Another weekend in the Barclays Premier League and, you guessed it, controversy reigns supreme yet again. I recently penned an article on the shocking standard of officiating in the English top flight and my points were backed up once more as referees, and their assistants’, lived up to their bad name with a series of crucial gaffes in the two biggest games of the weekend.
The two games in question made up Sky Sports Super Sunday (meaning they were broadcast live to tens of millions of people in countries the world over) and while the watching masses were treated to games which showcased the best of the Premier League, they were also given a demonstration of the type of officiating which highlighted the worst of the E.P.L..
The Merseyside derby, which took place at Goodison Park, was Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off was the first game to dramatically altered by the ineptitude of the men in black. In a game which contained more guts and grit than sublime skill (mainly down to the home team’s determination to choke the visitors passing game), Liverpool raced into a two goal lead. Luis Suarez’s cross shot hit the unfortunate Leighton Baines and flashed past Tim Howard for an own goal opener. Suarez quickly followed up, getting his name on the score-sheet when he delicately glanced Steven Gerrard’s free-kick beyond Howard in the Everton goal.
The Toffees hit back swiftly though, as Leon Osman smashed Brad Jones’s feeble effort at a punched clearance back past Liverpool’s stand-in keeper and into the top corner, making it 1-2 after 22 minutes. Everton equalised thirteen minutes later and it was referee Andre Marriner’s mi stake which allowed them to do so. When the ball went out of play on the right side of Liverpool’s defensive third in the 35th minute, the assistant signalled a throw in to the away team. This was the correct decision (confirmed by numerous replays), however referee Marriner took it upon himself to overrule his assistant and wrongly award the throw in for the home side, thus awarding them possession in a dangerous position. From the throw in, the ball made its way to Fellaini who crossed for Naismith who notched his first Everton goal from close range. 2-2 at half-time.
Chances came for both teams in what was a tighter second-half but neither side could capitalise and the game looked set to be heading for a draw. However with just seconds of injury time remaining Liverpool won a free-kick. Gerrard’s floated ball found Coates who headed the ball down, across goal for Liverpool’s Uruguayan ace, Suarez, to prod home from six yards. Unbelievable stuff, Liverpool had snatched it! Or had they? No, as it turns out, they hadn’t because the referee’s assistant had raised his flag for offside, quite wrongly I might add.
Suarez was being played onside by at least two Everton defenders and Sylvain Distin’s reaction said it all. The assistant has no excuse for this monumental failure, he was looking across the line and Distin’s shirt would’ve been the first one he saw. When asked about the correctness of the call by the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard after the game, the assistant replied “I think so”. Simply not good enough! As Gerrard himself stated games cannot be decided because an assistant thinks a player is offside, he has to and should know so if he’s doing his job correctly. These two gaffes by the officials have directly altered the result of the fixture and cost Brendan Rodgers’s side much needed points, not for the first time this season either.
Super Sunday’s second offering came from Stamford Bridge. Manchester United were the visitors and they stunned Chelsea by storming into a two goal lead inside the first twelve minutes. The first came courtesy of another own goal; this time David Luiz was the unfortunate player, turning the ball past Petr Cech in the fourth minute after van Persie’s shot had come back off the post. Van Persie was on hand again eight minute later, this time to put the finishing touch to a United breakaway, expertly sweeping his finish beyond Petr Cech from twelve yards.
Chelsea had been caught cold but as the half progressed they began to find their way in the game. Just before half-time they clawed a goal back through the superb Juan Mata. The Spaniard continued his excellent run of scoring form when he curled home a fabulous free kick after Eden Hazard had been unceremoniously hauled down a few yards outside the box. 2-1 at half-time.
Chelsea started the second-half in the ascendency and immediately put the United goal under pressure, Mata denied by a great save from De Gea. Minutes later however, the Blues were back on level terms; Ramires climbing highest in the penalty area to power home a close range header beyond the United goalkeeper.
