It’s a familiar scenario. The game is in full flow when the referee makes a poor decision or series of decisions that usually involve either failing to punish opposition fouls or penalising what look like perfectly good tackles from City players. Everyone in the ground knows the script, spontaneously singing “You’re worse than Clattenburg…”
Clattenburg’s appointment as referee for the derby, as well as the furore over Aguero’s retrospective ban and former referee Mark Halsey’s subsequent claim that he was put under pressure to claim he hadn’t seen an incident that he claimed he had, reminded me of the “Clattenburg incident” following City’s 4-2 win against Arsenal in September 2009 for which he was the referee.
Emmanuel Adebayor was playing for City in that game, his first against his former club, and he took a great deal of abuse from the visiting supporters. When he scored City’s third goal, he ran the entire length of the field in order to celebrate in front of them. It was a bit stupid (albeit very funny) and Clattenburg booked him. City believed at the time he had been cautioned for something like improper conduct over the celebration, which was quite legitimate under the disciplinary rules. They were then surprised to hear a couple of days later that the FA had charged him with the same offence. FA rules usually preclude further action if the original offence was seen and dealt with by the referee at the time, which appeared to be the case.
When they queried this, they were told that the referee had reported the caution was for time-wasting rather than improper conduct, thereby meaning they could bring a retrospective charge under the latter offence. City weren’t too happy about this and believed the referee had subsequently altered his report in consultation with someone else. It’s entirely possible they had misunderstood what they were initially told but it certainly didn’t seem like there was a strong case for time-wasting, as Adebayor was back in his own half within 6 or 7 seconds of scoring. I know someone who, having viewed the footage, believes Clattenburg said “I know what you’re doing – time-wasting” to Adebayor, but the person we were meeting with on the night the charge was issued was adamant that’s not what they were told at the time of the caution.
Even if we give Clattenburg the benefit of the doubt over that one, is there any basis to the song we sing? Clattenburg is a very controversial figure anyway, having been suspended, sacked then reinstated in 2008-09. This was supposedly over his business dealings although he’d officiated in a very controversial Merseyside derby some months earlier, which appeared to involve some very one-sided refereeing in Liverpool’s favour. Incidentally, his first game back was our end-of-season 1-0 win against Bolton, which was for more memorable for Glauber Berti’s first and only appearance, and a somewhat stubborn pigeon that took root in Joe Hart’s area in the second half, than the football or the actions of the referee. I have to say that at times he’s an excellent referee, even if he loves being the centre of attention. But is Mark Clattenburg really the gold standard for poor refereeing? Is there someone who is worse than Clattenburg?
Prior to that Bolton game, we’d had a good record in league games that Clattenburg had officiated in since his debut in 2004 – our record being P8 W6 D2 L0. That Bolton game made it seven wins from nine and this continued the following (2009-10) season with two wins and a draw from the three league games in which he’d officiated for us. So from 2004-05 up to the end of the 2009-10 season our record with him as ref was P12 W9 D3 L0. Considering the standard of the team for most of that period that was a pretty impressive record. But then something changed.
From 2010-11 to the end of last season our record with Clattenburg in charge has been P22 W8 D7 L7. Contrast that with our overall league record over the same period which is P228 W142 D43 L43. If we were to apply the same overall win-draw-lose ratio to those 22 games under Clattenburg, it would suggest a record in those games of something like W14 D4 L4, which represents a difference equivalent to 15 points.
So can we account for those points in terms of controversial decisions that might have made a difference to the result had those gone in our favour? If we can’t then it’s clearly just the luck of the draw but disturbingly we can highlight incidents that could easily account for them.
Here are the games under his control where we may have lost points due to incorrect decisions:
12 Dec 2009: Bolton 3-3 City. This was a very controversial game in which Craig Bellamy was fouled and Clattenburg produced a second yellow against him for a supposed dive. Prior to that, at half-time, Clattenburg is alleged to have asked one of Mark Hughes’ coaching team, “How do you work with Bellamy all week?” It’s fair to say we could well have won this one had the decisions been right, but despite the sending off, a point seemed fair at the time so we’ll be generous and let him off for that one.
18 Sep 2011: Fulham 2-2 City. These were the only points dropped in the first twelve games of the City’s first Premier League winning season. Fulham’s second goal came after a breakaway, following what appeared to be a foul on Dzeko that wasn’t given. Had it been then we probably would have got all 3 points in this game so that’s 2 points possibly lost.
