Sympathy For The Devil: Why Mark Clattenburg Was Right Today

Plenty of referring controversy this weekend. Arteta was offside for Arsenal’s goal; Hernandez was offside for one of Man Utd’s goals; Suarez had a goal ruled out for an offside that wasn’t; Torres was sent off with a second yellow for diving; Valencia was also booked for diving in the same game; Ivanovic was sent off for a fairly minimal contact. Were all these decisions justified? Were the referees rubbish or biased?

I’m sure most people who criticise refs have never attempted to referee a game at any level. Would they be any good if they did? Of course not. That doesn’t stop them having a go, though. I actually refereed an Under-7s match this morning, which is both the lowest level of organised league football and the highest I’ve refereed at. Believe me, that was hard enough – there was a lot going on. Several times I was barracked by one of the managers, who are supposed to have signed a code of conduct preventing this, and once by two parents – who both declined my invitation to take over if they thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job: “It’s not about that, mate,” said one. Isn’t it? Well shut the f*** up then.

My point here is that refereeing at any level is difficult. The higher up the chain you go, the harder it is, and when you get to the Premier League the game is so fast that it’s almost impossible to get everything right. People who phone up radio stations or tweet complaints about referees are usually hopelessly deluded in some way or another. Often they don’t understand the rules of football, and they certainly don’t allow any leeway for incorrect decisions. Sometimes they put forward ideas such as that foreign referees are much better than British ones, though with no supporting evidence.

I’m certainly not going to claim that Premier League referees or their assistants always get it right. Clearly they don’t. Whether they should get the help of video replays is another debate; what I’m discussing here is whether their decisions are justified and the best they could have made at the time and under the circumstances.

So, the examples in the first paragraph: Arteta was offside, and it looked fairly obvious. Linesmen, as I still like to call them, have a smaller job than the referee, but one which is just as tricky. They have to be looking in two places at once, and see when the ball is kicked and where everyone is standing at that precise moment, even if players are moving swiftly in different directions. In the Arteta case it didn’t look like the trickiest decision, so I’d suggest that most of the time it would have been called. Arsenal got away with it.

The Hernandez case for Man U’s winner against Chelsea was more difficult for the officials. Chicharito was offside only briefly and the linesman’s view was obstructed by two Chelsea players. Replays showed it was the wrong decision, but it was a perfectly understandable decision. The officials couldn’t really be expected to do better, and if you ran the same situation 100 times they would be unlikely to get it right in more than a few.

Suarez clearly wasn’t offside, and it seemed incredible if that was the decision. But look at Coates climbing on the back of the Everton defender – both hands on him to get above and head the ball into Suarez’s path. Perhaps that’s what the free-kick was (rightly) given for. Ultimately the right decision, but I’m not sure what exactly was going on in the officials’ heads, as the flag didn’t go up for a long time.

Torres was sent off for a second bookable offence, when Mark Clattenburg adjudged him to have dived when challenged by Jonny Evans. Replays from the side showed that there was a small amount of contact, but of course the referee didn’t have the advantage of seeing it from the side or in slow motion. The question is, did the referee do the best he could in the circumstances? I’d say yes he did, and was therefore justified in booking Torres and thus sending him off. Clattenburg was almost directly behind Torres about 15 yards away, which is where he should have been. Torres threw himself to the ground somewhat theatrically, and that may have been because he could see a covering defender and was aware that his touch had taken the ball too far for him to catch it. So did the decision make sense? Was it justified? Yes.

You could also argue that Torres was lucky to have been on the pitch that long anyway, after putting his studs into Tom Cleverley’s arm for his first booking. However, that is seen as being less controversial than a sending-off for diving when there was contact.

Valencia was later booked for a dive that looked fairly clear-cut. More theatrical and with less contact than with Torres – certainly less contact than would make a professional athlete normally fall over. Again, that looked like a perfectly reasonable conclusion for the referee to come to.

Ivanovic’s sending off also got little argument from either the BBC or Sky pundits, though some I saw on Twitter were less generous to the referee for giving the decision. This may have been partly because it was Ashley Young, a player with a history of ‘simulation’, who went down under Ivanovic’s challenge, and it’s true the contact was minimal again. But Young was clear, in full control of the ball and should have scored otherwise, so I’d personally give him the benefit of the doubt on any diving accusations this time. It wasn’t a controversial decision for me.

