Barcelona’s game at Sevilla at the weekend was mired in controversy, and ended up with the Catalans coming away with three points. Plus ca change. The main aspect of that controversy was related to my favourite Spanish player¹, Cesc Fabregas. He was ‘head-butted’ by the Sevilla midfielder Gary Medel; it was, I think its fair to say, not the most industrial of headbutts.

In fact, it brought me to mind of a similar incident some 16 or 17 years hence, at the McAlpine Stadium. Bradford and Huddersfield played out a relatively tedious 0-0 draw; tedious to an extent that I can’t remember any other incidents from the game. However, during the match, the Huddersfield left-back, Tom Cowan, made towards Etienne Verveer, the Bantams’ forward, with his head. Now, the way Verveer went to ground, I assumed that Cowan had made contact – I was sat quite a way away, and the margins were fine.

It turned out, after the game, that there was zero contact between the two, and I remember reading (albeit second hand) from the referee that Cowan had been dismissed for ‘violent intent’. I’m not bitter about that, incidentally, if there’s scope for dismissal for violent intent then certainly that was a case in point. I’ve done a search for the incident since Sunday, and found a lot of forum gossip in the interim years, with both Bradford and Huddersfield fans in agreement that it was pretty despicable acting from Verveer – rather like we saw with Fabregas.

I have seen incidents since wherein there has been much debate (generally with the more physical of tackles) and have been able to easily rationalise decisions to send a player off because of the phrase ‘violent intent’. Contact doesn’t need to be made.

Now, I’m not a professional referee, as I’m sure you’re aware. Its possible that the rules in Spain are different. Its equally possible that the rules have changed since April 1995, but I can say, with some certainty, if a referee was applying the rules as they were in England in the mid 1990s, the Medel was correctly dismissed.

It doesn’t make Fabregas’ reaction correct, any more than Verveer’s was, but that’s not really the issue in question; they just made themselves look silly – that doesn’t mean that they weren’t sinned against.

Four unlikely bedfellows; Cesc Fabregas, Tom Cowan, Gary Medel and Etienne Verveer. Two incidents, one outcome.

¹I use the word ‘favourite’ ironically; I don’t think there’s any footballers I respect less, for a catalogue of reasons, none of which cloud my judgement here, because I’m talking in his favour for a change.

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