Tuesday, 4 April 2017


PREMIER League referee Graham Scott went down the rungs when he was appointed to last Saturday's League Two match at Blundell Park between Grimsby Town and runaway table leaders Doncaster Rovers.

In its post-match report, the Grimsby Telegraph  awarded him a marking of just five out of ten, but this was surely erroneous - he had an excellent match.

Likewise the rest of the officiating team which included 2010 World Cup final assistant referee, Darren Cann, Sian Massey-Ellis and fourth official, Amy Fearn.

Was this the first time that two women had been part of the  officiating team at Blundell Park?

* Rovers came from behind to win 5-1. 

* * Tonight, Scott and Cann will be reunited for the Premier League match between Leicester City and Sunderland. Andre Marriner will be fourth official.

Graham Scott prepares to caution Zak Mills of Grimsby

Who me, ref? Another name for Graham Scott's  book
Sian Massey-Ellis ran the same line in both halves

Red smoke from a flare ignited after the first of Doncaster's five goals

Monday, 3 April 2017


Keith Hackett's article in The Daily Telegraph today

FORMER referee Keith Hackett has praised Andre Marriner's handling of yesterday's Arsenal v Man City match, in particular commending him for not awarding a penalty to the away team when there was contact between ball and the arm of home defender Nacho Monreal in the last minute of the match.

In his column in The Daily Telegraph today, he writes:"To award a penalty or a a free-kick  for a handball, you have to be certain there was intent from the player concerned, and that makes it one of the most difficult areas for  referee to adjudicate on.

"I think I this instance, there was enough doubt for Andre to make the decision he did. The ball was dropping from a height while the player was in motion, and it seemed to me that he just misjudged it . . .it struck me as an accident rather than an offence he intended to commit."

Andre Marriner
Hackett continues: "That said, if you asked  a group of referees whether that was a penalty, then I believe half would say it was and half would say it was not."

Which prompts the question:is that the sort of incident that should come under scrutiny in the event of increased use of video technology? And would such technology either have changed Marriner's decision or settled the controversy?

And what if the same incident had happened outside the penalty area? Would the referee still have refrained from penalising what happened?

"Intent"  is sometimes almost impossible to interpret. During the same weekend, Andros Townsend used the top of his arm to deflect a shot in the match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

Was that "intent"? Or was it a reflex action? And can a reflex action also be "intended"?

Maybe  FIFA need to take a fresh look at the law on handball. Should it be applied differently in the penalty area compared with outside it? Should "intent" be a consideration? Should "handball" apply only to the hand, not (as at present) to other parts of the arm?

Let the debate continue.

Sunday, 2 April 2017


REFEREES and assistant referees came over well in tonight's Onside with Carragher and Neville on Sky Sports 1.

The chief executive of their organisation, PGMOL, Mike Riley, proved to be an engaging personality - as did such often-seen but never-heard officials as Martin Atkinson, Mike Dean, Anthony Taylor, Roger East, Stuart Attwell, Lee Probert, Craig Pawson, Bobby Madley, Mike Mullarkey, Steve Child and the only woman represented, Sian Massey-Ellis MBE.

Some of the insights were revealing.

After a bad tackle, a referee will sometimes take out the yellow card to demonstrate to  teammates of the injured party that he is taking disciplinary action and to discourage a potentially volatile situation becoming toxic.

But having done so, there are times, especially after seeing video replays, when, in retrospect, he realises that the chosen card should have been the red one.

Both Atkinson and Dean, two of our best referees, owned up to this, but, of course, at moments such as these, time to reflect is not a commodity available to the referees.

Atkinson said one of the pet hates of referees was when commentators accused them of "bottling"a decision.

"We wouldn't have got to where we are in football if we bottled decisions,"he insisted.

Mike Mullarkey, who ran one of the lines for Howard Webb in the 2010 World Cup Final, was particularly analytical on "tight" offside calls - an issue where there is often controversy.

Asked if there were any football grounds that posed particular difficulties, Sian Massey-Ellis - surely worthy of a TV programme in her own right - noted that Selhurst Park could be difficult
if there was a low sun.

