Refereeing howlers

English referees have made a series of blunders this season that might affect the League positions dramatically. Over to Brian Glanville.

English footballs' refereeing crisis surely reached crescendo with the farcical award by Martin Atkinson, in charge, supposedly, on the Chelsea versus Tottenham Hotspur semifinal of the FA Cup at Wembley, of goal to Chelsea when the ball could not conceivably have crossed the line.

Let me, and I was there at the game, record what so bizarrely happened. From a Chelsea corner, John Terry, the Chelsea captain and centre back, had rushed into the goalmouth knocking down the Spurs left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto and their goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini. The ball ran out to Juan Mata, the Chelsea attacker, whose shot was somehow blocked by the recumbent Ekotto. Whereupon, to the general astonishment, which was shared by even the veteran Chelsea midfielder, Frank Lampard, Atkinson, without even troubling to consult his linesman, “gave a goal!”

Lampard of all people knows too well the anomalies and injustices of goal-line decisions. In South Africa, playing for England against Germany, his own powerfully right footed shot beat the opposing ‘keeper, struck the underside of the bar and quite clearly landed a foot or more into the goal. The referee waved play on, his linesmen did nothing to correct the crucial error and England went down to heavy defeat.

It has to be said that Atkinson, supposedly one of the leading English referees and due to officiate in the forthcoming European Championship finals, had already had a wretched season. Shortly before his abysmal error at Wembley, I had watched him officiate most erratically at The Emirates, where Arsenal opposed Manchester City. A shockingly dangerous foul by the ever controversial Italian international Mario Balotelli on Arsenal's midfielder Alexandre Song, which should surely have merited expulsion, was simply ignored by Atkinson; though very late in the game Balotelli would be sent off, after getting the second of the two yellow cards.

Nor was this, alas, all. In March, when Bolton Wanderers received Queens Park Rangers in a match with great bearing on the fight against relegation on both teams, a header by the QPR defender Clint Hill quite plainly beat Bolton's keeper and crossed the line. A palpable goal, but neither Martin Atkinson nor his linesman, Bob Pollock, awarded it. QPR went on to lose the game.

A month later, they were badly mistreated again, this time at Old Trafford against Manchester United where the odds were against them from the very beginning. When United's Ashley Young, a notorious “diver”, received the ball in an offside position, falling down after minimal contact with QPR's Shaun Derry, the referee Lee Mason instantly whistled for a penalty, without giving his linesman even a chance to raise his flag for the evident offside decision. Not only did United score, but QPR, to add insult to injury, had poor Derry sent off.

But back to the hapless Atkinson. He had previously sent off the young Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell only for the red card to be rescinded on appeal. Following his stupendous blunder at Wembley, he was taken off the list of referees for the subsequent weekend of Premier League matches. But he will still be going to the forthcoming European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

Chelsea, meanwhile, can hardly complain about the way referees this season have treated them. I was at Stamford Bridge to see them gain a thoroughly undeserved victory over a gallant and ambitious Wigan team, though to be fair it was arguably the linesman who, this time, had twice blundered. First, the big Serbian defender, Branislav Ivanovic, then Juan Mata scored from obviously offside positions, without any interference from an inept linesman, in Dave Bryan. So Wigan fighting so desperately against relegation lost 2-1.

Yet what of the supposedly paramount English referee of the moment, Howard Webb? He was surely gravely at fault when officiating at the peak of the game, the World Cup final in South Africa. Early in that game, the Dutch midfielder, Nigel De Jong, committed a dreadful foul on the Spanish player Xavi Alonso, one fully worthy of a red card. He didn't get it and the whole game was affected in consequence, though, in the very end at least justice prevailed when Spain won in extra-time.

One also remembers — and yes, surprise, it was at Old Trafford! — when Webb, far away from the play, gave Manchester United a wholly irrelevant penalty against Spurs at a time when Tottenham were leading. After which, they fell apart. Now after officiating at the hard fought semifinal European Champions League first leg in Munich, Webb has been criticised for allowing what seemed an offside goal by Franck Ribery for Bayern against Real Madrid, even if Real's unusually explosive manager Jose Mourinho was strangely philosophical about it.

But who, of all people, is now the chief of all referees? Why, none other than Mike Riley and here, too, memories of strange decisions or the lack of them, in favour of United at Old Trafford, persist. Arsenal, who had been unbeaten in their last 49 games, came to Old Trafford hoping to make it 50. They didn't. Riley, besides giving the United right back a free rein to commit a series of bruising fouls on the young Arsenal Spanish winger Antonio Reyes, awarded United a vital penalty when Wayne Rooney seemed clearly to have gained advantage, not having been fouled.

In the past, two English referees have excelled at World Cup finals; first in the 1950 World Cup decider in Rio between Uruguay and beaten Brazil. That was the brave Southampton headmaster, George Reader. And in 1974, in Munich, Jack Taylor was an exemplary referee of the final between West Germany and Holland. Happy memories of more competent officials.