Clangers and Clattenburg
Why Mark Clattenburg is being punished for something other referees are also doing.
PHILIP DON drove his car, with me in the front passenger seat, along the Walton Breck Road and stopped just at the back of the Kop, where two kids, aged 10 or 11 perhaps, were kicking a ball up against a wall. Don wound down the window to get directions.
"Do you know how we get to Stanley Park please lads?" he inquired politely of the urchin pair.
"Fuck off," came the reply.
"Charming," said Don and drove off. With a couple of left turns, keeping Anfield on our left, we duly found Stanley Park and a steward showed today's match referee his allocated parking space, at the top end of the park but still a couple of hundred yards walk from the players' entrance.
The steward wondered if Don might want a police escort for his stroll to the ground. But we were in plenty of time, with more than three hours to kick-off, and there were not yet that many fans around.
Besides, Don would probably not be recognised before the game as the referee. This was March 1992, five months before the Football League First Division mutated into the monster that the Premier League would become, and turned refs, as well as players, into centres of attention.
"It might be a different story after the game," Don joked with the steward. "I might need the police then."
The occasion was an FA Cup quarter-final between Liverpool and Aston Villa. Thanks to Michael Thomas's goal from John Barnes's beautiful through ball, Liverpool would win 1-0 on an intense, draining afternoon and indeed go on to win the trophy that May.
Don would handle the day and the match well, despite the strains that I was there to witness first hand, the Football Association (before the Premier League all but took them over) having agreed to allow me to go behind the scenes with the man in the middle to see what he had to endure. That included the pressures brought to bear by the managers: forceful and forthright in the case of Liverpool's Graeme Souness; more subtly jocular by Villa's Ron Atkinson.
Indeed, Don would go on to be a significant figure in the refereeing world. He would referee that '92 Cup final, between Liverpool and Sunderland, and the '94 European Cup final between Milan and Barcelona in Athens. He would also be awarded the '94 World Cup quarter-final between Sweden and Romania.
The following year, Don would retire at the age of just 43 due to commitments as a school headmaster but would later become head of refereeing at the FA before becoming the first head of the Select Group of full-time professional referees, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd.
A man of great probity, Don was a stickler, who saw rules as being there for a purpose, and some top managers did not like the number of yellow and red cards referees were issuing on his watch. And so, with the Premier League's influence growing on refereeing due to their funding, Don was gone within a few years.
The last time I saw him was 18 months ago when I went out to Spain - to where Don had now retired - during my work with now retired elite referee Mark Halsey on his autobiography Added Time: Surviving cancer, death threats and the Premier League. It would be fair to say that Don did not miss the politics of, and the personalities running, modern refereeing.
How times change. These days, no writer would be allowed to spend a day with a referee travelling to a game, inside his dressing room, and travelling back home with him.(The PGMOL turned down my request to do just that with Halsey a few years ago for a book, There's A Golden Sky, to compare refereeing now with Don's era 20 years earlier). There is, as has been brought to a wider audience this week when it comes to the Select Group referee Mark Clattenburg, such a thing as 'protocol'.
It decrees that a referee, his assistants and fourth official meet up at a hotel near to the Premier League match they are taking four hours before the game and travel together in a people carrier. Afterwards, they should return together to the hotel. It is supposed to be for their own safety in case of problems after the game. The PGMOL also say that there has to be - bear with me during the use of this word in connection with them - an 'integrity' to the process, that officials should be in sealed conditions so that they cannot be influenced.
Clattenburg has endured a one-match suspension partly as a result of not travelling back with his fellow officials to the hotel after taking the match between West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace as he apparently wanted to make a dash from the Hawthorns in his own car back to his native Newcastle for an Ed Sheeran concert.
He is also in hot water for speaking to the Palace manager Neil Warnock from his car that evening, presumably about a couple of decisions that Warnock was unhappy with during the match and which by then Clattenburg had probably seen on videotape, a luxury denied him during the game, of course. For now anyway; it will be some time before referees can use instant replays to help them, even if the PGMOL are sending officials out to Holland in the next few weeks to monitor a trial there to see if it could work in the Premier League.
What all this reveals is that this is not about right and wrong. It is about fashion. And whether, as a referee, your face fits with the authorities.
After all, why was it acceptable 20 years ago to drive yourself to and from games? And why 10 years ago, five years ago, was it fine under Don and his successor Keith Hackett - men whose integrity could certainly never be questioned - to speak to managers? In fact, it was positively encouraged. It was seen as better for the game if there was direct dialogue between managers and referees.
The other question in the Clattenburg affair is this: Why has he been suspended when other referees are doing the same thing but getting away with it?
Let's take a couple of 'for instances', such as...
* The two referees this season who have allowed their families to travel with them in the people carrier after the match and back to the hotel, in breach of the 'integrity' of the process.
*The referee who was dropped off at a tube station after the London game he was officiating, something that occurs regularly so that officials can catch trains more easily and not get home too late on a Saturday night (quite sensibly).
OK, some will say, Clattenburg's offence is minor but there is still the question of speaking to a manager, against the decree that says it must be with other match day officials present.
