Who’d be a referee? This is a family newspaper, so I daren’t repeat the fruity chants of outrage when referee Phil Dowd awarded Manchester United a penalty in the 73rd minute of our game on Saturday.
But little imagination is needed to join up the dots.
There were loud claims about Mr Dowd’s paternity, his eyesight, and, more importantly, whether he was succumbing to the long-held conviction of supporters of the other 19 Premier League clubs that ‘Manchester United always play with 12 men.’ In such circumstances I just sit there, tight-lipped, saying absolutely nothing.
I have done so ever since (years ago) a CCTV picture captured me in a high state of excitement at the old Maine Road ground of Manchester City, and was then pinned up in the Police Control Room.
Nor was I in any position to make a judgement, watching from the Blackburn End, 130 yards from where Paul Robinson and Javier Hernandez collided.
I just thought to myself, ‘Oh God – is this going to be the decision which costs us our place in the Premiership?’ I also have some idea of what it must have felt like to be Mr Dowd and the assistant referee, surrounded by at least eight tough young men – United players – trying to intimidate these officials into a decision in their favour.
I am sure that Mr Dowd, and his colleagues, were doing their best to be fair. They certainly took time to come a decision.
But allowing players (of any team) to mob the referee in such circumstances adds credence to claims of bowing to pressure, especially in Manchester United’s case where the manager has run a relentless campaign against the officials.
The Football Association needs to get a grip.
Surrounding or jostling referees should be banned, with yellow cards.
The FA should follow other sports – notably rugby – by permitting only the team's captain to make representations to the referee.
We have to ensure that these high-wire decisions by referees, on which so much can ride, are not only fair, but are seen by all to be fair.