She knows this from firsthand experience - she had to cover her eyes with her flag-free hand earlier this season for the match between home team Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

Which begs the question - who don't assistant referees wear caps in the same was as goalkeepers faced with the same low-sun situation?

The programme was not nearly as good as it might have been.

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville were mostly superficial in their questions and should have been far more probing.

For instance, we need to know far more about prospects for video technology and where, in the Laws of the Game,  referees believe it most needs  to be applied without excessively interrupting the pace of the action.

In addition, Carragher, in particular, was far too keen to play to the camera - and this very quickly became grating.

However, the programme will have been useful if it  provides a stepping to improved future communications between match officials and the football-loving public.

Sian Massey-Ellis was on duty in yesterday's League Two match between Grimsby Town and Doncaster Rovers. Running the other line was Darren Cann, an assistant referee in the 2014 World Cup final, while Graham Scott was the referee. The fourth official was Amy Fearn.


Thursday, 12 January 2017


THE spotlight fell on referee Mike Dean following this month's Premier League match between West Ham and Manchester Utd.

He showed the red card - subsequently rescinded - to the home team's Sofiane Feghouli after a challenge (deemed to be reckless) on Phil Jones.

Commenting on the incident in his column in The Daily Telegraph, former referee Keith Hackett said Dean - whom he admires - made a "wrong" decision because he was too quick and gave himself insufficient thinking time.

"Referees need the ability almost to stand aside from normal speed," he wrote.

"Dismissing a player incorrectly is the worst thing a referee can do."

But, despite the incident, Hackett reckons Dean is one of the country's top referee, highlighting his consistency and his courage in not "shirking" difficult decisions.

"If I have a criticism, it is Mike's tendency to put thing boxes and not manage the grey areas in between - he needs to appreciate nuance a bit more."

The columnist also made  another comment - that tiredness can be a factor in the performance of match officials, particularly given that they have to drive to grounds all over the country.

"Fatigue is a serious issue,"he said.

According to Hackett, Dean, who is 48, might benefit from a break, even if just for a week, but this is unlikely given his ability and experience, plus the respect he enjoys from his employers, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd.

The evening after the match at West Ham, he was on duty as Fourth Official for the match between Crystal Palace and Swansea.  The following Sunday, he was in the middle for the FA Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa where his performance was excellent.  
In the same edition, the Telegraph's chief football writer, Sam Wallace, claimed there was "a mentality among certain referees that they would rather risk a red card that turns out to be wrong than fail to give one when it would have been justified".

He added: "Dean's on-pitch demeanour of absolute certainty and what appears to be a loftiness most likely contributes to the ferocity of the backlash against him." 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 2 January 2017


FORMER referee Keith Hackett has controversially called for Lee Mason to be axed as a Premier League referee.

He makes the call in today's edition of his weekly column for The Daily Telegraph.

He says: "Lee Mason is past his sell-by-date and should be removed from the Premier League on a permanent basis.

"His performances have been on the slide for some time and the 45-year-old should be demoted to Football League duties as soon as possible."

Hackett says it was wrong of the Bolton-based  referee  to disallow for dangerous play Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal for Manchester United v Middlesbrough on Saturday.

However, Hackett's call is likely to go unheeded - he retains the support of the refereeing hierarchy and is scheduled to take charge of today's Manchester City's home match with Burnley.
Bolton official Lee Mason - in the firing line

Wednesday, 28 December 2016




THE Professional Footballers’ Association should work harder to help members who are going through troubled times.

So says Ian Wright in his hard-hitting autobiography, A Life in Football.

He states : “A lot of players or former players don’t know what help is available to them or aren’t capable of finding out for themselves.

“This is where the PFA should come in. I don’t think they do nearly enough to ensure the wellbeing of footballers  after they have  finished playing

“We pay enough to them in our careers, and they get a cut of TV  money, but they don’t instigate the sort of help so many players need.”

“The PFA just seems to sit there.

Gordon Taylor  has been chief executive since before I  was playing, and I don’t know what he does apart from turn up at functions every now and again, show his  face and do his spiel.

 “The PFA doesn’t  seem to offer help unless you phone up and chase them.”

Originally from Brockley in South London, the author  (52), is a hero to many fans - especially those of the two clubs with whom he enjoyed his longest periods in the game, Crystal Palace and Arsenal.

