It’s fair to say that being a referee isn’t the easiest job under the world. With cameras covering the game from seemingly every angle and television pundits queing up to scrutinise the performance of referees, it is one of the most high pressure jobs in the world. Except for this weekend. For one week, 99.9% of referees got a free pass – it didn’t matter who they sent off or who they didn’t, what penalty they gave or what they didn’t, any “mistake” the referee made was going to be swept under the carpet.
The reason for that is the performance of Stuart Attwell at Anfield. Whether or not you agree with the goal that he awarded with Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt, it’s fair to say that it’s a talking point which is going to overshadow any other decision made by a referee over the entire weekends football card. For those of you who didn’t see it, Attwell allowed a goal after Fernando Torres onto a Michael Turner ‘free-kick’, squaring to Dirk Kuyt as the Sunderland defence stood motionless. A simple tap-in later and those in Liverpool shirts were ahead. Turner had simply been leaving the ball for his goalkeeper to come and take the goal kick.
Of course, the role of Torres in this is not blameless. Everyone in the ground knew what was going on, so it raises major questions about the Spaniards view of sportsmanship. Attwell, however, should have blown his whistle and stopped such a ridiculous situation from happening. He has unsurprisingly been defended by the top brass who claim that he was ‘technically’ correct to award the goal, but once we stop applying common sense to football the game is in serious trouble.
As if that decision wasn’t bad enough, Attwell also erred by failing to award Sunderland a penalty when Danny Welbeck was floored by Pepe Reina in front of the Kop. He should also have sent off Steven Gerrard after an elbow which Steve Bruce correctly stated ‘would have resulted in a red card if it had been Lee Cattermole’.
Were this a one-off blip for Attwell, it could perhaps be forgiven but sadly for the young referee who was fast-tracked through the system, controversy seems to follow him around. Nobody will ever forget the “phantom” goal he gave Watford at Reading, a goal which was frankly ridiculous and he has been involved in a spate of controversy over the past few weeks, feeling the wrath of Owen Coyle after Gary Cahill’s harsh red card at Arsenal.
Such is the seeming level of support for Attwell within the FA, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being England’s Euro 2012 referee, but in my opinion he should be immediately demoted to the lower leagues until he learns how to keep himself out of the headlines.
Fortunately for footballing karma, Sunderland recovered from the massive injustice and were able to earn a very creditable 2-2 draw thanks to a double for free-scoring Darren Bent, a striker who must be a serious contender for a starting spot in the England national team.