I was interested to read about the problems following the Motherwell game at Aberdeen, when Mark McGhee threatened to consult a lawyer rather than talk to my counterpart in charge of refs in Scotland, John Fleming.
It followed a defeat for his team, surprise surprise, and a series of clashes with the fourth official which culminated in him being sent to watch the game from the stand.
It makes for an increasingly worrying trend when people within the game are prepared to refer to the legal profession so easily, and it has also happened to me.
I feel the issue is not helped by the amount of lawyers who serve as board members at clubs, and in addition they can influence the players through their agents in their attempt to get the last word.
Towards the end of my career I sent off an Anderlecht player for what he said to a Liverpool player at Anfield. To be fair, most of those present understandably had no idea why he was sent off, but as I was leaving the pitch, instead of waiting to clear things up in the most reasonable way, I was already being told by this player’s people that they would see me in court.
I could not have been more confident, having checked for myself in the dressing room, because unfortunately for this player the TV cameras showed him in close-up saying “F*** you, black” to his opponent. It is not difficult to lip-read the first part most of the time, but it was the second part which earned his red card, as I explained to the UEFA delegates. Even though the press wanted to make the story last longer, sure enough those legal threats disappeared overnight…
A change to the Laws was one of the suggestions to follow the handballed Alexis Sanchez goal at the Emirates, but I don’t think this is called for, either!
It tells you everything that so many former officials themselves disagreed over the subject of intent, and I have always felt that the path that sees all mistakes eliminated is the path to a 0-0 draw every single game! Football essentially depends on mistakes, albeit ideally not from the ref, and I would hate to see the day there is nothing left for fans to debate.
Ironically, intent is also fundamental to what I considered a bigger story than the handball… Mark Clattenburg’s decision to go in at half-time and apologise to the Hull City players.
At the risk of too much talk about semantics, an apology in Denmark at least implies that there was intent in the act you are apologising for. If I were Mark, I might have explained rather than apologised, and I would not have done this at half-time, but afterwards.
I am not convinced 100% that his was a mistake in the first place, but again, I have been there, having made what was a 100% mistake, and I feel it is important to keep the respect of the players and those around you by admitting that you were unintentionally in error.
Own up in public or in private, by all means, but don’t do it at half-time, which could potentially leave you open to self-inflicted pressure as well as the expectation from the injured party (in this case, Hull) that you somehow “owe them one”.
Changing the Law might well tidy up a one-in-a-thousand incident like this, but then how many referees do we need before the position from which it can be spotted is covered? Ten? Twenty?
A point I did not see made was how dangerous it would be for Mark to have had the perfect view, precisely because of the risk of him being hit by the ball or otherwise causing some kind of obstruction.
I bet I was not the only one to notice that Arsene Wenger did not come out afterwards and concede that Arsenal had only won because of this benefit from a referee’s decision, however.
Just as Jose Mourinho did not come out and say, “I loved Mkhitaryan’s back-heeled goal but the officials’ mistake meant United really should only have won 2-1 instead of 3-1 today against Sunderland.”
Now that really will be the day!
Vi ses (see you later) Kim