But unlike most footballers’ autobiographies, his book is less a catalogue of  colourful and light-hearted  experiences and more  a serious narrative about how his life and career have developed - the downs as well as the ups.

Along the way, he provides insights about various aspects of football, including the role of agents for whom, by and large, he seems to have little time.

“There are more bad ones than good,”he says. “On the purely practical side, nobody needs an agent - they do nothing that a solicitor or accountant can’t do.

“When a player gets an agent,  all he is  doing is giving that person the opportunity  to be a middleman to make money for himself which, in the majority of cases, is all he does.

“Agents are like glorified hotel concierges. They answer the phone and fix up little things, but they do not necessarily advance a player’s career or make sure he still has one.”

Elsewhere in the book, the author is warm about many past playing colleagues, including Tony Finnigan and Mark Bright - with both of whom he was close  at Palace - but he is red-hot in his admiration for former Arsenal team- and room-mate Dennis Bergkamp, both in the way he played and in the manner he conducted himself off the field.

This fascinating book also includes many tributes - including a whole chapter of dedication - to another Arsenal player of yesteryear, the later  David Rocastle (who also happened to be a Palace fan).

Managers who earn plaudits include Steve Coppell, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, but he was much less keen on Bruce Rioch whose rigorously disciplinarian approach tended not to bring out the best in players. 

There is very little in the way of score-settling, but Wrighty  reveals that when he first joined Palace on a three-month contract in 1985, he had a bad time at the hands of a clique of older players led by goalkeeper George Wood, Micky Droy and Jim Cannon.

“Jim Cannon was the worst,”he maintains. “The big Scottish centre half had been at the club forever and behaved like the playground bully, always ready with a little dig or snide remark.

“It seemed like every time I thought I was making progress, he was there to knock me down.”

Friction between the pair boiled over one morning in a training ground spat which involved punches being thrown.

Another episode came after a match at Grimsby Town where visiting players always used to receive a parting gift of a large fresh fish to take home.

In the hope that it would placate Cannon, Wright acceded to a request to hand his fish over even though he knew the gift would have delighted his mum

To no avail. “Jim Cannon  took the fish, then on Monday was back to his regular, miserable bullying self.”

Memories of another player, Liverpool’s Steve McMahon, are also less than happy because of the poor welcome given to him on his first day training with the England squad following his call-up.

“He was really horrible - he went out of his way to be nasty.”

Later on duty for their respective clubs, there was an unpleasant clash between the duo resulted in the midfielder requiring stitches for a studs injury to his groin

 For a while, near the end of his playing career (when he was on the books of West Ham), the author  xsimultaneously enjoyed a spell as chat show host on ITV’s Friday Night’s All Wright which introduced him to such entertainments stars as singer Lionel Richie and actors Will Smith and Denzel Washington (but brought criticism from another chat show host, Michael Parkinson).

Other programmes included Surviving The Kalahari in 2002 which was “just frightening” - not least because it put him in peril from lions, hyenas  and elephants.

“Me a boy from Brockley - camping close to a water hole that wild animals were going to head for,”he recalls.“It was terrifying, but I loved that sort of thing because it was a test.”

But this line of stardom of proved to be a cul-de-sac, and the author much prefers doing what he does now - providing football analysis for various TV and radio companies.

When he started, he was encouraged by producers to be something of a studio jester, but this brought criticism from viewers so his style now is much more measured and serious.

“In the world of punditry, being on Match of The Day is the equivalent of playing in the Champions League,”he says.

“There is a Caribbean saying that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation

“I’ll work as hard as it takes to stay on top of being the best pundit out there.”
* Ian Wright: My Life in Football is published by Littlebrown at £18.99.

Monday, 19 December 2016


John Inverdale - his media career started in Lincoln

WHENEVER he hears the song, Going Underground by The Jam, high-profile BBC and ITV sports presenter John Inverdale is transported back to Lincoln coach station.

That was the Top 40 song he heard being played as he was preparing to make his way back home to Bristol after landing his first job in journalism - as a cub reporter on the Lincolnshire Echo.