So overall on this small selection of incidents I would have expected the officials to do better on the Arteta offside, but the others are only controversial in the eyes of the media. As long as we’re not giving referees help with video technology, we can’t expect them to get everything right. I think it was Matt Dickinson in The Times recently who said something similar to this. The only test of ‘controversy’ should be: Was the decision reasonable from the referee’s point of view? Is that what an official should have decided on the evidence in front of him at the speed it happened and from the angle an official should be viewing it from?

If a referee, even the attention-seeking Mark Clattenburg, makes reasonable judgements based on being in the position that a competent referee should be in, then that’s not controversial, that’s just football.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5   

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31 thoughts on “Sympathy For The Devil: Why Mark Clattenburg Was Right Today

  1. I’m a qualified referee (or at least was a few years back.)

    I never gave a penalty, and only ever gave fouls when I thought someone was genuinely impeded. I did it for a whole season & never even booked one player.

  2. How can you possibly defend a tosser in a wig? Clattenburg has always been a useless prick, these days he is just a useless prick wearing a rug. I speak as an ex-ref who was once a qualified ref who refereed youth football up to under 15’s. – the kids were great – the parents a total pain in the arse. I can confirm that being a ref or a lino is not easy – that said I personally wouldn’t have expected the lino to have got the Arteta decision correct because he also got everything wrong in the first half. He was a useless wanker just as Clattenburg is. Top marks though to anyone who sends off two Chavs for whatever reason.

  3. I agree 100 percent with you but that is why we need video technology at these crucial incidents,we all just want a fair game and not a game decided by refs.

  4. Chelsea lost because of a blundering ref. Is it blundering?You never know.Thirty years from now it will be revealed how the red faced was able to wi n games and trophies in spite of insurmountable odds,with te help of match officials and the FA.
    Arsenal are due at OT next week.Don’t be surprised the same thing happens to the gunners.A innocuouc tackle will be rewarded with a rc for the gunners. In fact I can think of a thousand and one scenarios where the ref will help the red faced.
    If theFA are serious about raising referring std,thye shd ban one Clattenburg from officiating for one year. Then and only will genuine fans ll believe the FA are set to restore their credibility.

  5. Arteta was on-side, Nelson had left the field of play through momentum, so is deemed to be on the goal line.

    I have referee’d a few games at a decent Sunday league standard, and I would have to disagree. For professional referee’s the standard is not anywhere near good enough.

    If you can honestly say during the Arsenal Vs QPR game that the referee acted without bias – you are watching another game. Also with Clattenburg, you cannot send off Torres if there is contact regardless of how little. Last week a referee complained that the player didn’t appeal so he didn’t give a decision. This week they are sent off for appealing and the ref deeming contact not sufficient… which is it going to be…?

    Referee’s are unaccountable, they don’t get fined, they don’t get sacked (easily). they don’t have to face the public and explain their actions.

    Video evidence is needed and retrospective punishments. I am also in favour of a three card system, where 2 yellows is a 5 min sin bin offence.

  6. I think refs do the best they can but there are good ones and not so good ones . As to whether a refs decision is justified or not dose’nt really matter as these decisions are always discussed retrospectively. All refereeing decisions are made under specific circumstances and most are split second ones. Regarding the examples you use Phil I can only comment on the Arteta incident and I agree , he was offside , but I did’nt spot it until the replay . To be fair to the officials such was the scramble in the goal area at the time few were able to see what was happening (Mark Hughes saw a clear offside god bless his eyesight ! ) In my view refs deserve a lot of credit regardless of personal views one may have about certain individuals. It seems ironic that at a time when football authorities are wringing their hands over the racist remarks controversy everyone can have a go at the ref and nobody does anything about it . Its a tough station and why anyone would want to be a ref I don’t know but I can’t imagine football without them .

  7. i totally agree with you man.i think mark is the best referee ever to make bold decision.in no case should anybody talk against mark,any way he is a human and can make mistakes.sorry Chelsea.

  8. This is a case where the writer is a referee and being sympathetic with fellow referee and at the same time want to be stand out / distinguish himself in his own ways. The referring decision today was not an issues if it is a one off incident. Most of bad desicion making will be almost even out over period of a few season, but go and check of all the team in BePL which team stand tall above the rest who had gain the most favorable benefit through bias + weird + unjust referee decision making – no other then Man U. What we need now is to :
    1) put out a campaign that would enlighten that the refereeing decision in the past and now are too bias toward this one club
    2) expel mike riley from referee committee ( I wish that it were easy 🙂
    3) video technology, but first we need to give Sepp Blater a german suplex that he deservedly need

  9. These guys in black think they are god. They are not unaccountable and that is why there will be more blunders and cock ups. If nothing is done,reults of football matches will be decided by these guys.
    Just wait and see.That is until the FA cracks down hard on erring mo.

