England’s poor referees

Referee Mark Clattenburg was accused of racially abusing Chelsea players.-AP

The English game has been dogged by controversial decisions by match officials. English referees are not as good as they used to be in good old days, writes Brian Glanville .

The recent horrid affair of Mark Clattenburg, the Chelsea versus Manchester United game which his incompetence spoiled, the insults he is alleged to have directed at black Chelsea players, is only alas the latest episode in an all too long and pungent list of ineptitude shown by English referees. The mighty tradition exemplified, as we shall recall, by such as George Reader, Arthur Ellis and Jack Taylor is alas buried deep in the last. In the case of Clattenburg and his anything but reassuring record, surely the ultimate blame must go to those who appointed him and kept him in office, despite his various transgressions.

At Stamford Bridge, he had every right to send off the big Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic for a lunging foul when he was the last defender in line. But later to send off Fernando Torres, reducing Chelsea to nine men, when he was so plainly the victim of a foul and by no means guilty of simulating one, was a shocking blunder.

True, the winning late goal for United scored by their Mexican attacker Chicharito right on the Chelsea goal-line was blatantly offside but it was arguably the job of Clattenburg’s linesman rather than his probably unsighted self to give a proper decision on that.

The bleak fact is that in the vernacular, Clattenburg has form and in abundance. He was even once suspended for six months by the referees’ association for running up GBP157,000 in debt and abusing his business associates though the ban was lifted. On the field, in January 2005, he helped Manchester United materially at Old Trafford as, to be blunt, many a referee has before or since when they were likely to go down to Spurs. A powerful long drive by Tottenham’s Pedro Mendes slipped through the hapless arms of the home goalkeeper, Roy Carroll, and was well over the line when the ‘keeper clawed it back. Clattenburg did nothing, United went on to win.

In October 2007, he made a dog’s dinner of the Merseyside Derby between Everton and Liverpool, sending off Everton’s Tony Hibbert after first giving him a yellow card then inexplicably talking to Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. Later he failed to expel Liverpool’s Dutch attacker Dirk Kuyt for a shocking lunge, then refused Everton a spot-kick when Joleon Lescott was obviously dragged down. He wouldn’t be given another Everton game for five years, but the mystery is that he was not suspended.

Yet equally a mystery is the fact that the present head of the refereeing body is none other than Mike Riley who had an unforgettably abysmal game when he officiated at the Old Trafford match — yes, Old Trafford again! — when Arsenal lost their unbeaten record when it would have been their 50th undefeated game. This was a match in which Riley gave no protection from the excesses of United right back Phil Neville at the expense of Reyes, the young Arsenal left winger and awarded Wayne Rooney a crucial penalty which was unwarranted.

Go back not so far to the World Cup final in South Africa in 2010 and we find the match in the uncertain hands of the top English referee of the moment Howard Webb. By the way, at this moment Clattenburg almost incredibly is scheduled to be one of two English referees scheduled to officiate in Brazil at the World Cup finals of 2014.

Early on in that 2010 final Howard Webb should surely have expelled Holland’s midfielder Nigel De Jong for a dreadful foul from behind on Spain’s Xavi Alonso.

Perhaps because such a decision, however correct, would have unbalanced the final, Webb allowed the Dutchman to stay on the field.

On a lesser occasion, back we come, alas to Old Trafford, Webb, far away from the play, gave a penalty against a Spurs team which at that point were 2-0 ahead. No foul was remotely apparent but United scored from the spot and went on to win with some ease.

In bygone days, English referees surpassed themselves on the most difficult, major occasions. The 1950 virtual World Cup final, for instance, played in Rio before an impassioned crowd of 200,000 at the Maracana stadium against underdogs Uruguay. The fact since FIFA had made the tournament a madman’s fly trap, it was not officially the final but a potentially decisive game in the final group whereby a draw would have given Brazil the trophy.

George Reader was a Southampton headmaster and he officiated with astonishing calm and command, as the Uruguayans brought off an astonishing and unexpected victory after falling a goal behind. Fans on the terraces died of heart attacks, but there was no major trouble with an immense and distraught crowd. A sublime piece of refereeing!

Four years later, in Berne, Brazil, in the World Cup quarterfinals, encountered Hungary in a match which fell into violent chaos. The referee was a Yorkshireman, in Arthur Ellis. He sent off two Brazilians and a Hungarian, who happened to be the right half, Jozsef Bozsik, a member of the (admittedly powerless) Hungarian parliament and the match was played to a proper conclusion, Hungary winning 4-2.

The final itself, in Berne between Hungary and (a seemingly doped) Germany also had an English referee, in Bill Ling. No violence and what may have been an expensive mistake when, on the decision of his Welsh linesman, Mervyn Griffiths, he ruled out what would have been a late Hungarian equaliser by Ferenc Puskas. But all was calm.

Wolverhampton butcher Jack Taylor admirably controlled the 1974 final in Munich between Germany and Holland, a potential conflagration. Afterwards, with typical honesty, Taylor admitted that he disallowed a West German goal by the prolific Gerd Muller, which was not, in fact, offside. Muller, however, would score the winning goal.