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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Arbiter abuse is far from entertaining stuff

Oldham incident caps a sorry week for officials

Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus argues with referee Michael Oliver
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It is unlikely that Gianluigi Buffon took the slightest interest in Oldham’s Sky Bet League One clash with Rochdale on Tuesday night. He should have.

Because he would have seen the depressing sight of a pea-brained Oldham fan running at the referee after he had awarded Rochdale a penalty.

The invader charged at the arbiter, who evaded him with a neat sidestep before Oldham’s Anthony Gerrard commendably grabbed the oik so he could do no harm beyond getting his jeans dirty as he slipped in his pathetic bid to get to the official.

It could have been different. Peter Bankes could have become one of the hundreds of referees who are assaulted in Britain every year, mostly on park pitches away from the glare of cameras and reporters.

What has that to do with Buffon? Plenty. His vile verbal attack on Michael Oliver six days earlier was yet another contribution to the general air of disrespect that referees have to deal with. When you add up all these digs at the officials that those in the professional game make every single week you create a climate in which morons like the one at Oldham feel it is legitimate to express your negativity in a physical rather than verbal manner.

I remain appalled at Buffon’s conduct, having spent more than 20 years believing him to be not just a superb goalie but also a decent bloke.

How wrong you can be. It was bad enough that Buffon made such a fuss when his Juventus teammate Mehdi Benatia blatantly pushed Real Madrid's Lucas Vasquez to the ground in the closing stages of their Champions League semi-final second leg.

But he inexcusably compounded his lamentable conduct by failing to backtrack when his temper had cooled.

Juve had played incredibly well, fighting back from a 3-0 first-leg deficit to find themselves within seconds of taking the tie to extra time, and in the heat of the moment Buffon clearly lost his mind.

But he should have been mature enough to have realised what an exhibition he had made of himself with hindsight. Instead, days after the incident, he refused to apologise and patronisingly claimed that although Oliver had a future as a top-level ref he was too young to be in charge of that fixture.

He must have been aware by then that Oliver and even his wife Lucy, also a referee, had suffered terrible abuse on social media, but could not even bring himself to help douse those flames, which was utterly pathetic of him.

Oliver is a superb referee who handled that situation calmly and perfectly, and it is the World Cup’s loss that it will not have his assistance to ensure it is well-officiated.

The reason he is not going to Russia is that he was only appointed to the Uefa elite list in January, too late to put him in the frame for the World Cup.

Mark Hughes might care to note that point because it is a more factual version of why Oliver, and indeed all English referees, will be absent from this summer’s tournament than the one the Southampton boss peddled after his side had lost to Chelsea on Saturday.

Hughes, who never misses the opportunity to lambast officials when they make a decision he doesn’t like, expressed his dismay that Mike Dean and his assistants had not noticed a bad challenge by Marcos Alonso and followed a claim that “referees have got to get these decisions right” with a childish dig that “that's maybe why they are not going to the World Cup this year”.

Why Hughes feels the need to make these pointless, stupid insults so regularly I don’t know. He should look at how the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Roy Hodgson conduct themselves and he should ask himself whether undermining the authority of refs, as he keeps doing, is of any benefit to anybody.

All in all, then, it has been a sorry week for those of us who despair at how referees get treated, and let’s return to the Oldham game for the final word.

The Ladbrokes Twitter feed, which might have wound its neck in a little after its inadvertent but damaging comment about Sky darts presenter Dave Clark in December, issued a message after the one-man pitch invasion at Boundary Park describing the incident as “entertaining stuff”.

I have to say I didn’t find it remotely entertaining in the same way I wouldn’t find a video of a punter charging angrily at a Ladbrokes cashier remotely entertaining, but maybe that’s just me.

More by Bruce Millington

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Beautiful Cheltenham serves up another incredible experience

Ten points to consider in the run-up to Cheltenham

Magnificent Grand National unharmed by disorganised declarations

Interest from those outside my racing bubble was as strong as ever on Saturday. I hope it was the case for you too.

Nieces, neighbours and friends, all of whom should know better by now, asked who was going to win (Anibale Fly in case you haven’t had a bet yet) and this anecdotal evidence of the continued love for the great race was reflected in more meaningful metrics such as the Aintree attendance, TV viewing figures and betting activity.

The maintenance of the National’s status as a must-watch annual event does not happen by accident, and the efforts of everyone to ensure the race still looks as thrilling as ever while being far safer for its human and equine participants should be heartily commended.

It was disappointing that some of racing’s hardcore fans have taken a jaundiced view of how the race has changed, with dissatisfaction having been expressed that a horse as small as Tiger Roll can now win a National when previously it might have struggled to clear all 30 obstacles.

My view is that with only 12 horses having finished on Saturday it’s lucky the jumps are less daunting or there might have been difficulties filling all the extra each-way places bookies were paying.

One source of criticism that has hopefully been shut down now is the long-held view that Irish-trained National horses are badly handicapped. Eight of the 12 finishers, including each of the first four, crossed the sea from the west, so with luck the National weights ceremony will no longer have its mood tainted by any further irrational moans about bias.

One legitimate area for moans where the 2018 running is concerned is the confused and wholly avoidable situation regarding non-runners and reserves. Three defectors between the Thursday final declarations and the 1pm Friday deadline for inserting reserves meant a trio of replacements were added to the original line-up.

The reserves were assigned the racecard numbers of the horses they came in for, leading to an odd and unintuitive look to the card with the horse wearing number one carrying one of the lowest weights.

Meanwhile media companies were told by the BHA it was up to them how they ordered the runners, and the official Aintree racecard listed the reserves at the bottom of the card and had no indication of the 1lb weights rise caused by top-weight Minella Rocco’s absence.

It emerged the policy on the non-runners and reserves was agreed between the course and the BHA on the day before the race rather than well in advance, as it should have been, which is astonishingly disorganised.

All in all, though, the Grand National remains a magnificent piece of sport and for that racing can be proud of itself.

Silva a shining example of loveable City

We really shouldn’t like them or feel remotely pleased that they are champions. They are a squad assembled at outrageous cost, earn ridiculous salaries and turned the competition that captivates us more than any other into a formality before we’d even pulled the Christmas crackers.

And yet this Manchester City side are extremely popular Premier League champions. Not as popular, obviously, as Leicester two years ago, but far more liked than any of Fergie’s title-winning teams, any of the Chelsea squads, the Arsenal ones and even the previous two versions that wore sky blue.

There are two fundamentally good reasons for this: first, they play wonderful, enthralling, captivating football and, second, playing spot the bastard is a difficult game when it comes to City.

There is nobody at boardroom level to whom it is easy to take an instant dislike; Pep Guardiola is an official dude, and the players do little to offend people.

The team is led by the universally-admired Vincent Kompany, and wherever you look there are players who let their ability rather than their character defects define them.

They are not notorious divers, they do not try to bully the opposition, they do not have a reputation for berating referees, and they don’t attract bad headlines by acting like arrogant filth off the field.

Additionally, many of their stars have been with the club for a long time now, leading to affection by familiarity, such as with the magnificent David Silva, who would now be extremely hard to omit from anybody’s all-time PL 11.

Recent Prem winners have done appallingly the following season but it is hard to see how that trend will be continued in 2018-19, when their only danger, with United in such a sorry state under their boring, miserable excuse for a manager, is that Liverpool recruit a top-class keeper, a centre-back and add some quality to the midfield area and boss other teams in the same way they have been able to boss City this term.

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Oliver is a superb referee who handled that situation calmly and perfectly, and it is the World Cup’s loss that it will not have his assistance
E.W. Terms
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