Archive for the 'Refs' Category


Five things we learnt from Manchester United v Spurs.

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Even from this view it was obvious the ref had not signalled a free kick

Prior to Saturday’s game a Spurs fan I know called his team’s visit to Old Trafford, a ‘trip to the theatre of refs.’ While Mark Clattenburg may have helped cement that moniker in the minds of the Spurs faithful, there was a lot more to grasp from Saturday’s game than just Nani’s bizarre goal.

Before the game there was a lot of speculation surrounding which United right back would be given the unenviable task of marking Gareth Bale, who is now universally accepted as the greatest left winger in the history of world football.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who seems to love throwing Rafael Da Silva in at the deep end, chose the young Brazilian, and also gave former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick a rare Premier League start.

With Chicharito starting alongside every Spurs fans favourite Bulgarian up front, the omens looked good for  an exciting and attacking game. With the likes of Rafael Van Der Vaart, who many United fans feel should have been wearing a Red shirt on Saturday and Luka Modric lining up for Spurs, then this game definitely did not have nil nil written anywhere near it.

So what did we learn from Saturday’s late kick off other than Rio Ferdinand is already suffering from the preferential treatment which seems obligatory for all England captains?

1. Ji-Sung Park is going nowhere. There’s been a lot of rumours that the South Korean Captain would be heading out of the Old Trafford door come the summer, or even January depending on who you believe. Park’s not had the best start to a season and with all this talk of a summer spending spree to placate Wayne Rooney’s need for bigger names at his next birthday party, many believed Park may sold.

However on Saturday Park showed what many United fans have known for a long time- that he’s one of the best squad players you could wish to have. He may not have the skill of a Nani or the pace of an Antonio Valencia, but he has the determination and energy of a fully fit Owen Hargreaves and was simply awesome on Saturday. Always willing to track back and get in a tackle, and carrying the ball forward and attacking the space with gusto, Park played like a man possessed. With Darren Fletcher- who I’ll get to later and Chicharito also seeming to think any loose ball was property of Manchester United, the Spurs players had their work cut out all afternoon.

Throw in a great run and shot that hit the post early on in the game and you can call it one of Park’s best performances for some time.

2.  Michael Carrick, where have you been? A few days ago on this very site, I labelled Carrick, along with Park, one of the most underrated United players of all-time. At the time of writing I had to acknowledge it may have seemed an unpopular choice as Carrick had been going through arguably his worst spell at Old Trafford and still hadn’t seemed to recover from the Bayern Munich game. Saturday’s performance however was exactly what Carrick is capable of and should be doing week in week out. Carrick seemed to grow in confidence as the game wore on and benefited from having a Scottish terrier alongside him who was willing to do a lot of the running. Carrick’s never been the sort of high octane player like a Fletcher, Hargreaves or a Roy Keane and sometimes he gets unfairly judged because of that.

It was his sloppiness that had been the reason for most of his criticism at the back end of last season and probably cost him his chance of replacing Gareth Barry in the England side for the Word Cup.

Saturday’s game was an example of what Carrick can do, quietly going about his job, passing the ball about nicely and always giving his team mates an option. Carrick remained fairly disciplined as well knowing when to venture forward and when to sit back knowing the dangers that the Spurs midfield possessed. It may not have been the sort of performance that has you drooling and screaming his name- hopefully not at the same time, but if Carrick can do it consistently then like Park, talk of a summer transfer may be premature.

3. Dimitar Berbatov is entitled to an off day. The same fixture last season saw many in the crowd at Old Trafford on Berbatov’s back almost before he touched the ball. This time round Berbatov had arguably his worst performance of the season but everyone seemed to accept this is going to happen. While his touch may have let him down and he seemed to spend more time arguing with Nani than linking up with him, Berbatov is not considered the lazy waste of money and space, he was at times last season and there’s no doubt that he’ll put this off day behind him and be back on song soon.

The fact the supporters are now forever in love with him thanks to a hat trick against the relegation battlers from down the M62 means that unlike last season, one or two mistakes, or even one or two off days won’t have everyone calling for his head.