Fair enough. But it was Clattenburg who reported the conversation to his PGMOL bosses himself.
He could have kept quiet about it. How many more referees are still having private conversations but not telling of them? We can only guess. And, in the spirit of dialogue and increased understanding, is it so wrong? Now, the PGMOL have sent a message to their own referees - one that every parent knows is wrong to give to a child - that honesty will be punished.
The fact is that Clattenburg is not in vogue with the powers that be at the PGMOL, notably its head, Mike Riley, the over-promoted killjoy stooge of Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, who are alone in the major leagues of the world in controlling refereeing matters in their competition. Elsewhere, it is the country's governing body - the equivalent of the FA - which controls them. The Premier League's influence on, and manipulating of, refereeing issues in their own competition due to their funding for it is one of the great, overlooked, scandals of modern English football.
Clattenburg's current lack of popularity with his bosses - Riley at the PGMOL and David Elleray, head of refereeing at the FA, who have more influence on international appointments - is in part to do with being his own man and not the sort of three-bags-full figure like others in the Select Group, whose reward for compliance in holding tongue, and refereeing to the style dictated to them, is the overlooking of their own breaches of protocol. Clattenburg has been known to question the running of the organisation and its leaders, though is these days believed to be less outspoken, having accepted with sadness how counter-productive it has become for him.
Neither has his friendship with Mark Halsey, who endured similar spats with the authorities in his latter years and had to undergo a campaign by the PGMOL and Premier League to discredit him after the publication of his autobiography, done him any favours, though Clattenburg is now thought, through necessity, to have distanced himself from his former colleague.
As a result, Clattenburg is not teacher's pet for either Riley or Elleray, who clings to his job having somehow escaped after making a racist remark to a black referee with the most gentle of punishments, the harshest of which appeared to be attending an equality and diversity course.
Indeed I understand that Clattenburg's appointment as referee to the European Super Cup, in which Real Madrid beat Sevilla 2-0 in Cardiff in August, was queried by Elleray, who wishes to promote other, meeker, referees for international appointments. This despite UEFA's admiration for Clattenburg, shown in their allocation of him to a Champions League match in match day 4 (though exactly which one has not yet been announced) even though he would not have a warm-up match in the Premier League the weekend before. It is unlikely that other English UEFA referees, such as Martin Atkinson and Michael Oliver, would be denied a domestic match ahead of a European game.
The other factor not being aired in the Clattenburg case is the agreement arrived at between the referees and the PGMOL from two seasons ago - and not rescinded, I understand - that referees ARE allowed NOT to travel back to the hotel after the game in the official vehicle but on the understanding that it was at their discretion and that they took responsibility for their own safety.
The petty treatment of Clattenburg is another example of a good man being slapped down. It follows the discrediting of Halsey last year and then BT Sport taking him off air as a pundit for his outspokenness - which one might have thought a media outlet would want - under pressure from the Premier League.
Instead, the PGMOL and the Premier League now seek to control pundits through their own less visible figure.
In the summer, when Howard Webb was appointed as technical director to the PGMOL - probably an apprenticeship before being promoted to Riley's role - it was suggested he would now be the face of referees supplied to the media to explain decisions and controversies. He has not been seen on camera, however - though it does not mean he is not interacting with the media.
Indeed, I understand that Webb watches games on a bank of monitors at Media City in Salford at weekends and then feeds into live BT Sport broadcasts and the Match of the Day team, giving background information on decisions being made by officials. Usually that involves him telling pundits the officials were right - after having made calls to Riley, that is - though some of the referees less 'in' with the hierarchy sometimes believe they are hung out to dry.
The PGMOL should be careful with the example they have set in the current cavalier treatment of Clattenburg. The organisation is not so well off for good referees that it can afford to demoralise its best ones. And though people may be able to question decisions here and there by him this season, Clattenburg remains one of the very best.
Though he is seen within the fraternity as hugely professional, perhaps the behind-the-scenes treatment has affected Clattenburg on the field in some way. It is believed he did not feel wholly supported during the John Obi Mikel affair of two years ago when he was wrongly accused of making racist remarks. He would not be human if he did not feel some of this acutely. And other referees may be having similar feelings.
Underpinning it all is a falling of of standards and a shortage of top officials, along with low morale, in Mike Riley's regime. Managers allude to it all the time - or as much as they can without being reprimanded and fined, having been told by the controlling Premier League to rein themselves in. Riley and Webb felt constrained to meet with an unhappy Swansea manager Garry Monk at his team's hotel on the eve of their game with Everton to smooth things over.
Fewer referees are coming through to the Select Group, shown in the fact that Stuart Attwell, demoted just under two years ago with his confidence taking a long time to recover after giving that 'ghost' goal in a match between Watford and Reading in 2008, had to be recalled to do Leicester City v West Bromwich Albion in Clattenburg's absence. There are just 17 in the top group now, compared to 24 when it was established.
All a far cry from the professional but more enlightened days of the estimable Philip Don, in both his guises as active referee and refereeing administrator. Days when integrity was a quality and not just a word.