It was in the early 1980s, and Inverdale,  who had just graduated with a history degree from the University of Southampton and a diploma in journalism from Cardiff Institute, had been finding it particularly hard to land his first reporter's job in the wake of turmoil in the newspaper industry following a showdown between the print unions and the new Thatcher government.

"I wrote to every UK newspaper listed in Willings Press Guide, but to no avail," he told an audience in Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire. "I even got the cold shoulder from a title in Stornoway."

Then, from out of the blue, came an interview offer from the Lincoln-based newspaper.

"The first question, the Editor asked me was: "What does Market Rasen mean to you?"

"Horse racing," I said.

"You've got the job,"came back the reply, after which the rest of the interview was to settle the formalities.

Unusually for a young man, Inverdale had been a racing fan since teenage years - partly because of a sustained period of illness which kept him off school (like John Cleese, he went to Clifton College).

In those days, racing was the only programme screened on daytime TV, so he used to follow the action from Kempton, Sandown, Thirsk and elsewhere.

He became so enamoured that, some time later, he bunked off lessons and caught a train from Bristol to the Cheltenham Festival, praying that he would not be seen by anyone who knew him. 

Opposite him in the carriage was a man whose face was hidden behind the broadsheet racing newspaper, The Sporting Life. When he lowered it, horror of horrors, who should the man be but his English teacher?

Master and pupil were equally embarrassed but they struck a pact - "if you don't tell, I won't tell" - that they sustained to the rest of Inverdale's time as a schoolboy.

To this day, he remains a racing enthusiast and rates National Hunt racing his second favourite sport after rugby union - with the Six Nations rugby tournament and the Cheltenham Festival as the highlights of his sporting year.

For Inverdale, a pretty mouth-watering annual calendar it is too, starting with the Australian open tennis in January and taking in other top events such as Wimbledon, athletics  and Ryder Cup golf.
This year has proved particularly special because it also incorporated the Rio Olympics and scintillating  Ryder Cup action where the fervour of the crowd brought out the best in some of the players, with two particularly memorable matches.
There was an audience of about 100 for the highly entertaining pie and pea supper event held at Cleethorpes cricket club.

Inverdale spoke highly of the inspirational on-field leadership  of the likes of Michael Vaughan (cricket) and Martin Johnson (rugby union), plus the entertaining laugh-a-minute personality of Boris Becker (whom he predicted, may no longer be coach of Novak Djokovic for much longer).
John McEnroe is also a great raconteur, not just about tennis but also about  his other interests, including wine and music. But, because he is so self-absorbed, he might not be best company if you were within him for an hour in a stuck lift.
 Inverdale  spoke entertainingly (if slightly ruefully) about an eight minute slot he had during one of his BBC interview shows with footballer Sol Campbell, then captain of Spurs. 
The club's, Alan Sugar, had only just sacked Swiss manager Christian Gross, so having Campbell  as a guest was particularly topical.
But the footballer, who had earlier refused to share a sofa with the two previous guests, Wimbledon. champion Goran Ivanisevic and gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci, stonewalled all questions about Gross' departure.
"I don't want to talk about it - these things happen in football." That was about the limit of Campbell's responses.
Nor was he much more forthcoming about an underwhelming England performance in a recent  international against mediocre  opposition.
In response, Inverdale determined not to ask the footballer about a. newly-launched DVD that Campbell was keen to promote.
Sol Campbell - uncommunicative

