BT Sport’s fresh way of covering modern football (apart from charging me more money for Champion’s League games that I have no interest in watching) includes throwing an excitable gaggle of experts at live Premiership matches. The range of this expertise stretches from former England international player, manager and religious ding-bat Glenn Hoddle, through the monotone droning of Michael Owen to the contradictory twattery of Robbie Savage. This works to the point that Savage’s idiotic squawking is somewhat diluted by Hoddle’s insightful diagnosis. Unfortunately experience has taught us that Hoddle is possibly about to start demanding we pelt disabled children with sharp rocks so I baulk heavily at the idea of agreeing with anything he says.
My preference for enjoying live football is now to put some music on, flick through my Twitter feed, cook, eat, drink and finally give up watching and plug in the Playstation. However BT have a secret weapon that has started to fascinate me in the form of refereeing insight provided by former Whistler in Chief, Howard Webb. And I can’t stress enough how much I use the term “fascinate” to really mean “terrify”, “upset” and “worry me to a point of nauseous incredulous giggling.”
As a younger man I thought referees were egomaniacal space aliens who resented missing the Thousand Year Reich they had come to earth specifically for and, as such, were hell bent on ruining the world game as some sort of Intergalactic Nazi Punishment. A more recent theory is that referee’s arbitrarily make the rules as they go along for either their own entertainment or because they just want a easy life. Witness the second half of last season where Newcastle United could no more get a penalty than could an opposition player get sent off against them. Put simply we were seemingly safe in mid table and why live with all the fuss of sending off Manchester United’s Johnny Evans when you can just wave play on despite the offence being obvious to 52 thousand witnesses? Similarly Robert Huth should be on about five red cards this season but refs are turning a blind eye because Leicester are so much fun.
Just as I think I might be learning to manage my paranoia Howard Webb turns up, seemingly, to try and prove both theories correct. This from the recent game between Man City and Leicester: “people think refereeing is a case of judging black or white and it isn’t. Refereeing is an art form” – What? This isn’t interpretive dance – precisely what we ask of referees is for them to judge whether things are black or white with specifically designed and refined rules to help them do so. Asked to comment on the six bookable incidents involving Marouane Fellaini playing for Manchester United at St James’ Park recently Webb said, “You know what you are going to get with Marouane Fellaini,” like this made everything OK. His only criticism of match referee Mike Dean was that after the fifth foul, “he should have got Wayne Rooney to have a word with him.” Like somehow Fellaini turns up for every match like a retarded chimp who doesn’t know the rules and he has to be walked through gently or it will look like bullying one of those kids Glenn Hoddle possibly wants us to throw sharp rocks at. As Leicester’s players rattled again and again into Sergio Aguero, Webb repeated the mantra that a referee doesn’t want to be handing out yellow cards too early lest he give himself a problem later in the game. How is sending off a recidivist, serial cheat a problem for a referee – a red card is the solution and not the problem. Seeing the situation any other way is what has given us nasty players with a sense of entitlement. It’s what gave us Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand and ten years of people wondering why Wayne Rooney’s temperament was so poor.
Hearing Howard Webb speak confirms all the suspicions we ever had about referees, how they don’t apply the rules uniformly, how they indulge certain players and how they view their own role as fundamentally central to the entire game. The terrifying thing about Webb is that he is utterly unapologetic about this thinking – a better trained person than me might call this mindset psychopathic – but they might not – so I’m not going to say it. Nobody here is calling Howard Webb’s expert analysis of a football match “a troublesome insight into the twisted brain of a psychopathic Space-Nazi.”
Nobody said that.
What I am saying is that if he isn’t offering crazed lunacy as punditry for today’s North London derby then BT will be receiving an angry email.