Unlike the raucous, sweary, beery mob that cheer on the men at Stamford Bridge, the fans of Chelsea Women are more restrained and respectful, singing from a family-friendly songbook with anything inappropriate solemnly edited out.
But the choruses of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ directed at referee Jack Packman on Sunday by many of the Blues fans in the west stand, and elsewhere at a packed Kingsmeadow, were heartfelt, pointed and, sad to say, spot-on.
It’s fair to observe that Packman (no relation to the 80s arcade game Pac-Man) had an absolute mare on Sunday afternoon when Chelsea hosted Manchester United Women. Not so much the man in the middle as a man in a muddle.
He apparently conceded the fact that he’d got a few things wrong when confronted at the end by the United manager, Casey Stoney. Blues manager Emma Hayes was, however, less willing to criticise any failings, mindful of the FA’s efforts to raise refereeing standards – a process that she sees as long-term, and worth encouraging.
A week before the Chelsea game, Packman was the ref for Chelmsford City v Dorking Wanderers, and he certainly hadn’t expected to be the man in black at Kingsmeadow… until the original officials started dropping like flies.
Leeds official Elizabeth Simms was meant to be refereeing the match, but she pulled out with tonsillitis. Then her scheduled replacement broke a bone and withdrew, and Packman was hastily drafted in at the eleventh hour, summoned from his Margate home.
It was slightly harsh, but not unreasonable, for Packman to yellow-card United’s Amy Turner after a quarter of an hour when she theatrically fell on the ball and held on to it to deny Chelsea the chance to play through.
But then decisions started to go awry all over the pitch.
Clear Chelsea throw-ins were mysteriously awarded to United, and vice versa. Fouls were given the wrong way.
Yet when Blues keeper Ann-Katrin Berger was clattered by the fiesty Lauren James, running through on the Chelsea goal, and suffered a head injury, he (quite rightly) ruled that the collision had been accidental and not deliberate, and allowed the match to restart without penalising James after Berger had been restored to health.
Four minutes from half-time came a turning point. Amy Turner (there were two Turners on the pitch for United) made what looked like a rash tackle on Guro Reiten in the middle of the park as the Norwegian was haring away on a promising upfield foray.
Packman reached into his pocket and produced what would, for her, have been a second yellow.
Instead, to general disbelief, he erroneously showed the card to her team-mate Abbie McManus, who took the punishment without demur. Chelsea’s players protested about the identity muddle, but with no VAR or intervention from the assistants, the game resumed.
When the interval arrived, Packman’s fourth official was told to add two extra minutes. This was clearly nonsensical as medics had been on the pitch treating Berger for at least four.
The only goal of the game came in the 64th minute when sub Fran Kirby was tackled by Millie Turner in the box, and a penalty was given. United were furious, claiming that Turner had got the ball first. The spot kick stood, and although keeper Mary Earps got her fingertips to Maren Mjelde’s pen, she couldn’t keep it out.
By this point, Packman was growing accustomed to the ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ chants which were coming from both United and Chelsea fans. Less welcome were the boos for James from the west stand Chelsea ultras; an accident is an accident, and the abuse was harsh.
United sub Ella Toone came close to levelling with a shot which was scrambled clear following a dazzling tip on to the crossbar by Berger before Packman capped his dismal afternoon by giving four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half, to general gasps of disbelief as it barely merited one.
When she’d calmed down a bit after the game, United manager Casey Stoney was still seething about the penalty award, while Chelsea striker Beth England was later quoted as backing Stoney, while adding her own complaints about the refereeing from the point of view of player protection.
Though known as a plain-speaker, England is not one for making false or gratuitous criticisms of match officials.
United first. “I’ll get fined if I said what I want to say,” said Stoney in a press briefing. “We are a professional game. We have to address the level of refereeing. We work hard week in, week out. My players are honest, hard-working, driven – they deserve better than that. It was a 90-minute poor performance. [Packman] has apologised, but that’s too late.”
On the penalty, Stoney said: “The only person in the ground who saw it as a penalty is the referee. Give yourself time to make a big decision. It’s not fair on the players when their staff are turning around and going, ‘It’s never a penalty’.
“We all make mistakes – I make mistakes, my players make mistakes – but it’s a big one.
“I’m annoyed I have to talk about the poor officiating when we should be talking about the crowds, the quality of the game, the speed of the game, the outstanding play,” added Stoney. “The game has professionalised, but the officiating hasn’t moved forward in my opinion.”
Meanwhile Beth England said: “The league needs to look at [the lack of bookings for studs-up tackles]. It’s not OK. Where is the protection for the players? The decisions, for me, were embarrassing. We want to put in good performances and, when referees are giving bad decisions that are killing the game, it’s hard.”
She was particularly aggrieved by the challenge on Reiten which resulted in the wrong player being booked. “I hope that [the FA and the match officials] will watch the game and look at how badly they did. I thought they were appalling today,” she added.
Emma Hayes, the Chelsea manager, made a funny face when asked about the refereeing in the match. “I think you could argue [United] could have had a red card, and [United] might argue it wasn’t a penalty,” she said.
“The realities are that the official who was due to be on had tonsillitis, the second official who was meant to be on had a broken body part – I can’t remember which one – so the third one was drafted in.
“It’s tight on the officials when you’re coming in under those circumstances. What the FA are doing right is that they have a pool of officials now who are being scrutinised, much like the Premier League game, and the rigour involved in that means that we might suffer a bit in the short term, but in the long term the FA’s approach is right.”
Asked to comment specifically on the Reiten tackle and the red-card-that-never-was, Hayes added: “I think if you’re going to pull the player back, it’s a red card. Otherwise, don’t make it a foul. So then, if they’re down to 10, it may be a different outcome.
“But I don’t want to make it about the officials; I think we should be thanking the guy for stepping in at the last minute.”