But, with the "conversation" threatening to dry up, a voice on his earphone him told that there was two minutes still to fill. 
Inverdale found he had little option but to ask about the DVD - at which point Campbell became suddenly loose-tongued and effusive.  
"I hated myself afterwards for giving him the opportunity," revealed Inverdale. "I had given in and let him beat me. Thinking about it today still makes me angry." 
 It is common practice now for TV sports coverage, especially football programmes, to be hosted by past or present participants.
 Inverdale  acknowledged that their firsthand insider  experience of sport was invaluable, but he said there was also a role for  journalists who, through their training, knew how, why and when to ask the sort of questions that sports participants might shy away from - the questions most likely to prompt revealing insights.
Of the analysts he admired, he expressed particular respect  for rugby union's Jonathan Davies  because he has a knack of seeing in advance what is going to happen.
"If Scotland aren't careful, Ireland are likely to score in the corner," he once said. And, sure enough, moments later, that is just what happened. 
During a lively question-and-answer session, Inverdale, who is chairman of Esher rugby club, near his home in Kingston-upon-Thames, also spoke of his admiration for England's head rugby union coach, Eddie Jones, the demise of England's football team, the Allardyce  affair, the corrosion of athletics and cycling by drugs, security at football grounds and  the future of sport in a TV-dominated age.
He suspected that the decision of golf's governing body to award broadcasting coverage rights to Sky may have backfired.
Although the transfer generated  a short-term cash boost, the profile of the game has suffered because events such as the Open are now watched by 800,000 viewers compared with between three and four million when it was on BBC TV.
Inverdale was quizzed about an incident when he famously landed himself in hot water (especially with feminists) by describing 2013 Wimbledon ladies' singles champion Marion Bartoli as "not a looker".
The following day, he had the unsettling experience of having photographers camped outside his front door - a case of the media  turning on one of its own. 
 "It was not a pleasant experience," he said. "Bartoli has since become a good friend. My remark was misinterpreted.
"I was praising her for her determination. She didn't have the the long levers of Maria Sharapova  or the strength of Serena Williams, but she showed what could be achieved through sheer determination."
More recently there was an incident when Sir Steve Redgrave walked out of a studio he was sharing with Inverdale during Olympic coverage of the rowing.
It was reported in the tabloid Press as having been the result of a bust-up between the two men, but, according to Inverdale, it was nothing of the sort - it was prompted by Sir Steve's frustration that the rowing coverage would have to be cut short because time was overrunning.
Of his time in Lincolnshire in the early '80s, Inverdale said he loved the county's skies and always volunteered to carry out reporting assignments in places such as Boston and Sutton-on-Sea because he enjoyed the drive east from from Lincoln.
On summer weekends, he played cricket for Lincoln on both Saturdays and Sundays. "No wonder I didn't have a girlfriend," he quipped.
Then, when he did get a girlfriend (by now he was working for BBC Radio Lincolnshire), he was heartbroken when the relationship ended.
To help him get over it, he went  with a group of pals to Cleethorpes - his first visit to the resort - where they succeeded in their dual intention of watching the carnival and getting drunk.
"It was a blisteringly hot day in August 1983," he recalled.
Now married to Jackie and with two Chelsea-supporting sons, aged 24 and 22, plus a daughter who works for Nike, the 59-year-old follows  Southampton and Lincoln City, but he also has a soft spot for Grimsby Town.
He said he was  full of admiration for fans who would be getting up at 6am the next day to make the long trip for match at Yeovil.
"Even if Town lose 2-1 to a hotly-disputed goal in the last minute,  fans won't regret having made the journey,"he said. "That's the passion of sport for you."
Inverdale also had an amusing anecdote about playing in a celebrity cricket match against a team captained by  Eric Clapton in what the legendary rock guitarist had announced would be his last match.
Inevitably most of the crowd wanted Clapton to score plenty of runs in his final innings, but he skied the second ball to cover where Inverdale was fielding.
"The ball was so high that the broadcaster  had time to ask former Test player Mark Ramprakash, fielding at mid-off,  what he should do.
"Drop the ball!"came back the reply.
The advice was taken, allowing Clapton to prolong his innings till he reached 20 or so before losing his wicket. 
Inverdale acknowledged that he had been very "lucky" in his career, but there was one misjudgement for which he  is still kicking himself. 
He turned down an offer to cough up £5,000 for a half-share in the racehorse, Make A Stand.
With its winnings approaching £1-million, it was a decision he came to bitterly regret - not least when he found himself commentating at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, when the horse was running in the prestigious Champion Hurdle.
Although the horse was owned by his close friend, Peter Deal, this was a race that Inverdale did not want the pocket-sized chestnut to win - it would have been rubbing further salt into the wound.
"Even as I was describing the action, I was inwardly praying for it to fall."
But Make A Stand, trained by Martin Piper, surged to a famous victory, further enhancing the sour lemons taste in Inverdale's mouth.
"I try not to think about that horse too much," he said. "But If only . . .

"I could haven been £500,000 richer!"
* Photo of Sol Campbell: Stefan Schafer via Wikimedia Commons