Referees must apply the laws to prevent a repeat of Barton / Gervinho scuffle

A bit of a jump, yes, but there is one crucial link. Barton was agitated before Gervinho’s dive by the fact that the referee, Peter Walton, had missed Arsenal’s Alex Song stamp on him.

Why had Song done such a thing? It’s an important point to recall. Song probably recalled the incident in February where Barton launched himself at Abou Diaby in such a dangerous, reckless manner that only the Frenchman’s speedy reaction in pulling his leg away just as it started to bend prevented him suffering a recurrence of an horrific leg breaking injury he suffered years previously. It was that assault on Diaby which led to him then pushing Barton on that day, and being sent off.

Had the referee punished Barton, surely Diaby would not have pushed him. But Barton probably wouldn’t have acted that way, if it wasn’t for the fact that referees routinely allow such incidents to occur.

And so you get the recurring theme of players continually carrying grudges against opponent’s who have not been sufficiently punished, and in Song or Diaby’s case, then retaliating. Last weekend, Barton was aggrieved that he had been the victim for a change, and took it out on Gervinho. The Ivorian, new to the Premier League and unfamiliar with the English disdain for diving (unless it’s say, Steven Gerrard), reacted as you might expect one to having been hauled off the ground and throttled by an angry Liverpudlian. He slapped him.

Really, both Gervinho and Barton were victims in this case. Both were suffering the unintended consequences of refereeing inadequacy and failure to protect the players. Walton should reflect on this, as should Phil Dowd who oversaw last year’s calamitous refereeing performance when not only did he send off Diaby whilst failing to reprimand Barton, but also gave two of the softest penalties you’re likely to see against Arsenal, helping add to the grievance felt by the likes of Song.

On Saturday, as many have observed, both should probably have been given a yellow card. Alan Shearer may think that raising your hand to an opponent is against the rules of the game, but nowhere in the rule book is it stated that you can’t do such a thing, as has been pointed out by more astute observers of the game than the ‘punditry’ we’ve come to expect of ex-footballers.

Not to excuse the slap of course, as it counts as violent conduct. But then if a light slap to the face is violent conduct, then so is grappling an opponent by the throat, one would presume. But in this case, only Gervinho was punished with a red card, which now only adds to the cycle of injustice. Somehow Walton has managed to create justifiable grievances whereby both sides, Gervinho and Barton, feel unfairly treated. Only in this case the FA have, though rightly suspending Song for three games for his actions, done nothing to address the legitimate grievance that Arsenal feel, with the number of their players having been assaulted by Barton in one form or another in recent months rapidly increasing.

And so it’s likely we’ll continue to see the kind of handbags we did from Barton and Gervinho last weekend whilst referees fail to apply the rules of the game and punish opponents. Some will beg to differ, and claim that Barton’s tackle on Diaby last year, the prime cause of this developing feud, was legitimate as he “won the ball.” Again this would be to completely misunderstand the rule book, which clearly states that it is irrelevant whether a player wins the ball or not if it is done with reckless force.

Referees must start to apply the laws, and punish those who perpetrate, as well as those who react. Arsenal may be a team who are particularly unable or unwilling to keep their calm and resist retaliation, but the fact is that their behaviour on Saturday was largely the result of reacting to a series of unpunished offences from Barton. Referees must clamp down on the perpetrators of violence on the football pitch, or else this problem will never disappear.