Even for a Manchester United fan….like myself….Sunday’s 3-2 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was a depressing affair.
Football has become toxic. What happens during the course of the ninety minutes seems almost a distraction to what happens before and after a match. Increasingly the mind games at managers conferences and leaks to selected journalists as well as what happens in the corridors of power in the Football Association Headquarters, Premiership Headquarters and the Professional Footballers Association seems to be the real game. And as soon as people sign up to Twitter accounts, it only makes it worse.
As every football fan knows…..History plays a part…….it enhances……or should enhance our experience. For example, every time Manchester United play Southampton, reference will be made to the 1976 FA Cup Final. And of course every time Celtic play Rangers…..well need I say more?
But now we know that the entire football season is merely a long list of vendettas. Teams play each other so often in key games…Premiership, FA Cup, League Cup and Europe……and the atmosphere is increasingly poisonous.
Take Sunday. John Terry, the Chelsea captain sat in the stands. Banned for four games because he racially abused Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers a year ago. Rio Ferdinand, brother of Anton is on the Manchester United team. He is routinely booed by Chelsea fans.
The game itself. Manchester United lead 2-0 after just 12 minutes and Chelsea pull back to 2-2 in the second half and the game seems to be swinging their way. They then have a player sent off for a “professional foul” and the initiative swings towards Manchester United. It is a straight-forward decision. The decision to send off a second Chelsea player is more problematic. Did Fernando Torres dive? Or did he just make the most of minimal contact. The referee Mark Clattenburg decides he has dived and awards a second yellow card. He is off.
If Torres was treated harshly, there is no consolation in the fact that his first yellow card in the game should probably have been a red card. By now Chelsea..and their supporters….and their coaching staff are feeling hard done by. And there is a series of seemingly “mouthy” incidents involving the referee and Chelsea players. All compunded by Manchester United scoring a third (and as it turned out)winning goal which was clearly off-side.
Referees and their linesmen make mistakes. So do players. So do coaches. And it is a cliché that these bad decisions even out over the course of a season. Maybe they do. Maybe they dont. But bad decisions seem a part of the game.
All this was bad enough. But some hours after the game, news filtered out that Chelsea had made an official complaint that the referee Clattenburg had used “inappropriate language” to two of their players. Later there were hints that one or more of these remarks was not racist but had national overtones.
Later there were suggestions that Clattenburg might have referred to Juan Mata as a “Spanish tw**” and the word “monkey” might have been said to John Obi Mikel.
This is gobsmacking. Why on earth would a referee of Clattenburg’s standing….two months ago he refereed the Olympic Games Final…..jeopardise his livelihood by using such language to a player……to two players? It is really unprecedented…..except for the salient fact that Chelsea, reeling from the John Terry incident and a sense of injustice (entirely misplaced) have form for complaining about alleged misbehaviour by match officials (Andres Frink and Graham Poll) only to humiliatingly withdraw the claims. Mud sticks……..and Chelsea have a reputation for throwing it about.
But…….if a player, players or club make this kinda allegation it MUST be properly investigated……including if necessary by the Police. And if Clattenburg really said these things…then his career is over. If on the other hand he is innocent, action must be taken against Chelsea….again.
For now, he is suspended while investigations proceed.
But there is a curious aftermath. After the game……..a group of Chelsea players and officials had to be restrained from attacking Clattenburg in the dressing room.
I present two theories.
One….Players and officials were justifiably angry at racial abuse and in the heat of the moment threatened to “break (Clattenburg’s) f**king legs”.
Two….Players and officials could not take the defeat, including the off-side “goal” confronted Clattenburg with the “break your legs” comment and realising the serious charges they might face (again!!) “got their retaliation in first” by putting out the story of inappropriate language.
There are high stakes here. Clattenburg’s livelihood. Possible disciplinary consequences for Chelsea players…and indeed Chelsea FC if these allegations are proved false.
But as a consequence …..there is even more “History” between Chelsea and Manchester United.
And to make matters worse the clubs meet again tomorrow night….in a League Cup game. It will be even more toxic.
The Beautiful Game?