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Stuart Hammonds: Conman Kabba cops correct FA punishment

WELLING United striker Sahr Kabba made a fool out of many at Park View Road last Saturday, not least himself.

Craig Hicks, the referee who quickly brandished a 72nd-minute red card at Tranmere centre-half Ritchie Sutton, is your starter for one.

Then, it emerged, assistant Ian Parsons had told Hicks that he had seen Sutton elbow 26-year-old Kabba, who was prone on the turf, holding his face with one hand while punching the ground with the other. So there’s number two.

He also made a mug out of me. Yes, I had roughly the same view, albeit slightly higher than Parsons, and I couldn’t have made the call the linesman did from 40 yards away in the other half of the pitch.

Directive

But based on the fact that I could see Kabba acting as if he’d been felled by a John Fashanu-style blow, I believed something serious must have occurred.

The Tranmere radio commentators next to me were convinced Kabba had overreacted, but how could they be sure, I thought, from that far away? So I gave the striker the benefit of the doubt. How wrong was I? And how wrong was Kabba?

Not only in the way he acted – because that’s what he did – but also in deciding, in that split second when he saw Sutton make a slight movement of his elbow by the side of his upper body, but not in an aggressive way at anything like face height, that he would fall over holding his face when the BT Sport cameras were omnipresent?

As I made my way down to the touchline for the post-match managers’ interviews, I asked Steve Bower – the BBC Match of the Day and BT commentator – whether it was a sending off? Never, came his unequivocal reply, echoed by Rovers boss Gary Brabin when we got the chance to ask his opinion moments later.

When I got back to The NLP office and had the chance to see it myself, it was clear that the game’s big talking point had had a huge impact on its outcome – Tranmere 1-0 up and in control before Welling were gifted a man advantage.

The Football Association have had a good week. First, they overturned Sutton’s red and subsequent three-game ban. It might not get Tranmere the two points back that they feel were lost as Welling fought back to draw 1-1 with Sam Corne’s stunning late strike, but it’s vindication that their player isn’t a thug.

Second, they made an example of Kabba, who can now lay claim to being the first player in English football to be charged and found guilty of “exaggerating or feigning an injury which directly led to an opponent being dismissed”, under a new directive brought in by Wembley chiefs this season.

The three-game ban and £250 fine handed to him on Friday night was right on the money. Not that this latest development helps Tranmere.

“I don’t want to see the lad suspended,” Brabin told me on Thursday afternoon. “It clearly wasn’t an elbow, but I would rather he still be available to play for Welling against teams who might prove rivals to us in the next couple of weeks. He could do us a favour.”

Tranmere Rovers boss Gary Brabin

Tranmere Rovers boss Gary Brabin

Nonetheless, the FA have suspended Kabba after an appeal against the charge was lodged by 6pm on Friday.

His actions were clearly designed to demonstrate that he’d been struck in the face, but the south-east London club said that because Tranmere had their appeal against the fact Sutton was sent off for an elbow upheld, they were appealing against Kabba’s subsequent charge because although “the elbow hasn’t made contact”, according to Wings boss Loui Fazakerley, there had been “body-on-body contact and that’s what caused Kabba to go down”.

In essence, Sutton stuck his backside out towards Kabba’s midriff. I’m sorry, but you don’t stay down for 40 seconds, holding your boat, if someone has bent over and brushed you with his bum cheeks.

So, now Kabba has made his manager and club look daft with their argument for appeal – and also this very paper.

Simulation

A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Tony Williams – a hugely respected former player, coach, administrator and editor of the Non-League Club Directory – suggested we contact the FA before the start of the season to find out what they were planning to do about footballers trying to get fellow players sent off.

Anyone who knows Tony will understand his love of the game at Non-League level, especially for seeing it played in the Corinthian spirit. After discussion at NLP HQ, we decided that it may be a blight on the game at higher levels, but that we, as reporters and fans, don’t leave Non-League games believing we’ve seen blatant acts of simulation.

Last Saturday, I did. So I apologise to Tony. He was right. And I thank the Football Association for bringing in the retrospective rule that will hopefully make other players think twice about making themselves look as foolish in the national spotlight as Kabba.

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