4. Darren Fletcher could be the difference. If United are to win the title then they’re going to need more performances like this from the Scottish skipper. Fletcher was awesome, with the sort of energised display that Bryan Robson or Roy Keane would have been proud of. Fletcher played as though it was a cup final, battling for every ball, chasing seemingly lost causes and never shying away from tackles. Everyone knows that Fletcher is capable of this type of performance- just ask Cesc Fabregas- but he seems to only save it for the special occasions.

If Fletcher can emulate this showing week in week, then United would have a far better chance of regaining the title. Too many times this season Fletcher’s seemed subdued slightly and not always managed to get to grips with certain games. As he showed on Saturday  Fletcher’s one of the best midfielders in Europe on his day and if he pulls out the ‘barnstorming displays’ more regularly then United could be going one better than last season.

5. ‘Running down the pitch don’t know which one’s which viva Da Silva’. Rafael could have been forgiven if he’d have struggled to get to grips with Bale, after all he’s not exactly been United’s first choice right back this season. However no one bothered to tell Rafael how amazing, awe-inspiringly wonderful Bale was, as the young defender did an admirable job of marking the ‘Welsh wonder’, Ryan Giggs should have trademarked that name when he had the chance, out of the game. Although Bale did have one good run and shot, which was more down the middle than down the left wing, he was nowhere near as dangerous as he has been at times this season.

Rafael even had the audacity to get forward now and again causing Bale to have to track back and help deal with him- the cheek. Rafael is far from the finished article and was subbed after an hour for Wes Brown- who got a massive cheer when he went through Peter Crouch. But as Saturday showed, he’s got a bright future ahead of him and is not afraid of taking on the world’s best wingers.


World Cup diary -England v Germany

The Lampard 'goal' was at the other end- yet I could still see it went in

As soon as the Germany Ghana game finished and it was obvious England would be playing the Germans in the next round, my friends and I made a decision, no matter what we’re going.

After spending a ridiculous amount on a ticket- 150 quid for a 35 pound ticket from some bloke on t’internet- and getting rid of a Argentina Mexico one that I already had, it was time to sort out transport.
Staying in Johannesburg, getting to Bloemfontein should have been a doddle, after all they’re both big cities. However after checking train times it became clear that both trains coaches and even flights were not going to get us there before kick-off.

Due to the fact none of us had a credit card, car-hire was also out of the question, so it was dodgy lift time. My mate Simon had the number of a Zimbabwean bloke called…..erm Zimbabwean geezer, who ran a taxi of sorts so we gave him a ring. After some bargaining that went on throughout Saturday over a series of phone calls we eventually settled on a price of 2000 rand which is about 200 quid. We had a train booked to take us back at 4am so we could stay in Bloemfontein and celebrate England defeating the krauts- or so we thought.

A light aircraft had made an emergency landing on the road to Bloemfontein

We set off at 7.30 am – miraculously Zimbabwean geezer was on time, luckily for me I managed to sleep throughout most of the journey. When we got to a petrol station to get some supplies we encountered a crowd of both England and Germany fans, we were almost there.

After a four and half hour drive we arrived in Bloemfontein and made our way to where all the fans were heading- it was a good four hours till Kick-off.

All the fans were congregated round a waterfront set of bars, and the England supporters were in full voice. There were inflatable spitfires , St George flags, even a few St. George body suits on display. Unlike other games I’ve attended there was a distinct lack of vuvuzelas- although there were the odd one or two.

Both sets of fans were in good spirits and the atmosphere was jovial and friendly- chants of Deutschland and In-ger-land could be heard everywhere interspersed with the occasional “you can stick your vuvuzelas up your *rse” and the odd actual vuvuzela.

As we made our way into the ground, walking through a shopping mall, there were several chants of “England till I die,” which I’ve always found slightly embarrassing for some reason. It reminds me of one of those no surrender to the IRA nonsensical chants that many England fans used to sing before the Good Friday agreement consigned it to the scrapheap- although I have heard the word IRA has been replaced by Taliban.
Maybe I’m just not as patriotic as some people but I’ve always found supporting England to be something of a paradox. Standing alongside people wearing everything from Arsenal to Liverpool to Chelsea to whatever tops sometimes feels a bit weird. As does cheering on a team led by that cheating “there you go Chelsea, you have the league title” badge –or camera- kissing donut Steve Gerrard. I do want England to succeed- obviously as I wouldn’t have spent almost the rest of my entire South Africa budget going to see them but if I’m honest, they’ll always be a fairly distant second to following Man U.

