By Tony Attwood
Of course I would love to see Arsenal in the Champions League once again next season, difficult though that is going to be to achieve.
I’ve had the good fortune to go to most of the Champs League home games we’ve played (and had a good night out most times, despite the drive home along an M1 which is invariably reduced to one lane for about 30 miles in order to keep road cone manufacturers in business).
But while one part of me is delighted to see that Untold’s nine year campaign to point out that there is serious evidence of either gross incompetence or match fixing by referees in the CL and in the PL, has led to this issue being reported (at long last) in the newspapers, I still despair at what the papers do with this information.
The Guardian for example today says,
“It would be a great service indeed if Uefa ditched the Champions League anthem for the remainder of this season’s competition and replaced it with Dance of the Cuckoos, the theme tune from Laurel and Hardy. The players could still line up and listen to it with awed reverence, of course, because that would provide an amusing and instantly shareable meme for folks wishing to illustrate the contrast between what the competition purports to be and the farce that it often is.”
How absolutely apposite. And my point really is not to say “I told you so over and over again” but rather to fear for what comes next.
The paper continues…
“The quarter-final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich was trailed as a high-brow duel that would offer the thrills of a blockbuster and the substance of an art-house classic. Instead it risks being remembered as a goofy skit splattered with decisions so spectacularly wrong as to provoke a physical workout, being at once breathtakingly, eye-poppingly and thigh-slappingly rum.”
Now this looks like the message has got through. There is something terribly screwy about the way Champions League matches are refereed.
And yet the self-same newspaper can also be running today the headline
To suggest that Barcelona performed a miracle in the last round against PSG is crazy beyond crazy. This was the game which the Independent profiled with the headline “PSG send five-page letter to Uefa over referee in Barcelona defeat”. The game after which the Metro gave me a momentary lift of hope when it wrote “Barcelona vs PSG: UEFA opens disciplinary case against Barcelona”, only for that little hope to be dashed when I read that it was reporting the fact that Barcelona will be fined because their fans ran on the pitch at the end.
Sadly for most of the papers the existence of a petition with around a quarter of a million signatures demanding that the PSG game be replayed hardly made the news, and instead we got
- Barcelona make Champions League history with stunning comeback … (Metro)
- 7 reasons Barcelona’s glorious 6-1 win against PSG was the greatest … (Mirror)
- Barcelona 6 PSG 1: Miracle at the Nou Camp as Barca complete … (Telegraph)
But the Guardian (at least via their chief football writer Paul Doyle) is moving in our direction. Speaking of the Real Madrid match he wrote, “The game was afflicted by so many significant distortions – such as Artur Vidal’s unearned red card and Cristiano Ronaldo’s bogus goal – that Real’s victory belongs in the same category as Barcelona’s tainted comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, which might not have happened if not for rampant diving by the players and decisions made by officials who performed as if freshly graduated from the School of Rough Guesses.
“Real’s victory came on the same night as their neighbour, Atlético Madrid, progressed to the semi-final by beating Leicester City 2-1 on aggregate, the first goal coming from a penalty awarded for a foul outside the box. That, too, was a significant distortion, although at least Marc Albrighton was not sent off, unlike Andreas Beck, who was dismissed during Besiktas’ defeat against Dynamo Kyiv in the group stages for a challenge made outside the box – and made on him, to boot.
“Whether or not we agree with Arsène Wenger’s suggestion that Arsenal might not have lost to Bayern Munich, let alone by 10-2, if the right decisions had been made when it came to red cards and penalties, it is clear that this season’s Champions League has been devalued by a succession of flamboyantly wrong decisions.”
At last. It is said.
Of course, given the reports we have produced – for example in our detailed analysis (complete with video evidence) of the refereeing decisions of the first 160 games in the Premier League this season – this is not very profound stuff. We have been reporting matches where the referee accuracy level on important decisions is around 50%. But the fact that a national newspaper comes out and says it, is a further sign that things are changing.
Now there are still those two fundamental issues missing: the ability to remember that there is something odd going on, for more than a week, and the question of why is something odd going on?
Knowing that I will be boring you by saying the same old thing over and over and over and over again, I will say it again: it is either down to absolute incompetence or match fixing of the type that we saw in Italy in 2006 and 2012 (and how ironic that this time the match fixing focus was not on Juventus).
I make no accusation that any referee is bent. What Untold does over and over is point out that the level of errors and the fact that it absolutely does not balance out in the end and is at a level far beyond anything the media reports day by day week by week.
And here’s another moment of progress. For in the Guardian article we also find this…
“It is not just the Champions League, of course. On Sunday, Ross County were able to nick a late equaliser against Celtic thanks to a penalty awarded when Alex Schalk’s audition for the RAF Falcons parachute display team was mistaken for a foul. And earlier this month the referee Keith Stroud was given a 28-day suspension for awarding a free-kick to Burton Albion instead of ordering Newcastle to retake a penalty after encroachment by Dwight Gayle.”
Stroud certainly needed to be dealt with because he didn’t make a faulty decision on who was to blame, but got the rules wrong. And yet what the press forget is that we saw the same at the Emirates earlier this season when a referee utterly screwed up over a free kick scenario (Ref Review Arsenal – Stoke: the match in which the ref shocked up by making up his own new rule) Sadly, and perhaps because it involved the Arsenal, no action was taken against the ref in our match.
And yet, and yet, the Guardian article does get oh so close to asking the right question:
“Why would the authorities choose to leave matches so exposed to human fallibility when they know that that also leaves matches more vulnerable to human venality?”
Yes yes yes yes yes. At last in an article to do with refereeing we have the “why?” question. It has only taken 102 years (the length of time since the first gigantic match fixing scandal following by the first gigantic match fixing cover up – it was Man U v Liverpool 2 April 1915 – conniving to draw so that Chelsea would go down.)
So, yes, if you have been with Untold for a while you will have been bored stupid by my going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about the fact that something is not only seriously wrong with my computer (in that it keeps on wring the same phrase over and over) but something is even more seriously wrong with refereeing, both at home and in Europe.
The evidence is there. Next we need the newspapers to remember it and not forget it when the next match comes around. Perhaps I can send them some memory enhancing pills.