitter to discuss the incident.

“I agree mine was bad tackle and ref dealt with it. And Martin Tyler didn’t shut up about it all game. I like Martin but that’s poor from him.”

So we had ‘Roon admits’ and ‘Roon hits out’ and skipped ‘Roon likes’ and the controvassy rolled on. And no great harm was done, because flashpoints are what makes the Barclays Premier League great.

Except there were many flashpoints last weekend. And there was also a little background reading from Gary Neville.

For those who found Fergie’s book shed scant light on the darker side of his methods; Neville’s column in the Mail on Sunday is proving more educational.

“We had the mentality that influencing the referees was part of the game. I complained about every decision given against me and gave the impression I never thought they did anything right.”

Gary went on to claim he has reformed, perhaps because he is now sitting beside Roy Hodgson instead of running up and down in front of Fergie — and expectations have been duly lowered.

Realistically, influencing referees wasn’t just the United way. It is the way. So we have one profession diligently trying to get referees to make wrong decisions and a controvassy production line waiting to crank into action when they oblige.

Perhaps referees are feeling the squeeze. Might the flashpoints have dazzled them, now that every missed lunge is a career-threatening butcher set free and each harsh red card doles out one of the great human rights injustices? Kevin Friend certainly looked spooked when he watched Wes Brown make a tackle at Stoke and imagined a flashpoint where there was none.

No doubt Jeff Stelling will be reminding him of that mistake this afternoon on Soccer Saturday, since Jeff was quick to reference Friend on Twitter when referee Howard Foster pulled Groves out of the fray during the ninth round of last Saturday’s super middleweight scrap.

“Groves barely touched. Ref made Kev Friend look good. A world title fight miles ahead, and barely shaken. Listen to the crowd. #rematch.”

Even if Groves’ face suggested he may have been touched alright, Jeff, like everyone else, has his right to a view. The boxing men weren’t happy either. Steve Collins, in his classy way, suggested he’d have knocked out the referee.

Steve also said this wasn’t soccer. And he had a point there. Men like Stelling, from that world of controvassy without consequence, have little business telling the fight game how to run its affairs.

And boxing would do well not to spook its referees. Because to slightly misquote Shanks; football isn’t a matter of life or death and the work of a boxing referee is much more important.

Funnily enough, football is only recently getting to grips with its own issues around concussions and brain injury and, predictably enough, there is controvassy to be found in this area too. But football has doctors on hand to look after all of that. The onus will never be on Kevin Friend.

When men like Howard Foster look into a fighter’s eyes and try to tell if he is gone, they may indeed have the two or three seconds that Kevin Friend gave himself last Saturday before he squinted into the imagined flashpoint.

They may even have the five or six seconds needed to allow a natural brutal climax to the war of words.

But maybe they don’t. And maybe if they took that time, they would have in store a life of nightmares where all they see is a young man’s glazed eyes and all they hear are the words ‘successive concussive shots’.

If these guys ever get truly spooked and start getting it badly wrong, there will be plenty of controvassy but no sport left to sell.

Football may find fault with instant replay

With a view to shielding referees’ eyes from flashpoints, the most interesting aspect of Ireland’s pre-season friendly with the All Blacks was the use of the TMO.

With no prizes at stake, Nigel Owens’ lengthy discussion with the man in the box prior to awarding that late try might have felt like overkill.

But it was a nice break from the rooting and tearing and you couldn’t help admire the transparency of it, as Owens clearly outlined his concerns and rewound the tape a little further to look for justice.

And you wondered if this system would stand up to scrutiny on a more important occasion such as, I don’t know, a Capital One Cup quarter-final.

And yet, you suspect that football might have a bit more to learn from golf’s experience with use of television replays.

The R&A and the United States Golf Association decided this week that players should no longer be punished for ball movement transgressions picked up by television if the movement “was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

If golf has found television sees too much, there’s a danger that football would soon discover the same.

At a time when super slo-mo replays and hi-res digital zoom are able to prove some kind of “contact” in just about every challenge, isn’t it possible that refs will find in the footage whatever it is they want to see?

For now, we only have to watch Kevin Friend take two or three seconds to get things wrong; we might find it even more difficult to listen to him take five minutes to explain why.

HEROES & VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Giles and Dunphy:
Football people of Germany; do not despair at this very difficult time. The lads are “very worried” about the poor standards in your domestic football and send their concerns. Regards, Ireland.

Mathieu Flamini: Knocked two or three days news out of the length of his shirt-sleeves — surely in pole position for the Controvasser’s Controvassist of the Year gong.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Jason Kidd: Can’t hold his drink — the Brooklyn Nets gaffer was fined $50,000 for deliberately spilling a cup of water on court to sneak an extra time-out at the end of the defeat by the Lakers.

The Canadian Olympic curling team: It will be selected tomorrow in Winnipeg and Anchorman Ron Burgundy will co-host the event. Gold prospecting as movie promo. If a Burgundy backlash hasn’t begun, let this be the start of it.


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