Why John Busby’s Bad Decision Should Be Forgotten

I know, I’m carrying it on myself, but I’ve been pondering on John Busby’s decision that has robbed us of our slim automatic promotion chances, and I just wanted to get something out there defending him.

Yes, you heard it right. I’m the man who is on Huxtable’s back before a ball has been kicked, who shivers at the name Stockbridge even if it doesn’t apply to Seb, and who still occasionally wakes up furious with Ben Toner for his woeful handling of our FA Trophy semi-final against York City. Mind you, at least he waved that penalty away three times before giving it, John Busby didn’t hesitate, and Saturday’s was far easier to call.

Since the weekend I have seen plenty about the standard of officiating in our division, with shouts of it not being good enough, of refs bottling big decisions and the like, but on reflection, I don’t think the referees we have had have been too bad. I think it is important to remember that when a referee has a good game, nobody notices him. When he has a bad game, he gets called out, but I’ll go on record as saying in the 180 odd minutes John Busby has refereed Imps’ games this season, he’s had a split second that was woeful, and barely raised a moan from me the rest of the time.

Then consider the likes of Kevin Johnson, Josh Smith, Will Finnie, Bobby Madley, Declan Bourne, the list goes on. Can you tell me the games they officiated? No. You know why? Because they all had good outings. Madley, Smith and Finnie in recent weeks have been great, and all try to let the game flow and keep it 11v11. It’s really important to remain grounded when criticising referees because one mistake is under the microscope.

Credit Graham Burrell

It is perhaps wise to consider this: in a typical game, a referee makes around 245 decisions (unless George Honeyman is playing, because he seems to make quite a few on behalf of the officials). Assuming that Busby made that many at the weekend, how many did he get wrong that you noticed? Two? Four? Sure, the penalty was a big one, but he made that decision with the aid of a dive, some appealing players who knew it wasn’t a foul and what seemed like pressure coming from the home bench (remember Ferguson’s little tantrum halfway through the second half? A lot changed after that). Maybe, John Busby got 1% of his decisions wrong. Tops. Bear in mind, a so-called ‘wrong decision’ in your eyes might be the right one from the opposition side of things, so perhaps he got fewer than 0.5% of his decisions wrong. Yes, it was a big call, but it is not an easy job. Now, if he put in a performance like Toner against York, maybe he could be slated as a bad referee, but this is a man who was (or maybe still is) closing in on the Select Group 2, a referee widely touted for one of the play-off matches. Just think on this, if you were asked how many mistakes you make at work, could you, hand on heart, say fewer than 1 in every 245 tasks you carry out?

With that in mind, do you really think he was a cheat, or keen to even it up? I don’t, I think he just made a split-second decision that was wrong. If it happens in the 60th minute of a game in December, you barely talk about it a month later. If it happens in a game that decides promotion, or indeed a semi-final with a Wembley place on the line, then you talk about it all day long. The truth is this: John Busby will be feeling almost as bad as anyone this weekend. We’ve heard the referee’s body had apologised for the decision (something that apparently happened in games against Gillingham and Plymouth earlier in the season when we got the decisions), with Michael saying in this morning’s press conference: “The referees have apologised for the decision. It doesn’t change anything just that it wasn’t a good day for the ref or for us as a club. There’s another very good opportunity coming up for us soon and we need to make sure we’re in the right mindset for them. It’s as bad decision as you’ve ever seen, but it’s done now and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s potentially cost the club a lot of money but we’ve got an opportunity to make sure that isn’t the case.”

Credit Graham Burrell

Exactly – we can still make sure the decision doesn’t cost us, we have our fate in our hands. The same applied when Gillingham, Fleetwood and Rochdale tickled our bellies at home, didn’t it? Or when we threw away the 3-2 lead at Plymouth, or drew with an awful Swindon side. If we’d scored penalties against Posh and Doncaster earlier in the season, it wouldn’t matter either. The point is this: John Busby made a bad choice, but it was one single second of a 46-game season and I’m afraid when all those games are played, you finish where you deserve to. We could have been top two, but a season isn’t just what happens on the field, it is about injuries, squad management and all sorts. There have been so many moments that have affected that, it is wrong to point the finger at one man’s choice.

On the other hand, we could have been seventh, or tenth. We could have been relegated, we could be Grimsby Town who seemingly enjoyed the National League so much they wanted to go back. This has been a wonderful season, a rebirth of the club from last year’s upheaval, and a new direction and era that few thought possible after Danny Cowley left the club. That should be what we are all talking about, not one decision. The focus now, around the club, the fanbase and here on the site is going to be on Charlton, Wimbledon and then the two huge matches coming up after that. I ask you this; has there ever been two (hopefully three) bigger games, in terms of success, in the club’s history? I doubt it and that is something to focus on, not the one poor decision from a man who I have no doubt feels much sicker than you about it, even if he can’t come out and say it.

John Busby isn’t the enemy. Referees are not the enemy and whilst they are easy targets, now the dust has settled let’s focus on the real enemy – whichever side we face in the two enormous, history-defining matches coming up in May.