Friday, November 4, 2016


"This one says FIFA and this one says FA 
José Mourinho seemed particularly unimpressed from his seat in the crowd. Roberto Mancini certainly wasn't keen. Even Sven Goran Erikssen, the kind of man you imagine has difficulty finding anything disagreeable enough to warrant raising his voice, bristled at the mere mention of the Consett Contraversial. 

Mark Clattenburg, it seems, can boil rabbits wherever he goes.  

Sometimes you really hate yourself for getting ideas in your head that a referee might just have it in for your team. You start harbouring the preposterous thought that an actual English-born official - upright, pale, given to gentle smiles whilst propelled by strangely inappropriate legs  - might be anything other than 100% straight laced. 

As the gradual erosion of Typical City continues on its meandering path, the slow release from Cup for Cock Ups, the washing away of Cityitis, so the men in black look upon Manchester City in a different light. Calmer, more benign, more understanding and forgiving of the team's gallant efforts to play Pep's attacking football.  

Those faded memories of Ged Brannan slicing the ball crisply into the Kippax and Craig Russell running like his legs were being gradually worn away by an intricate process of long-shore drift. Those sweet little moments you thought had all but gone.  

As City have evolved into Premier League heavyweights, Champions League shoe-ins, yearly contenders, so those dodgy decisions that referees and their starry-eyed assistants always managed to conjure in favour of Ferguson's United and whoever was in charge of Chelsea that half season, seem to have started happening to City too. 

It was a little slow working to start with. Poor Mark Hughes saw the Big Money float in but didn't stick around long enough to benefit from it or from the softening gaze of the men in black. Instead he had to put up with a Manchester derby where his City side made a wonderful fight of it only to lose to Michael Owen's strike in the 7th tremulous minute of the five added on. Hughes, jabbing wildly at his wrist, had been on the end of one of the last great inexplicable things.

Before that Svennis had dragged his tiring City side to St Andrews and, as a handy little warm-up for the season's unforgiving denouement at Middlesbrough (eight-bloody-one), had witnessed a refereeing decision that -- until last weekend -- was probably the worst against City in recent history. 

In a match where Rob Styles, for it was he, had already kind of sent off Radhi Jaidi then changed his mind because he wasn't sure who had committed the foul, you just knew the hapless man was merely warming up for the big one. Sure enough, Sun Jihai, that block of solid defensive muscle, happened to enact the merest of touches, shoulder-to-shoulder with the home side's visibly more muscular Gary McSheffrey. It was not even an incident worthy of a second look, never even the slightest whiff of foul play, but the penalty was given. 

Sun gave one of his best "what's happening now" looks, better even than the delightful face he pulled after City's 4th at Tottenham in the FA Cup comeback game, that said "How this? What the fuh?". The world turned a little slower with a weird grating noise audible in the background. Mild mannered Svennis called it "crazy" in his best just-bordering-on-peeved voice. 

Those were very much the days, consigned, as we thought, to the great footballing dustbin.

Now it is City more often than not pulling rabbits out of injury time hats. It is City benefiting from referees too busy smiling at David Silva's lovely hair to book him for telling them their mother is a lady of the night in Spanish and it is on City's behalf that they are no longer so very bothered about offside when it's Sergio tip-toeing his way through a nervously exposed opposition defence. 

Except that, occasionally, owing to the power of the sheer hopelessness of some people, it does still happen. 

Which brings us in a round-about way to Mr Mark Clattenburg of Consett, County Durham.

Mark Clattenburg, you imagine, loves the roar of the crowd. He enjoys the shouting and the clapping and, perhaps just as much, the booing and the swearing, the noises of the pent up masses, watching powerlessly as he carves up their teams chances of success. It is, you imagine, immaterial which noises he can hear from out of camera as long as there is some focus directed towards the bristling man on centre stage, the man with the whistle and the reborn hair, the Man Who Decides Things on the Television

Clattenburg has been deciding things in his own inimitable way for well over a decade now. He has been making the news rather than helping football players do so for a long time, with his special brand of firm but poised, his take on stiff, manly arbitration liberally juiced with a slightly theatrical presence that smells like it might have come from the goofier outtakes of Zoolander

He has his way, does Mr Clattenburg. From allegedly calling John Obi Mikkel inappropriate names during a Chelsea match through asking City's bench how they put up with Craig Bellamy, minutes before issuing the same player with two quick yellow cards, to body-popping across the turf in excitement when giving a Stamford Bridge penalty against City, the trotting vanity project from the North East has always had a whiff of the night about him.

Manchester United v Tottenham, January 2005

Remember the classic moment when Pedro Mendes' astute lob had travelled so far over Roy Carroll's line and into the net that few saw the need to even appeal. Carroll, lying prone and embarrassed in the back of his net, had fished the ball out from two feet inside his goal, but the officials steadfastly refused to see what a full Old Trafford had seen. It was not a goal, not according to the ref that day. You'll never guess who it was.

Everton v. Liverpool, 2007

In the usual cut and thrust of a Merseyside derby, the ref appeared to have decided to give Everton defender Tony Hibbert a yellow card but was interrupted in his act of frisky self-confident policing by man-with-a-mission Steven Gerrard. After a brief cordial chat with the Liverpool skipper, Hibbert's punishment was suddenly and freakishly upped to a red card, leaving the hollow-brained official persona non grata at Goodison for the following five years. Who was this unique chap? Well, it'd be some kind of a coincidence, but.... 

