Pitch pandemonium – who’s to blame?

Most players don’t feel they deserve red cards—do they ever, really? When things degenerate into chaos and fights, horrified supporters wonder who to blame. Inept referees who can’t control the discipline? Players who are entitled and full of themselves? Or the supporters with their uber-ultras and political agendas?

Turns out, it’s all of the above.

Last week, league action was back in play after an eventful international break during which we saw a shocking Serbia vs. Albania match that had to be abandoned due to chaos on the pitch. In Ligue 1, Paris Sainte-Germain vs Lens on 17 October saw three hotly contested red cards. And then there was the astonishing Argentinian third tier clubs Deportivo Roca and Cipolletti on 15 October, which logged 12 red cards after an out of control fight on the pitch, and an even more ridiculous Peruvian cup-tie that was abandoned after five players faked injury to scupper the match rather than lose.


In the Serbia vs. Albania Euro 2016 qualifier , tensions were high even before a drone was flown over the field carrying an Albanian flag, which resulted in chaos and fighting on the pitch. Referee Martin Atkinson stopped the match when Serbian defender Stefan Mitrovic pulled the flag down. Serbian fans invaded the pitch, creating a shocking brawl. The whole sorry event probably reminded UEFA to have a good look at its political map when scheduling groups in the future.

In Ligue 1, Friday’s match between Paris Saint-Germain and Lens was just as fou –crazy. PSG, facing an injury list nightmare with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marquinhos, and Ezequiel Lavezzi all out, needed the 3-1 win, but they got it at a price.

The six-minute sending off spree began with Lens midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin being shown a yellow for fouling Edinson Cavani. The 19-year-old Gbamin was furious and referee Nicolas Rainville gave him a second yellow for his efforts. Gbamin, in a bit of ill-advised youthful rage, had to be restrained and pushed off the field by teammates after his dismissal.

Uruguayan forward Cavani took the penalty and scored. It’d have been embarrassing not to from that close range; still, this was a big deal as the Uruguayan has suffered a worrying goal drought, which had many questioning his fitness. When Cavani celebrated with his customary shooting gun mime, it was clear Rainville was still on edge as he awarded Cavani a yellow for his jubilation. An outraged Cavani touched the referee’s arm to get his attention as he argued, and received a second yellow and dismissal. Bad news for a side who couldn’t afford for another goal-maker to be out.


There was another red card to come within the small space of time. Lens’ Jerome Le Moigne was sent off after picking up a second yellow for a foul that was dubious at best. The PSG website gave coach Laurent Blanc’s post-match feelings.

I’m not going to make any comment about the refereeing this evening. It’s difficult game to analyse. The second half, even with all the attenuating circumstances didn’t please me much. The game lost its interest after everything that happened.

One imagines the “attenuating circumstances” (surely that sounds better in French?) that displeased Blanc were nothing compared to the frustration felt by Argentinian third-tier club Deportivo Roca coach Diego Landeiro this week. The match between Deportivo Roca and Cipolletti was ultimately scratched after a yellow card exploded into a needless fracas on the pitch, with 12 red cards issued after the game.

In reality though, the cards seemed the least of the problems after riot police had to be called in to restore order.

It started with Cipolletti defender Marcos Lamolla shown a yellow for dissent after a rather light foul on Roca’s Fernando Fernandez. Lamolla and Fernandez along with teammates vociferously protested, but referee Fernando Espinosa wasn’t having any of it, and showed reds to both Lamolla and Fernandez.

After that, everyone lost the plot. Lamolla charged across the field like a bull and then players and substitutes from both sides got into it. Ultimately, referee Espinosa abandoned the match and recorded ten additional red cards in his book.

Roca coach Diego Landeiro echoed the feelings of everyone who has watched a match degenerate:

It was a disgrace and it means lots of work down the drain. I’m very bitter.

Those matches were quite enough for the week, but on Sunday in Peru, the first leg of the Copa Peru semi-final between Defensor Bolivar and Defensor La Bocana was suspended by the referee after five players went down ‘injured’ in a bid to get the game abandoned in the 82nd minute.

Bolivar were a sinking ship, losing 4-1 with a nine-man team – two players already having been sent off. Apparently, losing with dignity isn’t in the Bolivar playbook and they enacted a plan that would call on the rule that a team must have at least seven men on the field.

Accordingly, five players fell and thrashed in phantom pain in a bid to get the match suspended—even while La Bocana neatly netted another goal during the theatrics. This kind of nonsense never serves anyone, and authorities will decide to let Bolivar continue in the second leg on Thursday.

The temptation with the Peruvian and Argentinian sides is to lament the lack of professionalism in lower division clubs and smaller leagues, but that would be cliché. Every footballer who plays for his bread and butter should know better. Certainly tempers are going to be difficult to check when involved in intense physical campaigns, but just as it is every player’s job to be mentally (we hope) present as well as physically, it’s also his job to remember the greater picture.

And that is: brawls, injury-faking, and dissent does just as much damage – if not more – to the club, the league, and the sport than it does an individual player.

In France, one can point a finger at the referee’s handling of light fouls, but the blame rests with the players, particularly when recalling the way Gbamin had to be hauled away by teammates after being shown a red.

In Argentina and Peru, the fault clearly lies with players who abandoned every shred of professionalism that football requires. There is a belief that referees often react to the fervor of the crowd, and a bad tone in the stands can ricochet into bad calls. In the Serbia-Albania horror show, it wasn’t a case of the referee being influenced by the crowd—he didn’t get a chance. The crowd with its drone-flying nonsense did the damage all by itself.


Each of these recent cases serve as a reminder that the pitch isn’t the place for rebellion and conflict—and every party, whether official, player, management, or supporter, must remember that. Of course there are two sides to every story.

We love a good justification for volcanic actions on the pitch (I’m thinking of you, Zinedine Zidane), but in the cases mentioned above, where’s the justification for dissent about a foul? Where’s the justification for turning the hard work of a club into a complete breakdown?

There isn’t much of one, of course, and we can’t even blame a full moon for last week’s antics. Let’s be honest: the truth is we all pay attention when pandemonium breaks out. So we can only look at ourselves and remember that football is our escape and our joy, and we all play a part in keeping it that way.

The Author

Sierra Godfrey

California-based football fan who supports Atletico Madrid and Hibernian FC. In addition to football writing, also a graphic designer and fiction writer. Very sassy and active on Twitter -- give her a follow and a shout.

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