Stephen Cleeve: Good on the pitch... not so good off it

King's Lynn's new manager Tommy Widdrington

Tommy Widdrington's argument fell on deaf ears with the FA - Credit: Ian Burt

It has been a good week to be a King’s Lynn Town fan.

Firstly, Weymouth were dispatched 3-0 at The Walks last Saturday and then we battled for our lives at our first ever encounter with Grimsby at Blundell Park, and the players were rewarded with a priceless point for their efforts in a goalless encounter, that was anything but drab.

Both games were refereed well. However, previous refereeing decisions were remembered this week when the club and manager Tommy Widdrington, had to defend charges that came about due to Mr Lloyd Wood wrongly awarding a penalty in injury time at Roots Hall which cost us a point.

Tommy’s case was up first, and proceedings were held virtually. I was kindly allowed to listen in as an observer and I felt that Tommy did an excellent job in answering the misconduct charges that were laid at his door. There were two charges, one about language, that was flatly denied, and another about an empty gel packet being launched into the air, which was admitted, although Tommy disagreed on the intent of this airborne missile.

Tommy was representing himself, although the FA had, as is standard FA practice, legal counsel to prosecute and put over their side of the case. 

Readers will know that last week the match assessor agreed with the football club that the incident should not have produced a penalty and instructions would be passed onto the referee Lloyd Wood and my hope was that at the very least he would learn from his actions so that no other club had to suffer again from similar decisions.

Tommy asked Mr Lloyd Wood that on reflection and having looked back at the incident, with hindsight did he still feel that it was a penalty?  Mr Wood said that it was and that he made the correct decision.

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Surely this must sum up the issues with refereeing and why some of us get frustrated; if ever there was a time to put your hand in the air and simply admit that you made the wrong call then surely this was it.  Mr Wood’s coach and the match assessor ruled against him, but the referee in question still thinks that he is right!

You will not be surprised to hear after reading the above that the panel found against Tommy and he has been fined and given a four-game touchline ban which comes into effect on Saturday.

The language issue makes little sense. The fourth official claimed that Tommy swore at him, and he did so loudly, but neither the referee, who is in electronic contact with the official, nor the assistant referee, who was a few feet away, heard it.

King's Lynn Town assistant manager Hugo Langton

Linnets' assistant manager Hugo Langton - Credit: Ian Burt

Hugo Langton, our assistant manager, gave evidence that Tommy never said the words that he was accused of saying, as did Mark Hughes, the first team coach. The panel had to decide who they believed, and they sided with the fourth official.  #

This did not come as a shock as other directors had told me that this is typically how it plays out. The case went on so long that the club’s own misconduct charge for failing to control its players has been delayed until Monday.

Fair game?

My latest podcast discussed Fair Game’s proposals with Niall Couper, of Wimbledon FC’s trust.

Fair game is one of the voices on Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review and I wanted to explore some of their proposals.  

One of their proposals is for there to be an adjudicator, an independent arbitrator with far reaching powers if you like. I am personally not against this, but the devil will be in the detail, as what I do not want is another layer of bureaucracy without producing change.  

The National League has suggested this adjudicator should be the FA, but many of those in football see the FA as the problem rather than the solution and it seems that Fair Game agree with them.  

I have had dealings with many bodies that are meant to be neutral, and I have yet to find a good one amongst them; mostly they are toothless and are paid for by those that one is complaining against. Until I know the identities of those making the decisions it would be very hard to know if one could agree with this proposal or not.

Fair Game agreed to look at my points I raised around academies which are surely not fit for purpose for anyone. Smaller Premier League clubs lose their best players to the big boys for little money, Non league clubs lose their players for nothing and most of the players never make it anyway, so surely this is an area that needs changing, but it fails to make a single word in Ms Crouch’s report.

Equally, I made points about the Owners and Directors test which I feel is pretty much okay – Fair Game want to toughen it up but, in reality, you are dealing with owners' intentions. I accept that some fail, but in the main those that do did not set out to do anything wrong. The last thing the game needs is a panel having power to make arbitrary decisions rather than looking at track records and how directors have performed over several seasons.  

Equally if someone has made a mistake, we can’t make them keep paying for it for eternity. Shadow board of directors made up of fans groups though are an accident waiting to happen, plus fans could easily be made legally liable for mistakes that the board may make in the future.

On the positive side I liked their ideas for financial distributions and sustainability objectives and agree with many of their aims and points. It was also interesting to note that Fair Game are not against the benefactor model continuing and are not campaigning for changing the way clubs are owned.

Moving on...

Time moves very quickly in football. On January 8, James Rowe was standing on the touchline at Stamford Bridge watching his boys play Chelsea in the FA Cup. A month later he is out of work and facing a police investigation. In December 2021, Paul Cook was sacked by Ipswich and on Thursday he returned to Chesterfield after a seven-year absence to take over Mr Rowe’s vacant seat.

Great escape?

If King’s Lynn can beat Altrincham this afternoon at The Walks it will be another huge step in the right direction as we fight for survival in the National League. The theme music for the Great Escape was played before our last home game against Weymouth and I for one will not be betting against it happening in West Norfolk.