The waterfront at Bloemfontein was almost like being in England

That aside, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the old chestnut “England fans did us proud” was actually very true.

Just outside the ground I got chatting to a couple of lads from Oldham- Royton to be precise- who told me they’d got rid of their spare tickets for a measly 20 quid a few minutes earlier. Apparently despite the rumours that there were thousands of England fans travelling to Bloemfontein without tickets and that the game would be a sell-out and then some, there were lots of tickets available from touts or supporters just prior to kick-off for ridiculously low prices. It looks like, spending 150 quid each for ours was a bit of a fook up to say the least but we weren’t to know that.

The game itself was obviously disappointing from an England point of view. We were sat behind the goal where the Germans opened the scoring, when Upson put us back in the game we thought the comeback was on. For Lampard’s ‘goal’ even though we were down the other end we –along with every other person in the ground bar the ref and linesman thought it was a goal and celebrated as though it was. When we realised it hadn’t been given we were distraught, angry, bemused, devastated, all rolled into one. At half time a woman told me her friend had texted her and the ball was at least “two yards over the line”.
Great, yet again it seemed a decision against England- a bad one- was going to cost us our chance at a major tournament. When England came out for the second half we were all still pretty confident, but obviously it wasn’t to be.

The final nail in the coffin of my England world cup experience was seeing Emile Heskey come on in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never been a fan of the Villa forward and don’t buy into the whole ‘he brings the best out of Rooney’ nonsense that’s often spouted by so-called experts. Seeing him take the field to help us gain back a three-goal deficit was a joke. The man’s scored 3 times all season and yet somehow Capello thinks he’s the key to unlocking the German defence. To quote a distasteful Ivorian striker “It’s a fooking disgrace.”

After the game we headed to a bar/club as our train journey back to Jo’burg wasn’t until 4am. The shock of being knocked out and the manner of the defeat actually seemed to subside slightly and many England fans were in good voice and getting along well with the Germans- I was almost disappointed. Surely there must have been somebody rioting or burning Bloemfontein to the ground? But no we just got on with enjoying our night.

One of the few highlights of the journey back - picture Jon Devo

The train journey home was without a doubt one of the single most stressful journeys I have ever undertaken. The carriages were all full so we had to try and sleep in a corridor which was about minus 3 degrees. It was a nightmare. The journey lasted 9 hours?! But if felt like 24, although the last two hours were less harsh as seats were available and some all the ladies in our carriage began signing church songs and dancing, it was a truly magical experience watching all these ladies singing along, clapping and dancing in the aisles. I was tempted to start of a few Cantona chants but decided against it.

We were treated to two rather disconcerting things in the final hours of our trip, we saw a dead body from an accident on the side of the tracks- I say dead without meaning to sound melodramatic but the poor chap clearly was and then someone threw a rock through the window which narrowly missed my mate Jon’s head.

We finally arrived in Johannesburg a full 28 hours after we had left. England were out of the World Cup and no doubt the English newspapers would be blaming Capello, the referee and more than likely the linesman too. For our post-match analysis we went to a Nando’s and while the game may have been disappointing, the journey back a nightmare, the trip itself had actually been a good laugh. Now to find another team to get behind…….come on Ghana!


World Cup diary- six-a-side tournament in Jo’Burg

Showing the South Africans how not to do it

With a little football tournament called the world cup going on in most of south africa, I was well and truly in the kick-about mood. Thankfully I was sent to cover a story, well to sort of keep someone company who was covering a story, about a church organised six-a-side competition going on in Eldorado, Johannesburg.

As soon as the opportunity arose to join some unfortunate teams ranks, I grabbed it with both hands- now was the time to teach these Africans we Brits invented the ‘beautiful game’ and were still the masters of it.

