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Referee Darren Drysdale is toast following his inexcusable ‘headbutt’ towards Ipswich’s Alan Judge

Darren Drysdale, the referee, is toast. Short-term at least, maybe longer.

Officials are there to keep order and his behaviour during Ipswich’s match with Northampton could have caused anarchy.

When Ipswich player Alan Judge protested Drysdale’s decision not to award a 90th-minute penalty, the official appeared to seek physical confrontation, angrily dipping his head towards the player as they stood nose to nose. 

Referee Darren Drysdale appeared to lean into the head of Ipswich Town’s Alan Judge in Tuesday’s League One tie with Northampton Town – the official has since apologised

Team-mates dived in and pulled the pair apart. Drysdale has now been charged with improper conduct and taken off Saturday’s game between Southend and Bolton. He is expected to get a lengthy ban and nobody will be surprised. His behaviour was pretty much inexcusable.

However… can you imagine how fed up Drysdale must have been at that precise moment to react the way he did? Can you imagine how fed up they must all be with the endless disputes and confrontation?

Drysdale is no rookie. His first game as a referee was between Rushden and Diamonds and Kidderminster Harriers on August 7, 2004. Neither of those teams exist as Football League clubs these days — Rushden and Diamonds, as they were then, do not exist at all — but Drysdale is still going more than 16 years later.

He ran the line when Chelsea beat Aston Villa in the 2000 FA Cup final, he has refereed matches in the League Two play-offs and the Championship. He was in charge when Norwich beat Coventry 2-0 in this year’s FA Cup third round. The match at Ipswich was his 20th of the season. It was his 50th birthday on Thursday.

If Drysdale was some kind of hot-headed lunatic we would have known long before now. So something happened. Not something exceptional, probably an accumulation of incidents that reached a tipping point when he saw Judge dive, then come towards him angrily to protest his decision. Did Judge cheat? That really doesn’t matter.

The fact is that once Drysdale waved his appeal away that should be an end to it. Instead, and no doubt not for the first time, Drysdale met more fury, further dissent, a challenge to his authority, perhaps even his integrity. He wasn’t the aggressor.

He responded with aggression when confronted. And that’s wrong. He probably won’t referee again this season, maybe longer. But let’s not pretend there is no mitigation. Let’s not pretend we don’t know why this happened. The only surprise is that it hasn’t gone off before. 

Drysdale, 50, has experience as a Football League referee going back to 2004

Drysdale, 50, has experience as a Football League referee going back to 2004

Drysdale apologised and Judge played it down. He called it heat-of-the-moment stuff, said he wasn’t looking for a charge or even a sorry.

‘There was never going to be a complaint from me,’ Judge said. His manager, Paul Lambert, was not so forgiving.

‘He was out of control,’ he insisted. ‘Role- reverse it and what would have happened had Alan Judge put his head on a referee? He’d be looking at a six-month or year ban.’

Yet what Judge did, even without physical contact and heat of the moment or not, is punishable by a yellow card.

Indeed, if referees started applying the letter of the law over dissent, how many of Lambert’s players — of any manager’s players — would finish a game? And might the pressure Drysdale and others shoulder weekly come from those supposedly setting an example? Here are some quotes and headlines that might offer a clue as to why Tuesday night’s game spiralled beyond control:

‘Lambert slams “Mickey Mouse football” referee.’ Ipswich 0 Wycombe 0, Nov 26, 2019.

Ipswich boss Paul Lambert revealed he contacted the EFL to complain about the incident

Ipswich boss Paul Lambert revealed he contacted the EFL to complain about the incident

‘What are we doing to the game of football? What game are we actually playing? I’m hot and angry about it.’ Sunderland 2 Ipswich 1, Nov 3, 2020.

‘That’s what annoyed me the most — two major incidents, the officials got them wrong.’ Chelsea 2 Aston Villa 1, Aug 21, 2013.

‘The game was too big for him’ — Paul Lambert blasts referee. Sheffield Wednesday 2 Blackburn 1, Apr 5 2016.