  10. Phill

    As much as I agree with the sense of the difficulty of refereeing a professional game, you can’t defend that display. As for being “reasonable” mistakes, you can almost say it, almost about the most blatant ref mistakes. Of course he didn’t intend to make a false decision, but as a professional he should have done better.

    It’s like saying it is justified for a surgeon specialist to mess a surgery if it’s hard to operate.

    Well mr, it isn’t. As simple as that. It’s called malpractice/ While I get your point when it’s a call taken by the linesmen who ended up misleading the official, the Torres one was nothing short of a really poor judgement.

    Even if he missed the contact, he should have more reasonable in this case. Where is his judgement, sending off a player for a maybe dive with ZERO benefit on it’s side? It’s not like he diced in the box or asked for a sending off for the opposition.

  11. While this article is not focused on it but due to the heading, I would say you missed the larger picture – Man U always benefit from most contervesial decisions over the years. Even this season, Matrinez has been punished by the FA for saying something along those lines.

  12. The only one i had a problem with was Torres sending off. You claim he made the right decision according to you and gave reasons and as you pointed out, no one is perfect. But do you think another yellow card to a striker already on one and most likely to be subbed on the next stop of play was better than a caution since he might or might not have been touched? It was tough to call as you said, isn’t that more reason not to brandish a card that could determine the outcome of the game in such a crucial match? To be fair, would be disgusted if this happened in a CL finals. Not like he made a tackle that broke someone’s leg or stepped on someone’s arm again. Consider all that then decide again if he made the right decision. As for me, it was a tad harsh, not like Gervinho got carded for his blatant dive and a penalty appeal against Schakle 04 or did he? Lol not too sure.

  13. Correct me if I am wrong, but Arteta is only off-side when the ball was played against the bar, and if no other player touched it when Arteta move back on-side? However, it must have been dificult for either official to be sure that the keeper did not flick it back into play? On a single viewing it looked mighty close to his finger tips as it came down from the bar, by which time Arteta was back in an on-side position.

  14. 1. “Tosser in a wig”. Dear oh dear.

    2. Arteta was OFFSIDE.

    3. There was minimal CONTACT on the topside of Torres’ foot. Torres then certainly didn’t help his own cause, as instead of clutching his foot, he clutched his SHIN (midway between foot and knee, no less). Then, when the ref held up the card, he then FORGOT about his SHIN injury altogether, got his feet and walked off in a normal way.
    So, yes, there was contact (minimal) but there was overreaction by the player (faked SHIN injury), which the ref picked up on for sure.

    4. Hernandez was OFFSIDE.

    5. Suarez was ONSIDE.

    6. Valencia dived.

    7. Ivanovic’s sending off was justified. Minimal CONTACT (even accidental, whilst actually trying to avoid the contact)is nevertheless CONTACT. I feel very sorry for the Chelsea defender and I suspect the ref does too.

    8. noel conway: the voice of reason.

    9. “surgeon specialist to mess a surgery” : ridiculous over-the-top analogy.

    10. Decent blog as always; controversial as usual ; hehehe

  15. The fact that you so refer an under 7 match doesn’t make you know what referring is all about. We’ve seen other foreign referees do well and still reckoned with today. I so feel for English referees as they get distracted when at the peak of their careers. Good example is Graham P, who issued two yellow cards without a red, Howard W, a ref with controversial issues, Rob St and so on.

    How I wish some referee’s decisions are investigated.

  16. @ Stanley
    “It was tough to call as you said, isn’t that more reason not to brandish a card that could determine the outcome of the game in such a crucial match?”

    No, Stanley… whether the ref was right or wrong, or whether any of us on this site are right or wrong, there can be no special/different treatment for any player/team just because it’s a “crucial match”.

    Any incident in any game must be treated the same by the officials whether an ‘ordinary run-of-the-mill’ mid-table clash, or a top-end “crucial match”.

    Or we’d be living in a footy-world of preferential treatment for the top-four. All clubs in all divisions, must be treated on the same basis, that is as equals.

    I, personally, respect the “tosser in the wig” for having the courage of his convictions in standing by his decision, whether his decision be correct or incorrect.

    The very fact there are differing views on this site and probably others quite clearly shows how tough the call was, especially as we’ve seen instant replays from various angles and still arguing the toss.