The problem for me is that I’m pretty much bereft of any skill, pace, stamina, or genuine footballing ability, but what I lacked in talent I could make up for in bluster and important motivational shouts.

The tournament featured around ten adult teams plus many more kid’s teams- who took part in a separate competition- and was played on four separate pitches on a large field. The teams had an assortment of kits ranging from Celtic style green and white hoops, AC Milan style of black and red plus an assortment of greens not to mention the obligatory Bafana Bafana strip. My team were called ‘The West’ which considering some of the names on display- BBC1, BB2, Christ Like and even Crystal Magic- I was quite pleased with.

The team names were announced from a tannoy system in the corner of the field which also blared out house music while the games were played which gave it all a bit of a holiday feel.

Talking of holidays it’s worth mentioning that this tournament took place on a national holiday here in South Africa called Youth Day, to commemorate the anniversary of a dark day in the nation’s history when children were slain by police while protesting against the introduction of Afrikaans into the curriculum.

While that may have been a dark time, this day the sun was shining brightly and although, it wasn’t too hot- thank god- it was fairly warm. Almost perfect football weather.

My team lined up against a team called Ivory Coast in the first match and I decided to give myself the role of sweeper, which merely meant lingering at the back hoofing the ball clear any time it came near me.

While I was arguably at fault for the opposition’s first goal after failing to meet a pass whereby a player who by rights should be running in the Olympics, whipped past me and drove the ball through my keepers legs, it was not all bad news.

I had a hand in our equaliser by getting subbed for the scorer of it, and I also think my shouts of “let’s keep this champagne football flowing boys”, “put it in the mixer!” and “effort!” helped motivate the team.

In between the first and second games I spoke to Mikey one of the older lads on our team who explained that the church usually have an athletics day every year but changed it to football this time round due to the World Cup.

For the second game I managed to have a fairly innocuous time, other than a shot that went 15 yards wide and a sliding tackle that took place at least seven seconds too soon, I played my part in our two-nil victory.

Following a post match wors roll, I took in the some of the football on display. To be brutally honest it wasn’t of the highest calibre- hence a team containing a player like me could progress past the first round.

Me and the boys following our epic QF victory

I was shocked to hear our record of played 2 won 1 drawn 1 had been enough to see us through to the quarter-finals where we met a team of men who looked like they were auditioning for the part of Biggie Smalls in an upcoming film.

I was delighted when our coach told me to mark the largest of them, which meant I spent the whole of the game jogging slowly and occasionally making a clearance as we strolled-literally- to a one-nil win.

The refereeing in this game took a turn for the worse as the man in the middle ate a wors roll while he ref’d which meant he was not only reluctant to use his whistle due to it obstructing his eating but he also seemed pretty clueless to the rules of football.

Despite the ref’s incompetence the game was a fairly routine affair as the opposition tired quicker than you can say ‘Sky’s the Limit.’

We were now through to the semi’s, unfortunately I wouldn’t be participating- arguably like most Englishmen here in South Africa this summer- as I was told by the girl I was accompanying we had to get back to the office.

To be fair I was relieved- I’d gone out on a high, helping my team reach the dizzy heights of the semi-final of the Crystal Church youth day tournament with a performance I likened to Bobby Moore- in my own head.


United’s near-miss shouldn’t hide the truth.

Hopefully those ribbons won't be on for too long.

Finishing runners-up in the league, getting knocked-out in the early stages of the FA Cup and a quarter-final Champion’s League exit hardly a good season makes at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’ A Carling Cup win, while pleasing, is not really the sort of accomplishment United fans will be shouting at Liverpool fans come next season- although City fans now that’s another story.

It’s safe to that a season which saw seven league defeats, everyone’s least favourite Yorkshire men coming to Old Trafford and dumping United out of the FA Cup, plus losing twice to Chelsea, will not be a DVD release-type of year looked back upon decades from now with the same reverence as 1998-9 or 2007-08.
The loss of Ronaldo and a certain Argentinean got the season off to a somewhat sombre start which wasn’t helped by an early loss away to relegation certainties Burnley.

