The new Premiership season fair bounced out of bed all excitable and full of hope like a child (or me) on its (my) birthday. It seemed nobody was really ready for it to do so, what with the country still giddy from the pints of pure joy the Olympics had served up. I even got the impression that I was distinctly not alone in being wary of the prospect of witnessing stroppy, spoiled millionaires having a pissy-knickered hissy fit because their team didn’t get a throw in.
Whether we were ready or not didn’t matter because the marketing machines of The Premier League, Sky, The Champions League and the media are rapacious and jealous masters. They demand our attention so as to overcharge multi-corporate monsters for the opportunity to try and sell us shit we don’t need. You could almost hear the grinding of the gears as it all had to stop for two weeks for an international break that, essentially, sent us all back to bed.
Pondering the season so far from my temporary Norfolk home I am struck most of all by the rotten standard of refereeing. (Newcastle United’s start of two wins, two draws and one loss will obviously require more time and context from most of us before we side with the fearful cowards or the ludicrous optimists in their annual civil war). The officiating has been weak, bong-eyed and horribly inconsistent; Match of the Day (apart from the tedious gas-bagging of the golf buddies re-showing you things you have just looked at) is an hour and a half of gasps of exasperation for the viewer as referees and linesman make fools of themselves. They seem to either not know the rules or are wilfully re-interpreting them and they are so obviously open to influence that players and fans are in danger of starting to behave worse than ever. The three most annoying things in football are: 1. Players beseeching for or demanding decisions they know would be incorrect; 2. Alex Ferguson pointing at his big watch; and 3. Cockneys shouting “’andball!” every time the ball hits an opposing defender. (*) Present refereeing standards are encouraging all those things and I don’t even make this point from a position of bitter injustice in the face the harsh treatment of Newcastle United. After all we have had three opposing players booked for diving in games against us already this season. Which is absurd when you consider how rarely you see such a thing normally, never mind the fact that they were all actually fouls by Newcastle players.
It seems referees and their assistants are too afraid to play by the rules: for example handball has to be obviously deliberate, on offside the benefit of the doubt must go to the striker and players running into defenders’ legs on purpose isn’t a foul. Playing these rules with brutal, cold eyed, unblinking determination would go some way to stopping a whole bunch of unseemly lying and crying. Carrying on like we have seen so far is only going to generate more of both.
Even Mark Clattenburg, so long a hero of sneering indifference in the face of mewling cry-babies, has weakened. And because he is a black and white son of the North East I have had to face criticism on his behalf from some of my new friends in Norwich. The encroachment on the penalty rebound that QPR scored against Norwich was so ridiculous as to render laughable any suggestion that Clatters didn’t notice it. Mark, the massive thing between you and the ball on the spot as the kick was taken was Bobby Zamora, you know, the guy who kicked the ball in the goal. He shouldn’t have been there mate.
Traditionally when the standard of reffing is criticised we hear a call for ex-players being fast-tracked into the trade, so it was with some interest that I noted the guy in charge of England v Moldova was an ex pro. Three minutes in and a shot was blasted at some poor defender’s arm and he gives a penalty. All the years we had to suffer people regurgitating that same old argument, blown out the water in three minutes. Then we had to suffer players squeaking for more while the England fans shouted “’andball!” every time a cross hit a Moldovan defender, for the rest of the game. Tiresome. After all it’s hard enough getting players to behave as it is what with so many of them being so damn thick. Witness dear Stevie G, in the Ukraine game; already on a yellow card, delivered by a strict ref who may as well not have bothered putting it back in his pocket so fond of the sight of it was he, the England captain decided it would be a good idea to dive in from behind on a player. Then he looked shocked when he got sent off.
Referees’ communal weakness has set us up for yet another season of lying and cheating and those not joining in will be putting their team at a disadvantage. The “Olympic Legacy” will be dead and hanging from a wall, with crows pecking out its eyes, within a fortnight unless our officials toughen up.
(*)point of order – these are not the three most annoying things in football but for the sake of the strength of this argument let us say they are for now. We’ll get onto Martin O’Neill, Lee Cattermole, the unwashed and Stoke later in the season undoubtedly.