Dave Rainford joined the BBC show ‘Eggheads’ three years after his prominent participation in ‘Are You An Egghead’ in 2009. Alex Griffiths caught up with the quiz expert to talk refereeing and his love of Manchester United.
Can we tell the tale of how you ended up in The Horseshoe drowning your sorrows after Manchester City’s title win in 2012?
Moving on swiftly then! Eggheads is recorded in Glasgow, correct?
That’s true, and Celtic and Rangers use the hotel we use. Both teams stay there regularly, as well as most of your visiting European opposition, and the Partick Thistle supporters also have an annual event there, which I’ve been to and thoroughly enjoyed.
Besides the well-known Glasgow links to Manchester United, where I’m a season ticket holder, I also sense we have the levels of passion and begrudging respect on both sides very much in common. I can relate to it because I want the points off our closest neighbour more than anything else, believe me.
Spending as much time up there as I do, it’s as partisan as ever, and you sense a split among Celtic fans, some of whom would relish the return of regular Old Firm clashes, while others want to see the Rangers exile continue for as long as possible.
Best advice I find, however, is just to agree with whatever the cab driver says!
As a well-known face who’s publicly identified himself with one club, do you get much unsolicited football conversation when you’re out and about, minding your own business?
No unsolicited football conversations for me… I try and find them myself, it’s brilliant in that sense.
Anywhere people watch football you can find someone who’s up for a chat, whatever team they support.
Any footballing gossip to report from the Eggheads set?
Well, Barry is a Leeds United fan so I don’t count him, Kevin is Tottenham and the presenter, Jeremy [Vine] is Chelsea.
Much to everyone’s mirth, for Football Focus back in March 2015 we predicted the results and actually lost the challenge to Mark Lawrenson. I predicted United would beat Liverpool 3-1 only for Rooney to go and miss a penalty, but winning 2-1 meant a vital three points for United, so that was the main thing!
You’re a supporter of referees in general and of educating fans in particular, is that fair, and you’ve a view on Jose Mourinho’s ends justifying his means, haven’t you?
Without any question, referees need more support on the pitch as much as anywhere else. There’s probably one single game which I watched, versus Southampton, where Chelsea were unlucky with some decisions… but that doesn’t go for all of last season, and it all balanced itself out reasonably well.
I think Jose Mourinho does respect referees but it’s a case of making sure both that his players are up for each game and that the officials treat Chelsea properly. And he achieved all that with his various expertly-timed statements.
Do you believe as far as errors go it’s swings and roundabouts , to resort to the cliché?
Absolutely, it goes around. I’ve been sat at Old Trafford and people have gasped when a decision has gone United’s way. But referees have to make a snap decision and its a very tough job.
Then there are differences of opinion about what offences actually are, like jostling at corners or tight penalty calls. You’re trusting that the person in charge has full control over what they are doing and on the whole the standard of British refereeing is very good.
As a long-term, ardent follower of Manchester United, have you recognised a distinct LVG style, both in general and in his criticism, or otherwise, of the officials?
The jury is out. Last season was all about Champions League qualification, which he achieved.
In his interviews he does what he has to do, which includes his opinions of referees, and he’s not overly concerned about the media, which is good.
The job is certainly not a poisoned chalice, you must just get the decisions right on recruitment, as in Sanchez and Costa at Arsenal and Chelsea, and he has already implemented the structure.
Can he do it? Yes, he’s been a success at other big clubs so I don’t see why he can’t repeat that success here.
You have an alternative to Paul Scholes’ theory that Michael Oliver sending off Di Maria in their quarter-final defeat to Arsenal helped United find a formula, in effect turning the whole season around?
Yes, I think United would have won the FA Cup! Add to that the fact that neither Tottenham or Liverpool produced anything like quality football in the run-in, and I would indeed beg to differ. Their failings, to me at least, made it pretty hard for United not to clinch fourth place!
From a fan’s perspective, 2004 is too long a wait for the FA Cup and Arsenal now hold the record number of overall wins. The league might be a priority but United simply can’t afford to pass up on any trophies with the squad as big as it is and with the money that’s been spent.
Back to the men in the middle and do you feel the need to fast-track former players into refereeing gets exaggerated from time to time?
A lot of ex-professionals have got various avenues they can explore such as media or coaching and a lot of their decisions will inevitably be based on what they are most passionate about at the end of their career.
What is more pertinent is to ensure the health of the grass roots, which means more of the right people volunteering their Sunday mornings, for both the men’s and women’s game. Start there and hopefully you can look forward to them coming through to elite level in due course.
I am convinced that flexibility and common sense is more important than finding someone who has every single law, law change and directive of the game sorted.
What if an injury in one of those parks on a Sunday led to them throwing you the whistle?
To be a referee you’ve got to be able to move around and I’m just not fit enough, I’d admit that!
How about your memory, it has served you well professionally but how does it impact your enjoyment of football… too much like mixing business with pleasure?
Football’s obviously something I’m interested in and passionate about, although pleasure is not a word I would use to describe many a United season, despite all the success! Maybe a lot of the memories are subconscious ones and there have been so many changes just in my time.
But I’d single out Steve Bennett famously giving Ronaldo a straight red at City, despite him having made no contact in his challenge. I was bemused at the time but on reflection, detecting intent is far more a part of the fabric now, to be able to spot it.
David Elleray at Villa Park, giving Roy Keane two yellows, and then Irwin two more at Anfield a few weeks later, when we were cruising and two goals up, somehow spring readily to mind.
But as I said it’s very difficult out there, there’s such a lot of pressure and noise… technology has since augmented the referee’s armoury and things have improved. But another memory and something I don’t like is the practice of players crowding referees, that’s always been beyond the pale for me.
Ultimately, time and experience teach you that often it’s not necessarily so much an error as a matter of interpretation, to use Nani’s game-changing dismissal for violent conduct versus Real Madrid in 2012 as an example.
What about shoot-out memories and penalty misses… some players have the knack of earning instant forgiveness while it weighs far heavier on others?
When it comes to England then 1990 was arguably the best chance in a long while of winning a tournament, The Czechs laying in wait, had England got past the Germans at Wembley in Euro 96, looked a tougher proposition than the Argentina side which lost the final in Rome.
So 1990 will always resonate but for me, with a penalty shoot-out, if you’ve put yourself up to take one in the first place then you don’t deserve criticism anyway, if you ask me.
Then you have Ryan Giggs missing versus Southampton in the very first FA Cup shoot-out. There was a 16-year gap between that and his winning penalty in the Moscow Champions League Final.
It also took Nani and Anderson, who never delivered their full potential here, but showed real courage and coolness that night… Anderson in sudden death, too.
We could return to the role of fate in football because if Lubos Michel had not sent off Didier Drogba in extra time, he’d have stepped up before John Terry…
Is there anything you would change, given the chance?
It should be like rugby where it’s the captain who’s invited to discuss or be told what’s going on. I’d prefer the captains to go up and I’d give yellow cards out to those teams who don’t abide by it. I seem to remember that after the back-pass rule first came in it took a few free kicks to be given and you tended to find that people cut it out.
I’d also have referees from different leagues officiating here [a proposal recently suggested by YATR]
How would that work in practice, with officials scapegoated as much as they are already?
The fixture computer can randomly select all 20 Premier League teams whether it’s home and away so every team has had a ref from another country… it could be easily done.
It would be refreshing and it would help players and fans. I’d be intrigued to see how it would work but I’m sure it would be huge from an educational point of view, first and foremost.
Say no more, and good luck with future seasons of Ryan Giggs’s favourite TV show, Dave!