  17. There is a refereeing principle in American baseball that is desperately missing in the premier league – and actually – football in general: “call only what you can see”. In other words you as a ref do not make a call unless you have actual visual confirmation of an event. For example if you didn’t see the ball in the glove you can’t call a runner out.

    Similarly in football refs should call what the see (especially all the defensive fouls on set plays) and should not be going around handing out cards on things they didn’t actuality see ( eg speculative assumption that a player dived, or red cards based purely on instigators reaction). And all those offsides calls.

    The principle puts refs on the spot, as then the will need to justify why they (and their assistants and 4th official) were not in proper position to see event and make the call.

    This is a proper refereeing principle. Will not arrive in football for another 100 years then.

    • You cannot get decisions consistently right unless you base those decisions on concrete evidence. “I felt he dived” or “he seemed to dive” is NOT evidence.

      It is incredibly hard to prove that someone dived in real-time. Such decisions should be left to the FA committees watching post-game video. A total joke for referees to be handing our cards for this.

      Even foul calls are not that easy to get. Witness the very unjust sending off of Stephen Pienaar this weekend when in fact the offensive player kicked HIM, not the other way around. There is no way that the ref actually SAW Pienaar trip anybody – because he didnt!

      Football is far to accepting of the yahoo in black running around making decisions on pure presumption.

      Between the ref, the assitants and the 4th offical, there are EIGHT eyes on the field. They should be used to make decisions in coordination, isntead of leaving to one man to vaguely guestimate.

      Even the operating model where only one man makes the call is outdated. Again look at NBA basketball where anyone of three referrees can whistle for fouls. And it works very well. But here in football the ref is supposed to be god and then we have linesmen to take the fall for bad calls and the 4th official to do nothing except get offended when the manager inevitably swears at all the bad calls these chumps are making. Or better yet, send of said manager for leaving some riduculous abstraction called a “technical area”.

      Football is so far up its own %&$# and outdated that it’s not even funny..

  18. Totally impossible to get every decision right all the time. On the other hand, most weekends we see examples of unforgiveable mistakes by refs. Yesterday, no exception – and I’d choose the Arteta goal and the sending-off of Torres as two clear-cut examples. In the first, the linesman was at fault – which happens. For me, Clattenburg’s mistake was of a different nature and far worse. It was a decision made because ‘diving’ is bad-flavour-of-the-month. If Torres DID dive (highly debatable) the punishment was totally out of proportion to the ‘crime’. It belongs to the same category of ‘crimes’ that we used to get at the start of each season when Uefa imposed some new directive on refs. In other words, we got over-reaction from them. And as the season progressed the severity of punishment diminished and died away. What Clattenburg lacked in his handling of yesterday’s game was a grain of commonsense. Now he himself faces a serious charge of ‘inappropriate language’ . Another ‘bad-flavour-of-the-month’ crime, one could say. A case of the biter bit. Whatever the outcome, let’s hope we see a little humility from a referee – but that’s another matter entirely!

  19. Spot on in regards the foul on Jagielka, called it at the time and assumed that’s why the goal was ruled out……..Suarez shouldn’t have been on the pitch at that point anyway.

    Yes Arteta was offside but nice to get a bit of luck go our way

  20. Torres “dive” is referred to as the “Busacca” moment *. It is that moment in game where the non-favoured team looks as if it is coming to the fore in the game / tie and the referee has the opportunity to reverse the situtation.

    * 8 March 2011 – Robin van Persie booked for shooting at goal a splt second after Massimo Busacca had blown for an infringement.

  21. I must have seen the Hernandez offside goal 10 times and whilst he was clearly offside when the action is paused the following action is so quick it is understandable that the linesman could’ve thought he was onside.

    On a side note Clattenburg’s hair always makes him look like he’s wearing a kippah (Jewish skull cap) to me.

  22. Very insightful post and as a former professional referee I concur with most of your conclusions. As some of the more informed bloggers on this site may already know, there is no such a ¨foul¨as diving mentioned in the Laws, but simulation in order to decieve an official IS and can earn a caution in the case where the official deems it necessary.
    You mention that video aids are for another time BUT now IS the time….. since the game is getting faster, more intense and more complicated each year that FIFA ignores the problem. We need all the technological help we can get to ensure that fairness and honest decisions are promted in the game. Goal-line technology combined with video reviews, extra officials and some basic changes/tweaking of the current Laws would enliven the game, improve the fairness and applicability of the Laws and ensure that fans get what they pay for! Everyone who loves Football, regardless of their Club affiliation, should join in demanding the FAm, FIFA and EUFA begin such technological projects….as soon as possible!

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