Alan Biggs at Large: Rennie on getting to grips with Keano

Alan Biggs
Alan Biggs
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Don’t do as I did – the message to grassroots referees from Uriah Rennie, talking for the first time about his infamous wrestling of Roy Keane.

Sheffield’s former FIFA official got to grips with the fiery Irishman in a way no-one else has done, before or since, during a Manchester United game at Sunderland in 2002.

But Rennie still believes he did the right thing at the time and his instinctive action was defended by his bosses as effective one-off game “management.”

It was also manhandling, something strictly beyond the refereeing remit and subsequently the subject of intense debate.

Yet Uri, a man of bear-like build and awesome athleticism, achieved what he wanted.

Wrapping his arms around Keane, he dragged the United skipper away from Sunderland’s Jason McAteer amid a running battle between the pair at the Stadium of Light.

“There are two schools of thought on it,” Uri tells me. “A referee has to protect the players.

“When I went in, it was because if he (Keane) got hold of him (McAteer) then football was the loser.

“There are those who said ‘you can’t encourage our referees to do that on a Sunday.’ I think I was correct at the time.

“It stopped mass confrontation.

If it’s the Miners Arms versus the Red Lion, you can’t do that. It’s not text book but it was effective.”

Rennie, who had a 12-year Premier League career up to 2009, kept out of the media frenzy that followed and rarely ever spoke, believing, as he still does, that referees should not be the story.

But one question remains and he cheerfully raises it unprompted.

“How did I choose to go for Roy rather than Jason?” he chuckles, considering most of us would have taken the latter!

“It was because I didn’t think Jason was going to attack Roy, who might have had a free punch!

“I felt I was able to intervene early enough.”

For the record, Keane did eventually get his marching orders from Rennie, who adds tellingly: “Why should one player take up 90% of your time? Effectively, that’s what happened that day.”

Uri is equally frank about having been the first referee to send off Alan Shearer – for persistent elbowing – at Newcastle in 1999.

“If you’re told what not to do, don’t do it,” he said.

“But it doesn’t make him any less of a player.

“You don’t want to be the centre of attention but players want you to be decisive and you’re there to make a decision when there’s a dispute.

“Every one of our referees is genuine. If you’re in the public eye, you’ll take some hits.

“I wanted to leave a legacy where people were encouraged to go into refereeing.”

If you’re wondering why Rennie is finally talking then, typically, it’s only to raise the profile of a good cause.

As a supporter of many charities, the president of Hallam FC and a magistrate to boot, he is very much a community man.

Uri’s recent all-night walking football marathon at Hillsborough Leisure Centre raised funds for St. Luke’s Hospice.

You can support Uriah here – www.justgiving.com/uri