They say a good referee is one that is hardly ever noticed. By letting the game play out uninterrupted, his or her primary function is to maintain law and order when needed while penalising rule breaches. Although some officials are guilty of craving the spotlight, Premier League referees generally don’t want to be the talking point of the game. Unfortunately over the last week that is exactly what happened to two top flight refs.
The first was Lee Mason who, after his whistle-happy performance at The Hawthorns, drew the ire of Brighton supporters and sent social media into a frenzy after an incident that occurred during their trip to West Brom.
With Brighton losing and awarded a dangerous free kick, Lewis Dunk tried to catch out the opposition with a quick attempt at goal which sailed into the net beyond West Brom keeper Sam Johnstone, moments after Mason had blown his whistle, to equalise.
However, the West Brom goalkeeper wasn’t ready and, with the former Aston Villa loanee struggling to get into position, panic set in for Lee Mason who then blew his whistle again, setting off an incredible chain of events.
Mason initially disallowed the goal, before awarding it after mass protests from the Brighton players. VAR then got involved and, remarkably, reviewed whether Mason had blown his whistle twice, eventually leading to the goal being disallowed once more. Premier League referees have had some howlers over the years but this was one of the most remarkable blunders in recent memory and definitely one of the worst referee decisions in the Premier League.
The embarrassing turn of events was highlighted by Brighton defender Dunk after the game and, with such barbed comments towards the official in question, it will be no surprise if the 29-year-old picks up a fine in the coming days, with any criticism of Premier League referees rarely going unpunished.
The immense frustration over what unfolded is understandable from a Brighton point of view and it has added to an already difficult week for Graham Potter and his players. Perhaps, though, their greater frustration will come courtesy of Lee Mason’s silence following the game.
Premier League referees are not permitted to give post-match reasoning over their thought process as it only adds to the furore. If those who brandish the cards could explain their actions after the final whistle, at least mistakes would become more palatable.
After Saturday’s events, there will likely be nothing in the way of recriminations for the Bolton based official and, although he reportedly picked up an injury in that game, there is a sense that the PGMOL quickly pulled him out of the firing line.
If Brighton keep their heads above water at the end of the season, the fiasco will become just another footnote in Premier League history and reserved for nothing more than the comedy blooper reels.
This is the outcome that those connected to Premier League referees will be hoping for, as the last thing they need is more embarrassment after last season’s Hawkeye malfunction at Villa Park and its eventual indirect relegation of Bournemouth.
Sticking with the topic of embarrassment, you get the feeling that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may regret his post-match comments regarding Premier League referees and the “outside influences” that sway their decision making.
The irony of a Manchester United manager, and one who models himself on Sir Alex Ferguson, complaining about influencing referees wasn’t lost on those watching, yet that is what happened after Stuart Attwell decided not to award a Manchester United penalty against Chelsea. Although the handball laws may have led to such a conclusion in the early stage of a season, the change in laws spared Callum Hudson-Odoi’s blushes.
For those who love to don their tinfoil hats and claim a conspiracy theory, then such a reaction from the 1999 Champions League winner will have certainly piqued their interest. Then again, for anyone who views football more rationally, such comments will be quickly dismissed.
When you consider the considerable number of penalties that United are awarded, if there was ever to be a conspiracy theory, it would be surely one that suggests the Red Devils are favoured by the referees in the Premier League.
Quite simply, this is a case of the Manchester United manager blowing hot air and had Attwell signalled to the penalty spot at Stamford Bridge, then such comments do not even see the light of day.
To suggest that Premier League referees do not have the confidence to make decisions on their own and are only guided by the technology that is in place to assist them, is a claim that is nothing short of preposterous.
Yes, referees get it wrong (see Mason, Lee) but they also do get it right (see Attwell, Stuart) and although it was a weekend to forget for the former, the latter can dismiss Solskjaer’s comments just as quickly as everyone else will.