Mark Clattenburg, it turns out, has at least once set out to make sure he couldn’t be blamed for a team near the top of the table losing a game. It’s unlikely to have surprised anyone who remembers the 2007 Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool…
Referring to his officiating of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea in 2016, Clattenburg revealed he chose not to send off several players in order to avoid being the villain of the piece the next day.
“If I sent three players off from Tottenham, what are the headlines? ‘Clattenburg cost Tottenham the title!,’” said the referee.
“It was pure theatre that Tottenham self-destructed against Chelsea and Leicester won the title.”
There are separate debates to be had, here. Referees opting against marginal red cards in order to better manage the game is one, and referees setting out with a gameplan with the motivation of avoiding blame in the headline is another altogether.
It’s very possible that Clattenburg is not the only official to take such a line, and it’s very possible indeed that he took a similar approach when sending off two Everton players in the Merseyside Derby in 2007.
Though criticism relating to that game was certainly not restricted to the red-card calls…
Liverpool handed their hosts a lead, with Sami Hyypia’s own goal foreshadowing the self-destructive tendencies which would lead to John Arne Riise heading into his own net in the following spring’s Champions League semi-finals.
It’s one of those that won’t make a ton of sense to an outsider, with Joleon Lescott getting a head onto a deflected cross and Hyypia bursting through a crowd of players to prod into the corner, reverse-poacher style.
However, if you were to point to the exploits of Dejan Lovren, Martin Škrtel or Alberto Moreno in recent years, you’d probably get a response along the lines of “oh, right, I guess Liverpool defenders just do that for no reason once in a while”.
The second-half turnaround is one which looks, on paper, like an underdog being hard done by: two Dirk Kuyt penalties, each preceded by a red card to an Everton player.
Though Moyes and his team could certainly have had some complaints, however, they could hardly have argued about either of the goals, or even the red cards if viewed in isolation.
Neville’s last-minute goal-line handball was as clear-cut as they come considering he palmed away a goalbound Lucas shot in a manner which would have made future Liverpool favourite Luis Suárez proud.
Incidentally, I have a theory that – had Neville failed to block the shot – Lucas would have ridden the wave of scoring a last-minute derby winner and gone on to be a genuine star on Merseyside, not just a cult hero.
Call it Dominic Adiyiah Syndrome, if you will.
As for the other red, which came early in the second half, once Clattenburg ruled that Tony Hibbert had brought down Steven Gerrard in the box, the Toffees defender can’t have had too many complaints about the colour of the card showed.
Well, that would have been the case if the referee didn’t appear to be reaching for a yellow before Gerrard said…something…to him.
Plenty will argue the eventual red card ruling was the right one anyway, but debate raged at the time over whether or not a player informing a referee of the laws of the game is above board.
If you consider it to be the equivalent of a player claiming a foul was just inside the area rather than just outside, there’s probably a case that you ought to show the same consistency you demand of officials.
But, as we’ll see, the issue of consistency was one which plagued this game.
You see, if the Hibbert call was more foul than not, many were asking aloud whether the same could be said of Kuyt’s….yeah, fine, I guess we’ll call it a ‘challenge’ on Neville during the same game.
There are probably sports where this sort of thing is considered legitimate; they’re just not coming to mind right at this moment.
Still, what Kuyt may have lacked in technique he more than made up for in Tekken-ique.
Oh, you thought that was it, did you? Almost, but not quite.
Even after Kuyt’s late winner – which many claimed he should not have been on the pitch to convert – there was time for Everton to feel aggrieved once more.
Lescott, up in search of an equaliser, was hauled down by Jamie Carragher, only for Clattenburg to ignore penalty claims. Perhaps he was worried what the next day’s headlines might be?
When taking charge of a Merseyside derby, a referee may well plan for different eventualities.
Perhaps they’ll make concessions on marginal early calls in an effort to prevent the game from boiling over and running away from them.
Or perhaps they’ll lay down a marker early in the form of stern discussions with both captains after the first crunching tackle or the first heated staredown between two opponents.
Those are certainly two ways which have, in the past, ensured fans don’t walk away talking about the referee and no one else.
However, it can be okay for a referee to be blamed for a result. Often such bile arrives without justification, or in the face of an innocent mistake like missing a grab in the penalty area.
And perhaps Clattenburg’s calls at Goodison were simply his honest interpretations.
By Tom Victor