Happiest on stage, managing the game

There has forever been a great clamour to hear from the referee. To let the referee explain his decisions. But are we ready for what he has to say? Or would it just confirm our worst fears? And maybe even all of Jose Mourinho’s suspicions.

Happiest on stage, managing the game

Men such as Martin Atkinson, Jon Moss, Andre Marriner — essentially they are the most powerful people in the world.

The boy Trump might be there or thereabouts, but even if he presses the big red button that says ‘do not press’, there will be some small delay in the fallout. During which he’ll likely have lost interest and returned to tweeting about the “boring NFL”.

But Atkinson, Marriner and Moss — plus Dean, Oliver, Taylor, Swarbrick, Jones & Co — know vast instant power. They are mainlining the stuff. Theirs is the ability to satisfy or dismay the watching world at a whim.

With one gesture towards the spot, they can shape narratives, trigger conspiracy theories, and release tsunamis of abuse.

It is no wonder Jeff Winter famously thought the Kop’s applause was all for him.

The great mystery is that they can ever slip back into a humdrum existence. Alan Wiley, Uriah Rennie, Phil Dowd — how have they replaced that capacity to ruin billions of afternoons by reaching for their top pockets?

These powerful men, all they are missing is a voice. Then they truly would have the whole world in their hands. But should we give a voice to the voiceless?

Mark Clattenburg has lost his grip on the levers of power — he now simply referees football matches for handsome reward in Saudi Arabia.

He can still upset a few million people by pointing to the spot. But he can no longer change the world. Though at least he can now tell us how he once did.

It was the thing that angered Clatts most, he told us this week on NBC’s Men in Blazerspodcast, that people thought he was arrogant and football didn’t allow him to explain himself.

Until now, the Cl9 TTS number plate on his BMW X5 had to do most of his talking.

But since he left the Premier League, Clatts can talk freely about Mark Clattenburg, just as Graham Poll wrote admiringly of ‘Polly’ in his autobiography.

Clatts can now describe his referee’s kit as a “costume” and he can give us some idea what it’s like to command the greatest stage in the world.

“It’s like a pop star. When you’re performing at your first concert, you’re going to be nervous. But when you gain the experience, it’s like theatre.

“I just want to perform.”

Of course our greatest concern is that these powerful performers consult a script before treading the boards.

And there has been some alarm this week at Clattenburg’s admission that he refused to send off Spurs players in the 2016 ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’ because he didn’t want to hand Leicester the league.

As he put it: “I went in with a gameplan, that I didn’t want Tottenham blaming Mark Clattenburg that they were going to lose the title.

“There should have been three red cards to Tottenham. I allowed them to self-destruct so all the media, all the people in the world went: ‘Tottenham lost the title’.”

“I didn’t give them an excuse.”

It was an eye-opener for the few innocents who held quaint old notions about refs judging every incident on its merits. And a reminder to all the people in the world to be wise to where every two-footed lunge fits in an unfolding narrative.

Rather overlooked elsewhere in the Clatts address was an

admission about the rather soft penalty manufactured by Fernando Torres a few weeks later in the Champions League final, the ref having noticed at half-time that Real’s opener was just offside.

“If I don’t give that penalty, Atletico Madrid will think they’ve been wronged twice. So now the game is potentially one big decision each. It’s about thinking about balance. This is what top-level referees learn to manage.”

Vindication for every manager who has issued the half-time warning; ‘he’ll try to even it up, lads’. And something we’ve come to notice about the most powerful people in the world; a preoccupation with optics over justice.

“It’s not always about upholding the law it’s about understanding the law,” Clatts said, suggesting some policemen are also cleverer than others, in that regard. Even about understanding when the law need not be applied at all, as we know.

There was confirmation too, of another powerful man’s influence — Clatts admitted that during their first encounter, Roy Keane terrified him into the incorrect award of a corner-kick.

Incidentally, further investigation suggests one of the pair’s first meetings in the Premier League was on the evening Roy Carroll pulled Pedro Mendez’s Tottenham effort from two feet behind his goalline. So there’s no telling where the reign of terror ended at Old Trafford that day.

“I loved the battles with Ferguson,” Clatts also said, elevating himself alongside the most powerful man the world has known.

Presumably, he was able to get one or two of his own decisions over the line, from time to time, in that battle for justice and optics.

But just as Mark Halsey proudly explained, in his autobiography, how he gradually “got on the right side” of the Premier League’s unofficial referees assessor, Clatts too eventually felt at home in the corridors of true power.

“He (Ferguson) was an amazing tactician. He knew when to criticise referees and when not to criticise. The relationship when he finished; he was an amazing guy to get to know on and off the pitch.”

Maybe we’ve heard enough.

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