I don’t think there is a set of fans for every club on this earth that thinks referees don’t specifically hate their club and their’s alone. Well, at least in the UK.
English football fans will go on seven tirades a day on the standard of refereeing in all leagues found here, claiming that The Referee’s Association has got some innate, deep resentment for their club over some handball claim in late October 2014 that would’ve surely levelled the match in the 93rd minute.
Blues fans are no different – since I’ve been going down to watch the boys play at our home in St. Andrew’s everyone I know has said the same. My dad, my grandad, my uncle all firmly believe we are the only team that the referees, as a collective, have blacklisted. There can be no other explanation as to why our luck’s so bad.
Of course, I’m exaggerating, but it seems that given our ‘rocky’ relationship with the EFL this season there’s even more cause behind believing we’re being singled out more than usual. Ever since giving them the finger by signing our shiny new Danish left-back our fanbase have used this as the reason why every time a ref gives a questionable decision we berate them to kingdom come.
While this reasoning has admittedly some credit too it (given how the fans have been kept in the dark by the EFL all season with regards to the dreaded ‘meeting’), it’s really nothing more than a conspiracy. Blues, much like their real-life league standings, sit comfortably in upper mid-table in the disciplinary rankings.
(The table below counts it only by yellow cards – we’d be 8th if you added the reds too)
So no – we’re not the most punished team in this tier by a long shot. The idea that we’re being targeted by the league’s officials is a far-fetched one.
And yet – when I watched us against Bristol this past Tuesday, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the first time this season I could confidently say that the referee was biased in our favour. Geoff Eltringham, the man in charge of the game we won so well, was the first man in an all-black kit that I believed was leaning our way a little.
Now I know that’s all up in the air for speculation and accusing a referee of being biased is a little belittling of such a great performance against an in-form side, but when the opposition’s commentators (sorry Blues TV) were up in arms every time ol’ Geoff blew up in our favour, I couldn’t help but admit this was a new sensation I hadn’t had before this season.
This isn’t a glory piece for Mr. Eltringham either – I’m sure the next time he refs one of our games he’ll give Jota a red for looking at him funny – but this little sidenote to the game may have just proven the conspiracy-believers right.
Even if you don’t believe the ref may have swung our way a bit that night, I’ll stand by the fact that it was a rare sight to see so many decisions go our way.
Then again, I may have just become a conspiracy believer myself. With the EFL and their impending ‘punishment’ looming over us all season, I think Blues fans have convinced themselves that we’re fighting the power in more ways than one. 5 games into the season and it looked like, yet again, we were destined for relegation fodder. Months later and we look like we may just be the dark horses with our eyes on a playoff shaped prize (points-related punishment withstanding).
The fact is, everyone loves an underdog, Bluenoses especially – and for as long as I can remember this club has always been the underdog in every imaginable sense, whether it’s through the bookies or self-inflicted belief. We love to look like we’re down and out and then come back fighting in the dying embers of the play, hell we’ve fancied an exciting relegation battle three out of the past five years in this league.
That’s why I was so bewildered by Tuesday night when things went our way. I, like most Blues fans, am so used to Che receiving a yellow when a man of his physique clearly gets pushed down in the box but is accused of simulation, so used to a crunching-yet-fair Dutch tackle be penalised and lord knows we’re all used to a ridiculous amount of added time slapped onto the end of a game when Blues are in an advantageous position that when everything goes our way it seems foreign.
This foreign concept may benefit our club on the rare occasion it pops up, but to be honest with you, I don’t think I care for it that much. As I said, we love being the underdogs, being the ones counted out without a hope in the world so that just as we’re given up on, we come roaring back into life.
Like a great set of fans once said: “We’re Birmingham City – We fight ’til the end”.