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Clattenburg chat provides fascinating insight

The Thursday column

Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann misses the penalty awarded by Mark Clattenburg
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The eminent journalist David Walsh wrote in a recent Sunday Times column of an encounter he had with Mark Clattenburg.

The account of their meeting, at which they sat next to each other at an awards ceremony in Norway, was one of the most fascinating things I have read in a long time.

It was gripping, insightful and mildly disturbing and has changed the way I view referees and how they operate.

I has assumed Clattenburg, perhaps the world’s best referee, went out on to the pitch, blew the whistle to start the game and then judged a series of separate incidents on their merits in isolation. Not so.

I had assumed the concept of refs evening things up when they have made a mistake was a daft myth. Not so.

I had assumed the allocation of injury time was a simple task of totting up the amount of stoppages that had taken place and telling the fourth official to punch in that number to his board. Nope.

And I had hoped, albeit without any great conviction, that any dialogue that took place between referees, players and managers did not have a bearing on how decisions were made. Again, this is clearly not entirely true.


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Clattenburg told Walsh of a time when, in the 2016 Champions League final, Real Madrid led Atletico through a goal that should have been disallowed for offside.

As the players returned to the field for the second half Atleti forward Antoine Griezmann told Clattenburg the goal should have been disallowed but added that the arbiter should not worry because the players accepted that nobody could get every decision right.

When play recommenced Atletico’s Fernando Torres was felled in an incident that would not usually result in a spot-kick, but Clattenburg gave it and admitted he probably would not have done so had he spotted the offside in the first half.

Griezmann missed the penalty and Clattenburg said he felt pleased because the penalty had restored balance and made it a better game.

He added that the best referees give decisions based on context and balance and that was why there could never be the much-demanded high levels of consistency in how decisions are made. Instead, he said the best officials “have the courage to apply the laws with empathy”.

When I first read Walsh’s enthralling piece I was shocked to learn how blatantly incidents affected subsequent decisions. Surely each collision, contact or infringement should be judged on its merits?

I have a friend who often texts me during a match to say a team will benefit from a refereeing decision because they have been the victims of a bad one earlier in the game. “He’ll even it up,” he will say with confidence.

I had previously scorned this belief, treating it merely as the view of mug who believed in every conspiracy theory going.

But perhaps there is something in it. Presumably Clattenburg’s methods are not unique and other referees are prone to wanting to right a wrong before they deliver the three short blows of the whistle to end the action.

There was a popular saying back in the days when managers were able to accept the odd decision that went against them. “These things have a habit of evening themselves out over the course of a season,” they would offer ruefully.

It is possible, however, that they even themselves out over the course of 90 minutes, but what if suitable opportunities to compensate for errors do not present themselves during the same game?

Do some referees carry over a debt and try to repay it the next time they take charge of the team that were badly done by last time? This troubles me if true.

What also troubles me is the amount of chat between refs, players and managers. It is kind of touching that Griezmann was able to charm Clattenburg into pointing to the spot by accepting mistakes happen, but the very fact that their conversation may have influenced a decision is fundamentally disturbing.

Clattenburg went on to recount a story of how Jose Mourinho had come into his changing room after a match last season and told him he had been wrong not to award Manchester United a penalty for handball.

The referee was pleased to see footage of the incident when he got home that proved he had got the decision correct but less happy that Mourinho never got in touch to admit he was wrong.

The point here, however, is that managers should not be able to discuss these things. What is the purpose of it if not to try to influence a future decision? I am amazed it is so easy for managers to get in referees’ ears and the most blatant example of this is the near constant dialogue that takes place between managers and the fourth official during matches.

This should not be allowed. The fourth official should be an upstanding individual who carries out the basic tasks the role demands without needing to be a top-flight referee, and if that was the case the managers would have no interest in chatting away to them.

As for the allocation of injury time, probably the most amateurish aspect of modern football, Clattenburg revealed how flexible referees can sometimes be when deciding how long to add on. This is already abundantly clear from the examples we see of a lot of time being added on when matches are close and little overtime being played when one team are three or more goals ahead.

He told Walsh that he once ordered an extra three minutes in a friendly between Russia and Holland, during which the Dutch extended their lead and won 4-1.

Guus Hiddink, who was managing Russia, remonstrated with Clattenburg for playing what he considered to be unnecessary added time and - get this - the referee eventually came round to accepting Hiddink’s view, which is ludicrous. If you don’t want to lose 4-1, defend better.

Nothing Clattenburg revealed changes the view that he is an outstanding referee, but it was little short of astonishing to learn of the methods and thought processes that go into making him such a master of his craft.

I still wish refs would call each decision as they see them, add on the correct amount of injury time regardless of the score and not talk to managers, but clearly that is not the case.

Striker's complaint misses the target

Lovely though it was of Andy Carroll to praise Palace fans, he and all his fellow professionals really should resist the temptation to have a pop at their own supporters, as he did this week.

Big Andy spoke out after the latest early evacuation of the London Stadium, which was three-quarters empty by the time the Hammers’ 4-1 weekend bashing at Liverpool’s hands was complete.

Carroll complained that the West Ham faithful had departed in their droves and appealed to them to stay and support the team in future, quoting the example of the Palace fans who, the previous weekend, had stayed put and been rewarded by their team’s last-gasp equaliser against his own team.

But he makes the basic error of failing to acknowledge that fans have the right to do what they like. They are the paying customers and if they choose to boo, barrack or begin the trek to the pub at half-past four if they are unhappy that’s entirely up to them.

He should also familiarise himself with the logistics of leaving West Ham’s new ground along with more than 50,000 other people.

The former Olympic Stadium does not have loads of adjacent street parking or particularly local public-transport facilities.

There are plenty of stations ten minutes away but none on the doorstep and if you want to come and go by motorised vehicle you must either walk for miles to get to it or sit and stew in a multi-storey car park.

These considerations are important because it is miserable enough watching your team getting beaten without compounding your woe with an arduous journey home.

Footballers get showered in adulation when they play well, and they need to accept the flipside of that when they don’t. Blaming the fans for being unhappy solves nothing.


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Do some referees carry over a debt and try to repay it the next time they take charge of the team that were badly done by last time?
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