There is a long standing theory in football that if you mess with Sir Alex Ferguson, Ferguson and his friends will mess with you.
On the last Sunday of October, Manchester United’s clash with Chelsea hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Mark Clattenburg (and his linesman) made several shocking calls which totally changed the shape of the game.
Torres was sent off for diving when Chelsea were already down to 10 men, despite the fact that Evans made clear contact with the Spaniard. Down to nine men, the injustices continued as Javier Hernandez’s winner was clearly offside.
Now, this fixture was the first time that Mark Clattenburg had been in charge of a Manchester United game since their humiliating 6-1 loss to rivals Manchester City last year, which Alex Ferguson labelled “the biggest embarrassment” of his career.
Having missed a total of 34 United games in a row, is it merely a coincidence that the decisions seemed to go United’s way just as Clattenburg returns?
Earlier this season, after United’s 3-2 loss to Tottenham, Alex Ferguson blasted referee Chris Foy, claiming that Foy ruined his team’s chances of winning the match. In his post-match interview Ferguson criticised the amount of injury time that was allotted, calling the four minutes “an insult” and also complaining that his team should have been given at least one penalty.
He went on to say, “It is a flaw in the game that referees are responsible for time keeping. They gave four minutes. That’s an insult. It is ridiculous. It is denying you the proper chance to win the football match.”
After Ferguson’s comments on this matter, the next game that Chris Foy officiated was Rochdale’s away visit to Accrington Stanley, a whole three tiers below the Premiership. This was the referee’s first League Two game in six years.
In 2010, Preston North End sacked Ferguson’s son, Darren, who had won only 13 of his 49 games in charge. Alex Ferguson was said by insiders at Old Trafford to be furious about his son’s sacking. In the immediate aftermath, all Premier League clubs who had sent players on loan to Preston instantly recalled them.
Ex referee Jeff Winter said, “The FA is reticent to give Manchester United games to referees that Ferguson has criticised in the past.”
Winter had been on the receiving end of such criticisms from Ferguson and made this comment after he had not been assigned a United game for the following two years.
Ferguson launched another scathing attack on Alan Wiley in 2009 following another unfavourable United result – they were held to a draw by minnows Sunderland.
Ferguson called Wiley “fat and not fit enough for a game of that standard.” The following year, Wiley ‘agreed’ to retire graciously and took up a job as a full-time referring coach.
I don’t actually believe that referees intentionally help United win games, but there are days when they make it hard to not think so.