‘We didn’t lose to Lincoln, we lost to the man in the middle.’ Lincoln 1 Ipswich 0, Oct 24, 2020.

Now Ipswich must have had some rotten referees of late because Lambert has won two of his last eight games, and the fans are so happy they set fire to the training ground this week.

And nobody is advocating letting Drysdale off lightly. He certainly shouldn’t have shaped up to headbutt a player in a tantrum. But let’s just say, we understand.

Do we have to punish adults for their bullying mistakes at 14? 

Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Da-yeong were jocks. In other words, they were excellent youth athletes. Twins, they rose to the pinnacle of their sport, volleyball, in South Korea.

They were in the national team, which qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, and won gold medals at the Asian Games. Lee Jae-yeong was Korean women’s player of the year in 2019, and Lee Da-yeong won the national title with her club in 2016. And now they are exiled, in disgrace. An anonymous pupil at their school in Jinju accused the pair of being bullies.

There were tales of physical and verbal attacks and extortion, even at knife point.

They sound a horrid duo. Even so, the allegations are historic —10 years old. It would put the bullying twins at around 14.

They have been dropped by their club, the Pink Spiders, and by their country. A statement from the Korean Volleyball Association read: ‘We decided that it will be difficult to prevent recurrence of similar cases if we don’t take tough actions against current school bullying cases.

‘Therefore, considering the gravity of the situation, we will indefinitely rule out school violence perpetrators from the 2021 Volleyball Nations League, 2020 Tokyo Olympics and other national team selection for all international competitions.’

The twins have publicly expressed regret. And, yes, bullying is horrible. Each year there are stories of persecution, some ending in the most terrible tragedies. Even so: 14. Children make mistakes at 14. They can be vicious and cruel. They are not mentally or emotionally developed. And, it is to be hoped, they learn and become better, wiser and kinder adults.

Lee Jae-yeong (left) and Lee Da-yeong have been dropped by South Korea's volleyball team following historical accusations over them being bullies in their early teenage years

Lee Jae-yeong (left) and Lee Da-yeong have been dropped by South Korea’s volleyball team following historical accusations over them being bullies in their early teenage years

So how far are we to keep winding back in our search for blameless lives? How many social media histories must we trawl through for evidence of crassness or stupidity in short trousers? We’re in the playgrounds now? Seriously? Not all athletes are bullies growing up, but some are. We’ve all been to school. It’s a jungle. And the jocks are often top of the food chain.

They’re the fittest, the strongest, possibly the best fighters. Doesn’t make them all thugs but some, yes, will take advantage.

Put it like this: you’d rather fall foul of the chess club than the rugby team. Then we grow. Things even out. What happened at 13 isn’t so important when you’re 24. Nobody cares about your swimming medals.

Underworld called their fourth album Second Toughest In The Infants because the empty boasts of childhood are a joke; except now they could bring public disgrace. A petition sent to the president of Korean Volleyball demands an investigation into the behaviour of the sisters: it has 120,000 signatures. That’s a lot of people still smarting about having their pencil case nicked. 

Will Arsenal punish Aubameyang as he hits form? 

Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng has been poor for Arsenal this season. This time last year all the talk was of how they must keep him and, by Christmas, when he had scored three League goals, the same folk wondered why they bothered. Recently, Aubameyang has perked up.

Last weekend he scored his first hat-trick for the club since May 2019. The next day it emerged Aubameyang might have broken lockdown rules getting a new tattoo. He was pictured showing it off on the Instagram site of artist Alejandro Nicolas Bernal. 

Arsenal are investigating whether Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has broken Covid rules

Arsenal are investigating whether Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has broken Covid rules

Arsenal say they are investigating and that the player will be punished if he is found to have transgressed. Of course he will. After all, who can forget the painstaking investigation into that business trip members of the women’s team made to Dubai last year?

Let’s face it, there is as much chance of Arsenal making an example of Aubameyang, just as he hits form, as there is of Virat Kohli facing a ban for the third Test after his row with the umpires in Chennai. That one seems to have gone very quiet, too.

