Tuesday 14 October ~
This season has already witnessed some hugely controversial refereeing decisions, none more so than the “goal” awarded to Reading at Vicarage Road last month. Yet tonight sees the “restaging” of an October 4 FA Vase first round tie between Devon local rivals Cullompton Rangers and Willand Rovers, after an extra-time penalty for the home underdogs Cullompton was converted, then chalked off for encroachment, with a goal-kick awarded. Referee Simon Mann allegedly first told the Cullompton management that the rules over penalty kicks had been changed two years ago before admitting his mistake a day later and asking the FA for help. They declared the match “null and void”, cancelled the replay at Willand and scheduled tonight's game, billed as the Culm Valley Showdown Part II.
These two clubs play only a few miles apart, on either side of the M5 motorway as it heads towards Exeter, so the first game was accordingly tense. As Willand Rovers in the Western League Premier Division play one step higher than their neighbours in the South West Peninsula League, it is understandable that Cullompton feel hard done by. With five minutes of extra time left the penalty, awarded for handball, was scored before the referee reportedly announced loudly: “Encroachment – no goal, restart the game with a goal kick.” Cullompton's website (complete with the club's witchcraft style badge) has made the most of the odd situation, ignoring the League secretary's plea for “a line to be drawn under the matter”. Their joint manager Lee Annunziata claimed “I still have nightmares about this one”, while club secretary Marcus Scott had his “first day as an OAP” ruined.
Willand Rovers, meanwhile, have remained very quiet as debate has raged over the referee's decision on non-League forums. BBC London's Caroline Baker was shot down for comparing Reading's goal at Watford to Cullompton's penalty at Willand due to the distinction between an error of fact and an error of law. It was also been pointed out that there is exact precedent in a 2006 World Cup qualifier where Uzbekistan had a penalty ruled out for encroachment and this tie, against Bahrain, was also replayed.
Willand's manager Clive Jones briefly popped his head above the parapet to complain about not getting a home replay: “Why write the ‘replay’ off? Who pays my club’s undoubted expenses incurred for a game of football that was cancelled some 30 hours before kick-off?” Cullompton have rubbed this in by producing a “collector's item” special programme. Let's hope tonight's Culm Valley showdown is much less eventful than the first instalment.