Foul Play? A Definite Maybe…

A recent Azed puzzle featured a clue along the lines of this one:

Half the fans received stick (5)

for FAGOT (FA(ns) + GOT).

But surely ‘Half the fans’ is THE plus half of the letter F (whatever that might look like)?

I can accept

Half the Italian fans beginning to fuel row (4)

for TIFF (TIF(osi) + F(uel))

since what the clue requires us to take half of does not explicitly appear in the clue, so the parsing process can reasonably be

  1. ‘the Italian fans’ ⇒ TIFOSI
  2. ‘Half TIFOSI’ ⇒ TIF

But in the first example, we are being asked to mentally vault straight over the definite article to the words ‘fans’. As far as I’m concerned, when the letters appearing in the clue are themselves to be manipulated, superfluous articles cannot be acceptable when they appear in the middle of a cryptic element. I certainly wouldn’t be impressed by:

Restrain a chap holding measure (4)

as a ‘hidden’ for INCH ((restra)IN (a) CH(ap)),

Lively conflict before start of the match  (4)

for WARM (WAR + (the) M(atch)), or

See a chap cooking fruit (7)

for PEACHES ((SEE (a) CHAP)*).

The referee’s response? Where letters in the  clue itself are to be selected or rearranged, there should be no misleading verbiage between the selection/rearrangement indicator and the target word(s), including the definite or indefinite articles. Replays may prove me wrong, but I reckon it’s a straight red…and we’ll have no dissent when leaving the pitch, if you please.

Or am I being unreasonable?

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