United’s season never really got going- at least not in the league, in the past the most successful team in Premier League history have remained just that by stringing together awe-inspiring winning runs- usually when other teams have faltered. It’s not been uncommon for United to put together an 8 or 9 match-winning run or maybe a record-breaking run of clean sheets.

This season United’s best winning run in the league was five matches, which while hardly pathetic is not the sort of dominant cavalier charge that has put would-be title challengers in their place in seasons past.

It isn’t really United’s lack of a long winning run which prevented the Premier League title remaining at Old Trafford for a record-breaking fourth consecutive season- and more importantly to many fans 19th title win in total. Losing twice to your nearest title rivals is not necessarily a recipe for disaster, after all last season Rafa Benitez’s men did the double over United yet still failed to prise the trophy from Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp, but the two losses to Chelsea this season more or less sealed the titles fate.

While it is deeply disappointing to come so close to the title- and making history to boot- there is a need for some sober reflection on how the defending champions never quite put forward true title winning credentials.

Losing to Everton, Fulham, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Burnley not to mention twice to Chelsea is the sort of statistic unheard of at United and while many excuses can be found for each loss- injuries, poor decisions, missed penalties etc, there’s no denying it’s not good enough.

Which brings me on to my point, had United won the league, it would only have papered over some of the cracks which need addressing.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on these very pages urging Fergie not to panic and try and replace half the first-team as some more over-exuberant observers had been advocating.

While I still stick by the idea that United are only one or two players away from being the best team in the land there are certain factors which cannot be ignored.
First on the agenda and this may go down like a BNP joke at a Bar Mitzvah but I’m going to state it anyway, the atmosphere at Old Trafford at times this season has been shocking. Getting out-sung by around one-fifteenth of the supporters in the ground is a bit of a joke and no matter how much I’d like to pretend the Old Trafford faithful are the loudest in the land, it simply doesn’t ring true. Too many times this season opposition fans have been the far too audible while many United supporters have been far too quiet. I’m not going to get into the whole prawn-sandwich debate but from the times I’ve visited Old Trafford this season, I’ve often left disappointed with the atmosphere rather than the result.

Secondly there’s Rio Ferdinand. I honestly feel I don’t need to explain this but for anyone visiting from another planet or Chadderton, allow me to elucidate. 24 league starts in 2008-09 was something of a disappointment softened only by the emergence of Jonny Evans as a true first-class defender. This season half that number of starts is practically useless, as soon as Rio comes back into the team, he’s out again, which does nothing for stability not to mention confidence. United need Rio fit and playing regularly and if that’s not possible then they need to sign a top defender who can play week in week out. Chris Smalling is not the answer, at least not in the near-future. If United do not sign a top defender- after all they’re hardly easy to come by then maybe Fergie should give Evans a real chance and make him a regular starter- regardless of whether Rio’s fit or not. This may sound crazy after all Ferdinand is still one of the best defenders in the world, but it may give the defence much-needed stability. It could also see Evans grow in confidence and become the player he’s shown signs of over the past two seasons.

Thirdly Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen- for the purposes of brevity I’ve lumbered them both together. Neither can be truly relied upon to perform for United at the highest level, Owen is far too injury prone while Berbatov is far too p*ss poor prone. If United are to have any form of striking plan-b then, a new striker must be top of the agenda. Kiko Macheda has the potential to become a world-beater but next season may be a bit to soon for every United fan’s favourite Italian.

Finally there’s the attacking central midfielder that’s been missing at Old Trafford ever since Paul Scholes stopped being the force he once was. To be fair to Scholes in the past few games he’s been United’s best player but he cannot be relied upon to do it week in week out and has not been the goal-scorer he was for about 4 seasons now.
Antonio Valencia and Nani look more than up to the task on the wings, and there’s the prospect of Gabriel Obertan carrying some of the form he’s shown for the reserves for the first-team next season. Let’s not forget Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park of course, who can still do a job albeit not regularly- at least not in Giggs’s case.

These factors may have been brushed under the carpet had Steven Gerrard not bet half his wages on a Chelsea title win- I’m joking of course, although mainly to avoid libel. United really didn’t deserve to win the title, as I told my very few scouse friends last season ‘the table doesn’t lie.’ For United to regain the premier league crown it’s going to take more than Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez.


