Media pressure means nothing lower down
4 February ~ I will be interested to see if Andy Carroll gets the same level of justice this week that Wrexham's Stephen Wright got last October. If he doesn't, the discrepancies in football's disciplinary system will be exposed once more. Carroll's red card against Swansea on Saturday was very harsh, and if justice is done his suspension will be overturned. However, players at the lower levels don't get access to that sort of fair treatment.
According to the way the disciplinary system works, West Ham's appeal should fail. To successfully overturn a decision you need to show clearly that the referee's version of events in his match report doesn't tally with what actually happened. One would assume the report will say Carroll intentionally swung his arm at Flores and hit him in the face, and that's exactly what happened. The strength of the contact made simply doesn't come into it.
Despite that, Carroll will probably get his ban rescinded. The outcry in the media over Carroll's dismissal was loud and immediate, and Sam Allardyce wisely used the platform available to him to declare that the decision was farcical. The footage of his previous clash with Flores only helps to cast the Swansea player as the villain. Away from the limelight, however, there is no national outcry over a referee's decisions.
In October, Wright was sent off for his part in an altercation with Barnet's then player-manager Edgar Davids. The latter has recently retired, claiming he was being victimised by Conference Premier referees, but anyone who watches that level of football regularly would counter that a record of six yellow cards and three reds in nine games this season was a fair reflection of his approach to the game; Davids had also picked up two reds and seven yellows in 2012-13 despite not playing for the first three months.
The incident with Wright came two minutes from the end of a match which Barnet were leading 1-0. Wrexham won a free-kick on the edge of the Barnet area and Davids picked the ball up to prevent a quick kick being taken. Wright ran in and tried to grab the ball off him, receiving a particularly violent elbow in the face. BT Sport's coverage showed Wright receiving a bloody patch-up in the changing room and he subsequently needed stitches inside his mouth and a skin graft. His manager, Andy Morrell, suggested he had lost consciousness for a while after Davids's attack. He also got a four-match ban.
Wrexham appealed, but they didn't have a media uproar to support them: the fury of the Wrexham Leader isn't going to make a disciplinary panel quake. Without that extra pressure, there was no reason to disagree with a referee's report which said Wright had run towards Davids to snatch the ball from him. So, although Wright did get one game shaved off his ban, he still had to sit out three games, essentially for being punched by a celebrity.
The football authorities want to avoid having to deal with a media backlash. That was never going to happen over a Conference Premier red card, but it's different when a Premier League club gets a campaign going on behalf of one of their players. When it comes to disciplinary justice it can often seem that only the top end of football matters. Mark Griffiths