Result: Not a single Premier League game officiated by the Confident One at Goodison between 2007 and 2012. 

Manchester United v Portsmouth, Charity Shield August 2009

Controversially pulled from reffing the curtain raiser to the new season after revealed to have racked up £60,000 worth of business debt. Suspended by the Ref's Association, owing to "issues to do with his business affairs", but was reinstated some months later. Clattenburg that.

City versus Arsenal, 2010

“Then an early red card. Clattenburg is no stranger to odd decisions, both on and off the football pitch, and his manner when reffing leaves a little to be desired (wide eyes, slicked hair, bit-fond-of-myself strut, high volume go-aways accompanied by theatrical arm movements) and he seems very keen to join a long line of men in the middle who don't wish to go quietly about their business. Not often is there a match refereed by this guy that reaches the 15 minute mark and people are asking "who's reffing today?". Here, by broad consensus, Boyata's ungainly lunge from behind left him with an easy red card option, but still...."
Just keep asking yourself the same old questions
“That Arsenal took City to the cleaners was partly a historical inevitability (look up the scores over the past ten years or so), given wings by Dedryck Boyata's naivety and Mark Clattenburg's willingness to feature in the morning after's headlines as often as is decent....”

Bolton v City December 2009 

"I don't appreciate it when referees go out for the second half and tell my support staff who they like and do not like in my team," - Mark Hughes 
"Mystifying" and "laughable" just two of the words used to describe the referee's performance on this occasion. It was of course, once again, Clattenburg, who having sent off Craig Bellamy  for being heavily tackled by the notoriously "lightweight" Paul Robinson, was heard to ask manager Mark Hughes "How do you put up with him?"

“Referees would come into sharp focus during 2012 and here was a grand start by the infamous Chris Foy dispatching Vincent Kompany for a daring and expertly executed sliding tackle in the Manchester rain, reminding many of the performance by Mark Clattenburg, who had sent off Craig Bellamy for being tackled at Bolton the previous season. Foy and Clattenburg, like all poor referees, would be high profile on many more occasions in 2012. The good ones, of which there are still mercifully a few, go about their jobs largely unnoticed. Clattenburg could not do more for his self-promotion if he wore a belisha beacon for a hat and brandished an eight foot steel mace as he ran around....”

Chelsea v City, December 2011

Here Clattenburg managed to get rid of Gael Clichy with one of his characteristically flourished red cards. He watched disinterestedly as José Bosingwa upturned David Silva in the box for a penalty as obvious as his hair replenishment project. 
Big Match Verdict: Get on with the game and stop looking at me like that, otherwise you'll be joining your little French mate in the bath.

Chelsea v City 2014-15 

“Fernandinho in the centre was immense, shutting out the threat from Matic and making up for Fernando's lack of zip. Matic is an immense player and can run riot through the central areas if left
Au revoir, Gael
unchecked. Much like the missing Yaya Touré, if allowed to boss the middle areas, he will do just that with consummate ease. It is curious that City's raids on the Portuguese Liga for defensive midfielders has brought Garcia and now Fernando northwards but never alighted on Matic, easily the best of the lot. With Clattenburg generously allowing a string of his fouls to go unpunished, whilst booking Fernando for leaving a loose leg hanging, Matic could maintain a robust presence and City needed all of Fernandinho's wiry energy to stunt the big Serb's progress

Tottenham v City and City v Tottenham 2015-16

“Manchester City v Spurs at White Hart Lane, which created some hot air. This latter game attracted attention for good reason, as there was some short-sighted refereeing and the game also featured a linesman, who was unable to see Kyle Walker straying two yards offside three paces in front of his eyes, which were glued on the action at the time.

To add insult to injury, the third of Tottenham's goals was clearly offside too, with Harry Kane stroking in the rebound from Eriksson's majestic free-kick. Kane was clearly offside when the free kick was taken, rendering his effort when the ball smacked back to his feet off the crossbar illegal.
That he appeared to have ramped up his ideas on offside and how it should be interpreted was strange in the extreme, as, by the time Spurs came north for the return game, the rule did not appear to bother him unduly at all. He had at least significantly reinterpreted his views on how handball works and Raheem Sterling's backwards blocking of a free-kick, which ended up hitting him in the kidneys, went down as a special moment in the career of a special referee. 

That he has now stirred the loins of City's red cousins after the Premier League derby, when he allowed Claudio Bravo's erratic debut shenanigans to go unpunished with red. More recently he again did them the disservice against Burnley of apparently playing such an active part in the away side's 0.0 draw that Mourinho had to volley abuse at him in the tunnel at half time. This altercation saw Mourinho sitting sullenly in the stands for the 2nd half, having received a red card from Clattenburg. That he was also the man in the middle for City's 6-1 Old Trafford demolition in 2012-13 will not have been forgotten in those parts.

Unfortunately, the well-used homily that my enemy's enemy if my friend, doesn't quite work in this case. For Clattenburg's every appearance at the Etihad brings sighs of disappointment from the stands. 
When he has finally left the green fields of England for the last time, he will be remembered for the enormous fuss he has caused down the years and you get the feeling that is probably how he would have liked it. 

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