12 Dec 2011: Chelsea 2-1 City. This was the first defeat of that season and we went ahead early on, then Silva was fouled in the area in the 15th minute. It was a clear penalty yet Clattenburg inexplicably waved play on. Chelsea won the game late on after a penalty was awarded against us for a handball by Lescott, but by that time we were down to ten men, Gael Clichy having been sent off for a second yellow card early in the second half. Had we been awarded the penalty and gone 2-0 up, it seems highly likely we would have won so I’m going for 3 points lost on this.
15 Sep 2012: Stoke 1-1 City. Stoke’s goal came via a close range shot from Peter Crouch but he had juggled the ball with his hands at least twice before scoring and the goal should clearly have been disallowed. Roberto Mancini claimed Crouch’s goal ‘belonged in the NBA’. A game we would have almost certainly won without their handballed goal so 2 points lost here.
13 Apr 2014: Liverpool 3-2 City. The supposed title-decider at Anfield, which fortunately (no thanks to Clattenburg) didn’t decide anything. The first controversial decision came when Dzeko was fouled by Sakho in the Liverpool box late in the first half, but no penalty was awarded. We were already 2-0 down at this point and a penalty would have brought us back into the game at a crucial time. In the second half, having drawn level, there was further controversy when Suarez, already on a yellow card, threw himself theatrically to the floor following a challenge. He had clearly dived and Clattenburg wasn’t fooled, but he also failed to produce a second yellow. Liverpool got a third, winning goal but there was a deliberate handball by Skrtel late on which was again missed by Clattenburg. Had all those decisions gone in our favour, I believe we would have won that game and virtually settled the title race there and then. So that’s 3 points lost possibly.
13 Sep 2014: Arsenal 2-2 City. After we went ahead, Arsenal scored twice, before a late Demichelis equaliser. However Pellegrini was upset with Clattenburg after the game as he felt there were fouls on City players in the build up to both Arsenal goals, although I think his case was much stronger for one than for the other. There was a clear handball in the area by Wilshere that went unpunished. We’d have certainly won this with proper refereeing, so 2 points dropped.
And last season, Clattenburg took charge of the two games against Spurs, both of which were highly controversial. In the first at White Hart Lane, we were 1-0 up heading towards the half-time break when Spurs scored an equaliser to go in level. The problem was that the goal should never have stood as Kyle Walker, who provided the final ball, was about 3 feet offside. I was in the stadium for that game and we could see it from the other end of the ground yet the assistant (who was level with Walker and had no excuse) inexplicably failed to raise his flag. To be fair, there were suggestions that De Bruyne was marginally offside for our opener but it was almost impossible to see with the naked eye in real-time whereas there was no excuse for the Spurs goal. This was compounded in the second half when Kane headed home from an offside position. We’ll never know what might have happened if we’d gone in 1-0 up at half-time but Clattenburg played no direct part in either of these decisions, plus we were terrible in the second half so probably no significant impact there.
The return game, with the same referee, saw him definitely play a direct part in a ludicrous decision. The ball was crossed in towards the City area from the Spurs left and Sterling jumped to block it, with his back to the ball. It hit him either on the back or the elbow and Clattenburg pointed to the spot for handball.
But Clattenburg certainly couldn’t be sure that ball had either hit Sterling’s hand or that he was in the area, as he was in the air when it hit him and had been just on or in front of the line when he jumped. And as his elbow was well tucked in, it could hardly have been said to be deliberate. We went on to lose that game of course, having got an equaliser. It is often said, when potential penalties are not given, that the official has to be 100% certain. Yet there is simply no way that Clattenburg could have been 100% certain on either count, let alone on both, from where he was stood. I’d say that game we were worth a point so possibly another 1 lost.
We said there was a 15 point gap between our results under Clattenburg compared to our overall trend of results and I’ve highlighted incidents in games he refereed that might have cost us 13 points. We’ll never know of course but the reality certainly seems to back up the stats.
Looking at it from a slightly different angle, our average points per game from 2010-11 to 2015-16 is 2.06. When I look at games split by referee, there are three that stand out. The execrable Peter Walton, who in the same time frame refereed us 4 times with a record of W0 D2 L2 is, not unnaturally, the pick of the crop, but that was only four games. Then there’s a couple around the 1.5PPG mark. Kevin Friend has refereed us 8 times with a record of W3 D3 L2, giving exactly 1.5PPG but he’s edged out by – you’ve guessed it – Mark Clattenburg with that W8 D7 L7 record, which gives 1.41PPG.
So of all the referees still officiating, for us there is simply no one worse than Clattenburg, the man who will take charge of Saturday’s Manchester derby.