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Tuesday 30 October 2012

Referees with Ideas Above Their Station

If you're a supporter in any of the world's big football leagues, chances are you can name a few refs from current or recent seasons, and have a strong opinion on whether you would want them officiating when your team plays. In a job where the key criteria for success are being balanced, fair, observant, calm and competent, why are the personalities and behaviours of referees becoming more and more of a matter of attention?

If you pay any attention to the Premiership whatsoever and haven't spent the last few days in "the hole" in prison (and I'm not sure if prisons really have those or if I just got the idea that they do from something that happened on basically every episode of Oz), chances are you have read, heard or spoken about Mark Clattenburg quite recently. If I myself had spent the last 24 hours in "the hole" I'd probably have spent a fair bit of that time thinking about him, and I mean that very much not in a dirty way before you get confused.

The controversy around Clattenburg would probably have stayed in Chelsea circles and blown over as these things always do if it had just been about the questionable sending off of Lady Diana Torres and the fact Man United's winning goal was a bit on the offside side. That sort of thing happens, Chelsea weren't the only team to suffer from inaccurate decisions this week and at the end of the day unless decisions like this knock you out of an important cup on their own, you just have to grumble about it but move on, or you sound like a whiny little bitch and people start singing "Always the Victims" at you.

Certainly you can notice patterns with certain refs and their treatment of given players and teams that are evident of something far more sinister, and biases like that can seriously cost teams, but losing one game a season over something like this as an isolated incident is usually just an unfortunate part of this or any other sport - nobody can get it right every time. Well, unless they have technology to help them (and make it possible to verify they're not just, you know, lying about what they saw), but that's a rant for another day.

Instead, the story took a bizarre twist when after the game, Chelsea alleged that Clattenburg had racially abused Mikel, calling him a "monkey" and not in the way you might call a mischievous nephew one, I'd wager... Or even Gareth Bale, who does, you have to admit, sort of look like one. No, in the racist way - the way that only seems to exist in football. You never hear of someone who's up for racially aggravated assault doing it - they tend to favour different horrible racist slurs. It's always some cock at a football match.

He also apparently called Juan Mata a "Spanish twat". This brings up the question of slurs involving nationality and whether they should be treated as the same thing as those based on colour. They should, really, because of the way they are intended. Poor little Juan Mata probably felt bad for being called a Spanish twat even though being Spanish is about the coolest thing to be in football at the moment and certainly something Mata is quite proud of, so therefore a shit insult, if you think about it.

Obviously some might say nobody should be calling anybody a twat, a cunt or a bell end of any sort because it's mean, but when it comes to the players, then you're getting into the sort of territory where everyone will have to wear bras and hug like in South Park's Sarcastaball NFL episode (which like all episodes that feature my hero Randy Marsh was very good). Good sportsmanship is all very admirable and the ideal, but at the end of the day it's a physical sport and people get angry and have "heated exchanges" - people piss and whine that they get paid a lot and should be professional and saintly at all times as a thank you for all that money nobody is forced to pay them, but I don't think I could not call someone a big diseased dog scrotum if they tackled me dangerously or disallowed my blatant goal, and I'm probably a lot less hot tempered than the average Mario Balotelli (note - there isn't really any such thing as an "average Mario Balotelli"). It's when it crosses the line from run of the mill handbags to something intensely offensive or genuinely threatening it needs to be punished, and that's the referee's fucking JOB. You can't command respect from players and tell them not to be behaving in certain ways and expect any good to come of it if you are calling them twats, Spanish or otherwise.

It hasn't been proven whether Clattenburg said either of these things, but it is a very strange thing this story exists. In breaking news as I write this the Met Police have been called in to investigate. Given the current constant coverage of various stories big and small and usually somehow involving Rio bloody Ferdinand about racism in the game, why would anyone want to invite any more of it, even if you were a massive arsehole and really in the mood for a spot of racially abusing someone? Do you want the police and the courts and the FA on your ass right now? Especially at a match between Chelsea and Man Utd, two of the teams involved (albeit in different ways) in some of the biggest racism stories, as well as one of the most attention grabbing fixtures anyway?

It's no secret that I love Chelsea, and I think RDM is too classy to merely be trying to discredit a referee who cost him a game, especially when the media almost unanimously agreed that Chelsea were wronged in the game itself, damaging Clattenburg's credibility anyway. I therefore can only hope Chelsea are telling the truth, even though it just seems like such an insane thing for Clattenburg to do. The only possible motivation I can think of is fame and an overblown ego - and this wouldn't be the only time recently that a referee has seemed motivated by these factors in his actions, although it may well be the most controversial.

And this is where I come to the point of today's rant. Referees in the modern game have in too many cases developed ideas, or at least publicity and notoriety above their station, and seem to want to command as much media attention as the players. This is wrong. We shouldn't be talking about Mark fucking Clattenburg. In the MLS, I don't know how much time I've spent talking about Ricardo Salazar, but it's too much. Howard Webb and Graham Poll shouldn't have endless jokes about them. We shouldn't need to know or care who these people are. Sure, in special cases where a referee is especially good and well respected they deserve to be known about and appreciated (the obvious case being Pierluigi Collina, who was famous before all of this weirdness started and who I would say deserved that car commercial, bless him), but when you're just famous for being biased, incompetent or even racist, and people are talking about you because you have a negative impact on the game, you deserve nothing but the sack.

Referees do an important job, but it's one that can only be done well if you take your own ego out of it and act in a fair and unassuming way. Controlling the game, commanding respect and making difficult calls is only possible if you are doing it because it's right, rather than because having a sense of power over a bunch of rich, famous guys and the outcome of one of the most watched sports fixtures in the world gives you the horn. You are part of the football world but only in the same way other vital supporting roles are - and you don't see the physiotherapists all clamouring to make the headlines or deliberately fucking up Suarez's leg just because they work with footballers and think this makes them Jack the fucking Biscuit. We don't have time to look at you because we're watching the game, and we don't want to have to worry about you doing something wacky to ruin our day - that's the other team's job. You earn 70k a year, not a week. You don't drive a Maserati, you drive a fucking Honda. What the hell makes you think you have the right to act like a prima donna when you're supposed to be the one keeping the people we actually came to watch in check and making sure we get the good, fair game we are all hoping for?