You have to be a bit careful when talking to players about possible misconduct. It's fine to make your point, but at the same time you don't want to make matters worse, especially if you have been having running exchanges with the particular player. Here's an interesting case from the Premiership in mid-January, when referee Mark Clattenburg sent off Darren Fletcher of Manchester United for a trip of a Birmingham opponent that brought him a second yellow. United's manager thought it was soft, as did most of the press. But what really happened we can reconstruct from remarks made by the player, the referee and by an ex-referee, Graham Poll, who now writes for the Daily Mail. Fletcher leaves.
Over the years I have been involved in this game, I've met more than a few referees who never quite "get" the business of officiating. They may know the laws, they may have the ability to run around close to the action, they may even understand the way the game is played, but they don't quite grasp their own role in it. It's as though they have in their hand a fresh, meaty walnut, but no matter how hard they squeeze it, they can't crack it open to get to the kernel.
As Yogi Berra watched Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle smack back-to-back home runs again and again in the sixties, he coined the phrase I have used in the heading. I can't think of a better one as an introduction to some personal peevishness about comments I hear and see all over the place, from amateur football in Southside Park in Sacramento every Sunday, to discussions of the Premiership in the pages of The Times in England every week. The comment I'm going to write about here is like the bite of a chigger: it gets under your skin, and then causes you to scratch over and over in a vain attempt to get rid of the itch. Let me start from scratch then . . .
During the past week I have been reading press accounts, listening to television commentary, and reading comments from the public about the terrible double-fracture to the right leg of Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal, and the resulting expulsion of his opponent Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City. I didn't count the opinions but it was clear that the vast majority got it wrong: pundits because they haven't kept up with the law; many commentators because they don't understand or see what happened; and fans because they want to excuse a "nice guy" or because they support his club. I did find one excellent account, and a video that shows what reallyhappened.
I suggest that the reader first take a look at the original post of December 3, 2009 to see the positions of the players and officials at the famous free kick. What I am going to deal with here is what an assessor can do when he sees an incident like this. It is the assessor's job to try and guide the referee to a better decision, in this case by having him adopt a better position, one that many, many referees have used successfully.
I’m going to digress from football, for this one entry, to describe some weird consequences of the past few months in my life, as I try to sort out exactly how I wish to spend my time. Sitting down and writing such impressions as these is a way of clarifying my thought-process, so in a sense I am writing this column solely for myself. Anyone who has written in a personal journal understands what I am talking about, and knows as I do that clarity comes at the end of many a passage. And for those of you already yawning at the prospect of my introspection, leave now and come back tomorrow, when I’ll write about the game again.