Is premier league refereeing at its worst ever?

Howard Webb- arguably the most famous man in the picture

There was a time long, long ago in a league not too far away, when the most spoke about person on the pitch was undoubtedly the team’s top player. Men such as Cantona, Shearer and Henry were the stars of the show with others grappling to compete for recognition. Now though there seems to have been a slight shift in focus, while there’s no denying the likes of Rooney, Drogba and Gerrard are the most talked about by fans and press alike, there’s a list of men rapidly gaining ground in the attention stakes. Names such as Clattenburg, Foy, Dean and Riley’s appearance on a team sheet can evoke a bigger groan from fans than the omission of a star striker. It seems referees have now become household names in their own right-and for all the wrong reasons. Almost every football supporter has a mental list of which referees they hate seeing officiate. The times of the man in black –or green- being an anonymous figure are well and truly long gone as more and more referees are influencing games. Every weekend there seems to be more and more games where the referee is the main focus of discussion at the final whistle. Even when teams are being steamrollered there’s always at least one dubious decision to give the losers pause for thought.

There’s no doubt always been bad refereeing- anyone who remembers the likes of Elleray and Poll will acknowledge that. The problem seems to be that bad decisions are becoming increasingly commonplace and ruining many football matches, particularly closely fought ones.

Last week’s Wednesday night matches saw the sort of inept performances we’ve come to expect now in the top flight. At Villa Park referee Peter Walton seemed to lose all grasp of what constituted a foul and a tackle as the game wore on. Yes Nani deserved to go, but that was one of the few decisions the official got right as tackles were punished as fouls and one or two blatant fouls simply ignored.

Then over to the Emirates where a last-minute free-kick was saved blatantly by Fabregas’s arm only for Howard Webb to ignore Liverpool’s appeals. Meanwhile over at Ewood Park Lee Probert was endearing himself to Hull fans by sending off George Boateng for what appeared to be a fairly innocuous attempt to win a header.

Some referees seem to enjoy being the centre of attention, whipping out cards quicker than a croupier as bookings and sendings off are becoming more and more frequent. This season has already seen more yellow and red cards than in the whole of the inaugural premier league campaign. Although the amount of cards issued, doesn’t necessarily mean poor decision making, the amount of controversies seems to have increased.

Since Russian linesmen through to the Hand of God we’ve had disputable or downright dreadful judgments by referees. More often than not the announcement of the ref before a game can result in a collective groan from certain fans that’ve come to know his reputation. The next sight of Chris Foy leading the teams out at Turf Moor will no doubt be met with disgust by the Burnley faithful. Martin Atkinson should probably avoid going out drinking anywhere near Stanley Park in the near future following his completely incompetent performance in the Merseyside derby. Kevin Friend won’t be going round to Avram Grant’s house for a cup of tea any time soon- or Neil Warnock’s for that matter. Howard Webb is arguably the most famous referee at the moment, yet is it for his excellence? Ask any Spurs fan at Old Trafford last season and I’m pretty sure of the answer you’ll get.

Just as each set of fans has an opposing player they vehemently despise- with Ronaldo gone there’s no unanimous choice, although Gary Neville tries his best- there is now almost always a referee to unite us in our anger.

There are several solutions to the refereeing problem in the top flight, relegation to lower divisions for poor performances, suspensions- these are used but not nearly enough- or the introduction of video replays to give the officials some much needed help.

Is the problem more than that though? In this age of celebrity big brother-get me out of here-makeover- are referees becoming fond of the attention they’re receiving. Are the men in green becoming too well-known and getting too used to it? If pressed most fans could name at least half the premier league refs by sight and this may be the trouble. Its a self –amplifying problem the worse the referees are, the more famous they become- the worrying part is, some of them seem to revel in it.

There is an argument that things always seem better when you look back over the years, perhaps the standard of refereeing is no worse than it was a few years ago. After all Uriah Rennie is still a name which can conjure a feeling of physical discomfort to many supporters. I just can’t remember a time when so many referees were so well known for doing their jobs so badly. The problem isn’t exclusive to the premier league of course; you only have to ask an Irish fan to know that.