2-2 and game on, only for the officials to step in and spoil the action for the second game in a row. Mark Clattenburg’s first big decision of the game was probably correct. When Branislav Ivanovic ran across the back of Ashley Young, causing the United forward to go down, replays confirmed that Young had (on this occasion) been tripped. Ivanovic was the last man and despite the innocuous nature of the challenge, the letter of the law was correctly observed and Ivanovic saw red.
From then on however, Clattenburg and his assistants entered a realm of their own. Just minutes later, Fernando Torres led a breakaway for Chelsea; as Torres took on the visitors’ last line of defence, Jonny Evans in this instance, the Spaniard was clearly caught by the United defender, causing him to go down. Rather than reprimand or card Evans, Clattenburg instead decided to book Torres for diving. As Torres had already seen yellow for a foul earlier in the game, Torres had to go, a situation that the Spanish striker nor the Chelsea bench nor anybody watching the game could believe. The contact was clear, the decision laughable and Chelsea were now down to nine men.
To add insult to injury for the Blues, Ferguson’s charges were given another huge helping hand by the officials in scoring their third goal, ultimately the winner. Fifteen minutes from time, a shell-shocked Chelsea defence saw Javier Hernandez poke the ball home from six yards, following a cross from Rafael. The problem? Hernandez was two yards offside when the ball was played to him, in fact he was so far advanced that the Mexican was actually ahead of Petr Cech, making him the closest player to the Chelsea goal bar none. Another decision for which there can be no excuse, it was not a difficult call for the assistant to make, not by a long chalk. United closed the game out to win 2-3 but there can be absolutely no doubt that these catastrophic blunders, by both Clattenburg and his assistant, cost Chelsea dearly and, yet again, helped Manchester United and Alex Ferguson claim another three points.
The game ended in huge ill-feeling, with coins and other objects being hurled onto the pitch and referee Clattenburg involved in an angry confrontation with Chelsea players after the final whistle. Nobody likes to see crowd trouble and pundits often claim that players’ actions can calm or rile up the crowd, however for my money the officials’ roles are even more pivotal in determining the mood of the crowd. If a crowd sees blatant inconsistencies and terrible decisions which cost their team dearly, as was the case at Stamford Bridge, their frustration can easily boil over into anger. If a referee shows consistency and an understandable rationale even an incredibly frustrated crowd is unlikely to turn violent.
As I understand the situation today, Chelsea Football Club are looking into mounting a legal case against Clattenburg for alleged racist comments directed towards Jon Obi Mikel. Unfortunately, this seems like another case of “he said, she said”, unless anything was picked up by the TV cameras. However the incident/accusation makes the case for something that I’ve championed for a long time to be introduced to football. Referees should be miked up, like they are in rugby and other sports. Firstly these microphones would protect referees from being falsely accused of wrongdoing, secondly they would encourage respect for referees in terms of the way players interact with them and thirdly, perhaps most importantly, they would clear up discrepancies over decisions because fans would be able to hear the rationale behind a refereeing call.
Whether microphones are brought in or not (I wouldn’t hold my breath), one thing is for sure; the FA and the head of refereeing Mike Riley need to take the awful standard of officiating very seriously. The tide is beginning to turn, people’s attitudes are shifting under the sheer weight of the numbers of incorrect decisions which plague the game at the top level in England. When once fans were content to believe that “these things even themselves out during the season”, they no longer accept this line as true, particularly when the same teams seem to benefit from the blunders and the same teams seem to suffer. Corruption is a word hardly mentioned in English football (due to the somewhat bizarre blind faith that most British people have in their institutions), but I have a feeling that people may soon audibly begin to question whether the game in England really is all above board.
Not only that, but also professional footballers put in a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and tears for the cause of winning football matches for their fans. At the same time fans pay a fortune to follow their teams. Why should players and fans alike put all that effort, time and money into the sport if matches are regularly decided by inept, incompetent officials rather than the effort and skill of the players on the pitch? Unless something is done to sort out the current farcical situation, the beautiful game in England could turn very ugly, very quickly.
Suarez image by RuaraidhG. Torres image by thesportreview.