If I genuinely believed that English football was corrupt, that a shadowy cabal secretly pre-determined results to their own nefarious ends, I would seriously consider walking away from it forever. When the Calciopoli scandal broke in 2006, I stopped watching Italian football for nearly five years. Even now, I’m not entirely sure that I trust it. But I don’t think I’ll be switching my focus to cricket any time soon.
I was at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The pace of the game was extraordinary. With neither team concerned too much with outdated concepts like defending and marking, the play rocketed up and down the pitch from start to finish. It was a hard enough task to sit in the press box and try to make accurate notes on events, let alone to be out there trying to control them. Clattenburg had to run approximately 10 kilometres on Sunday, simultaneously monitoring 22 players and two raucous benches without the aid of replays and all while over 40,000 people called him The Bad Word. Never mind making a mistake or two, it’s amazing that Clattenburg’s head didn’t explode with stress.
And did he even make many mistakes? Some observers may have felt that Branislav Ivanovic’s challenge was more clumsy than cynical, but with Ashley Young through on goal, it was a very convenient place and a very convenient time to be clumsy.
As for the second dismissal, even if you don’t lean to Sir Alex Ferguson’s conclusion that Fernando Torres could easily have stayed on his feet, you’d have to accept that sometimes referees don’t see high speed incidents as well with the naked eyes as supporters do with innumerable slow motion replays. Aha, you may say if you’re feeling particularly pugnacious, but Clattenburg knew that another yellow card would reduce Chelsea to nine men. That alone should have stayed his hand, shouldn’t it?
Well…only if you believe that referees should use ‘common sense’ and that they shouldn’t be ‘consistent.’ And that’s fine, it’s a reasonable stance. But pick an ideology and stick with it because that’s what referees have to do. And don’t you dare come back in a week’s time asking why a referee hasn’t been consistent to your club or I will have to fetch The Hurty Stick.
The winning goal? Well, that wasn’t even Clattenburg’s fault. He will have taken advice from a linesman who had to pick out the location of several different men moving in a crowd in different directions at high speed while looking at two fixed positions (the position of the ball and the position of Javier Hernandez) at the same time. Well, what could be simpler?
If Clattenburg wanted to fix the result of the game, why didn’t he award Manchester United a penalty when the ball cannoned off David Luiz’s hand inside the penalty area? Why didn’t he send Torres off for trying to kick Tom Cleverley’s adam’s apple into the East Stand?
And if there is a shadowy conspiracy, if David Gill really sits in front of a large map of the world, stroking a white cat and expecting people to die, why don’t Manchester United win more things, eh? Why did they come second last year? Why were Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea allowed to win 8-0 on the last day of the 2009/10 season, sealing the game and the title only after opponents Wigan had a man sent off? Why did Sir Alex Ferguson get a five match touchline ban for being mean to referees? Why did Wayne Rooney get a three match ban for swearing down a camera? If United really are bribing the authorities, they should demand a refund.
It would be unwise to comment on the allegations that Clattenburg said inappropriate things to two Chelsea players because the matter is now under investigation, but it’s not unwise to politely ask the conspiracy theorists to give us back our tinfoil and bugger off to Roswell where their sort is tolerated.