Lewisham football club accuse referees of unconscious bias against Black players

Pic: Lewisham Borough CFC

A south London football club has expressed its ‘disappointment and frustration’ after the referee sent one of its players off in a case of mistaken identity on Saturday.

In the 68th minute of the match between Lewisham Borough CFC and Lordswood FC, Zac Ajose was shown a yellow card and sent off after the referee mistook him for one of his teammates who had been issued a caution earlier in the match.

The two players are Black, prompting accusations from fans, players and staff that ‘unconscious bias’ played a role in the way that the game was refereed.

In an official statement published on ‘X’, formerly Twitter, the Lewisham-based football club said: “The player shown a ‘second’ yellow card was playing in a similar position to another of our players who had been booked in the first half – both are young black men. Despite the best efforts of our coaching staff and players to highlight this error to the referee, they were ignored and dismissed.

“Our coaching staff were refused the courtesy of a pitch-side conversation with the referee that had been afforded to the opposition bench.”


Lewisham Borough CFC were forced to play the rest of the second half and extra time with just 10 players, with Lordswood FC going on to win 5-3.

In the post-match statement, the Lewisham-based football club called for questions to be answered:

  1. Why were the players’ shirt numbers not recorded properly by the referee or assistant referees when the caution was issued, considering standard refereeing protocol?
  2. Why did the referee have discussions with the opposition’s bench before choosing to issue the second yellow card to Lewisham’s player?
  3. Why were Lewisham coaching staff not afforded the opportunity to speak to the referee in real time to contest the decision, as they sought in good faith to correct this error?

Kent FA, the governing body of football in Kent, told ELL: “We are aware of the situation. Any issues will be thoroughly investigated and should there be any action this will be processed in line with FA rules and regulations. As this is an active situation, we have no further comment to make.”

The official club statement by Lewisham Borough CFC has garnered over 1.3 million views on ‘X’ with many users expressing their outrage.

Though cases of mistaken identity are rare, there have been precedents – although do not exclusively involve Black players.

Earlier this year, a referee sent off the wrong Bolton player for punching a Forest Green opponent in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity.

At a match between Manchester City and West Brom, Craig Dawson fouled Man City striker Wilfried Bony two minutes into the game, but referee Neil Swarbrick presented a red card to teammate Gareth McAuley instead.

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