We can’t win war on abuse while much of it has been normalised

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s chief executive, described the abuse of black players on social media as football’s biggest problem. ‘We are getting to a point where that type of abuse is becoming increasingly normalised,’ he told the FT Business of Football summit.

Indeed, and how does that happen? In part, because influential figures like Venkatesham discuss abuse as if it is only problematic if it is racist, or sexist. Yet recently, with the topic out in the open, we know referee Mike Dean has received death threats, so has Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, while at Venkatesham’s own club, Mikel Arteta’s family suffered abuse and Bernd Leno was advised to take the same course as another German goalkeeper, Robert Enke, who committed suicide.

This wasn’t racist abuse, or sexist abuse, it was just abuse. Yet by constantly framing the debate in terms of ethnicity or gender, the wider culture of online harm is, to use Venkatesham’s word, normalised.

If we could flick a switch and eradicate racism and sexism overnight it would be a wonderful start; but it still wouldn’t mean much if it continued to allow death threats towards other individuals and their families. The reason racist and sexist abuse is normalised is because abuse, generally, has been normalised. They join at the hip. Unless we grasp that, we can’t win.

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal¿s chief executive, described the abuse of black players on social media as football¿s biggest problem

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s chief executive, described the abuse of black players on social media as football’s biggest problem

Spurs demand big money for Kane… but to them he is worth it 

There will no doubt have been shock that Tottenham expect £150million for Harry Kane if he wishes to leave this summer, but it’s a reasonable price, even in a pandemic. Transfer fees are about what a player is worth to the seller, not the buyer — and Kane is every penny of that to Spurs.

To replace him, like for like, is close to impossible. Even a striker in his orbit would cost in the region of £100m. That’s if Tottenham could find one, and compete successfully with rivals.

Would Tottenham even get a foot in the door for a player of Erling Haaland’s calibre, no matter how much they had to spend? Unlikely. So losing Kane amounts to a significant restructuring of the squad. And it is not as if Tottenham are where Liverpool were in 2018, when they sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona. That move was used to solder the last two weak links in the team: at centre half and goalkeeper. Jose Mourinho has greater problems.

He could be required to spread the Kane money relatively thinly, as happened in 2013 with the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. Tottenham bought a striker, a defender and five midfielders with that windfall, at an average cost of £14.8m per player.

So, predictably, none of them were as influential and valuable to the team as the one they sold for £91.8m. That is what must be factored in if Kane leaves. There won’t be anyone else out there like him, or any configuration of talents that can immediately take his place. Whatever Tottenham demand, he’s worth it. To them.

Tottenham have every right to demand a £150million price for star striker Harry Kane

Tottenham have every right to demand a £150million price for star striker Harry Kane

Brentford lacking the ticker to reach the top flight 

Brentford would have been a Premier League club had they won the last match of the season against Barnsley in July. Then they failed in the play-off final, against Fulham, who finished below them.

Now, having hit top again, they promptly lost back-to-back matches against Barnsley and Queens Park Rangers and trail Norwich by four points. A point behind, Swansea have two games in hand.

Brentford’s use of analytics is much admired, enabling them to sell good players for significant sums, while maintaining a promotion challenge; but the one thing data cannot evaluate is a quality the Australians call ticker. Until Brentford develop that, disappointment is possible.

Sport still suckers up to Russia despite state-sponsored cheating 

Russia likes to play games of equivalency over drugs. The Fancy Bears hacks were all about finding other examples of dubious practice, muddying waters to make it appear everyone’s at it.

Here’s why Russian cheating is different. Danil Lysenko, world indoor champion high jumper, missed three drugs tests. That’s not unusual. A lot of countries have individuals who transgress. One bad apple, and all that. Yet, in Lysenko’s case, five senior Russian athletics officials conspired to invent car accidents, create fake doctors, medical records, even hospitals to cover up and avoid a two-year ban.

The investigation into this involved 7,000 documents, 22 witnesses, an enormous trail of deleted voicemail and WhatsApp messages, and took 15 months. Russian cheating is state-sponsored. Yet sport continues sucking up to that state.