More reffing and blinding as officials grab centre stage

Mark Clattenburg
Mark Clattenburg
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Our top referees are becoming a liability.

Tell us something new, you may say.

But this is different, they’ve become infected, they’ve caught the madness.

They’ve been authority figures since they wore blazers and waved a flag in the 19th century, figures of fun, hate and pity. But not necessarily in that order.

There’s been an un-subtle shift, however, as the coverage of the top of English football has moved up through the gears from hysterical to hyper-hysterical and beyond.

Referees used to be the cold water down the back of the over-heated game, the blackboard rubber heaved at the class clown, the swish of a cane on the school smokers’ stained fingers.

But now they seem to think they’re on X-Factor, Britain’s Got Referees, I’m A Referee Get Me On Telly.

Three examples: Mike Dean, Mark Clattenberg and Phil Dowd.

Mike Dean, with a face perfect for the haughty dismissal of dissent, Mark Clattenburg’s tough, man-of-the-people stance and Phil Dowd a man of many masks who falls over ocasionally.

They are our best referees but instead of helping the players tell their story by doing an extremely difficult job well, they increasingly are the story.

And they appear to love it.

Every gesture exaggeratedly theatrical, from Dowd’s eyes-closed shake of the head to Clattenburg’s finger-wagging refusal and Dean’s purse-lipped puritan waving away appeals for clemency.

For so long they were distant, inscrutible figures, Jim Finney, Jack Taylor and the gloriously-named Trelford Mills.

The change came with Clive Thomas who had us all reffing and blinding with his apparent taste for centre-stage controversy.

Referees are changing games because they appear to be buying in to the narrative of the occasion.

Example? Every TV and radio pundit thought Manchester United’s Rafael was fouled then didn’t foul Jamie Vardy for a Leicester penalty on Sunday.

But it was as though Mark Clattenburg wanted to be part of the ‘under-achieving-superstars-get-stuffed-by hard-working-newcomers’ story.

Referees are not there to play a starring role in the story, they are merely there to punctuate it.