Lets be honest. Being a referee doesn’t look like too much fun. A career choice that never pushes too many friends in your direction, as well as weekly scrutiny up and down the footballing world that even Joey Barton wouldn’t feel comfortable with.
A character in the great screen production that we call football, who was originally casted as the handsome sheriff who never got in the way of the fun, but made sure things ran along smoothly. Is now more likely to be depicted by a spoiled sport villain who goes out of his way to ruin the happy ending.
This week was no different from most. Games where scheduled, teams played, goals were scored, and a referee blunder made the headlines. I am of course talking about Mark Clattenburg’s hand in Nani’s controversial goal against Tottenham. The controversy started when Nani broke through the Tottenham defence, wrestling with two Spurs defenders before falling over,in typical Nani fashion, to little contact. On his way down he grabbed the ball in the hope that it would attract Clattenburg’s attention (similar to Gerrard when he was ‘fouled’ by Gatusso in that final in Istanbul.) Clattenburg decided it was a null point and waved play on even though the ball had been handled. A confused Heurelho Gomes then rolled the ball out for a free kick to which Nani took advantage of (as it was technically a play on) and kicked the ball past Gomes into the open net.
The obvious mistake you can first point out is why Clattenburg decided a play on from a hand ball in the 6 yard box was a good idea. The second perhaps, why didn’t Nani get booked if he apparently dived? People will walk away from this, particularly Tottenham fans, believing its just another cover up to make sure Fergie’s boys got what they needed at Old Trafford. But lets look at this for a moment with a little less aggression.
You could go down one path and suggest Clattenburg made this thoughtful decision in the best interest of Manchester United, assuming he had some allegiance to the club, which is a path I wouldn’t personally suggest. These decisions happen every week, and even though some may disagree, they do happen equally to every club up and down the league pyramid.
I suggest we take a new approach to these lawful stewards of our beautiful game.When considering the consequences of these decisions we should look at how the referee may have been influenced and perhaps give a little consideration to the fact that these men are trying their best. The best referee’s apply a perfect balance between common sense and the letter of the law, but they also have to deal with the outside influences that surround them in the modern game.
We live in a world where every decision isn’t just reported by the national papers every morning, they’re tweeted by millions on Twitter, reviewed on Youtube by just as many, turned into humourous groups on Facebook, and analyzed to a professional degree by websites like Zonal Marking. Which isn’t a bad thing, in fact its healthy for the sport, but we’ve forgotten that these men are indeed just men. Prone to mistakes, prone to misinterpreting, and prone to being intimidated, they’ve been a vital part of this game and have functioned competently since its birth.
Football is a sport that despite having a fairly simple set of rules, is so passionately followed, that to expect a referee to leave himself vulnerable by applying his own common sense over the rules is a lot to ask of any character. His perspective of an incident will no doubt vary from the sixty thousand people standing behind him screaming in protest, or the countless millions watching at home.
The important point is whether or not he feels comfortable making those kind of decisions based on his professional experience or based on what will happen to him if he does not.