It's No Longer A Conspiracy Theory….

“Referee United”, “Fergie Association”, “He’s big, he’s red, he sleeps in Fergie’s bed… HOWARD WEBB!”….

These are just some of the jokes you will find circulating on the internet via tweets, memes, Facebook statuses and even on joke sites. Jokes aside, many people seem to believe that referees blatantly award decisions that help Manchester United win matches. All the hue and cry seems to die down after a bit though. However, the recent Premier League match between Chelsea and United, which saw United controversially edge the match after 3 wrong decisions has opened this particular can of worms yet again. A lot of people (not just Chelsea fans but fans of other clubs as well) were quick to slam United and Sir Alex for celebrating a win that was attained in such a manner. Many claimed that the FA and referees in general always favour Manchester United, some going as far as to suggest a nexus between the FA, the club and the referees. While I will not go as far as to assume the existence of an ugly threesome of the FA, the referees and Manchester United, I will admit this: the amount of dodgy decisions that go Manchester United’s way mean that even I believe that it is no longer a coincidence. And don’t worry, I’m not basing my argument on useless assumptions. I have a few facts for you.

Let’s start with the man who has been dubbed United’s XIIth man in recent times, Howard Webb. When United played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the 2011/12 season, Howard Webb was the man in charge. Chelsea looked likely to secure a win over United. However, 2 dubious penalties were awarded to United and they managed to make the scoreline 3-3 and walk away with a point. But that wasn’t the first time Webb has favoured United. In 32 United games that he has taken charge of, he has awarded 9 penalties. Compare that to the number of penalties that he has given Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal combined: 10 spot-kicks in 100 games. Coincidence? Doubt it. But Webb isn’t the first referee to blatantly favour United. How can one forget Mike Riley….

Mike Riley’s record of awarding United penalties is even better than Howard Webb’s (yes, you read that right). In 14 games that Riley took charge of at Old Trafford alone, he awarded United 10 penalties. Riley’s bias towards United was so high that in 2009, Everton manager David Moyes actually asked for an investigation to find out if he was a United supporter. Funnily enough, Riley is now in charge of deciding which referee gets what game in the Premier League. United fans will, of course, claim that this is mere coincidence. But I will PROVE to you that it isn’t.

In the 2010/11 season, referee Michael Oliver took charge of a United game against Wolves that United lost 2-1. The fallout: Oliver wasn’t put in charge of a United game for one whole year. Since then, Oliver has taken charge of 2 United games: one against Wigan and the other against Fulham. In the game against Wigan (which United won), Oliver awarded United a penalty for a Danny Welback dive (it wasn’t even a good one, it was clear simulation). In the game against Fulham, Oliver turned down a clear penalty shout for Fulham late in the game when United were leading 1-0. United won the game.

That’s not all. In the 2011/12 season, referee Mike Jones was put in charge of the United-Newcastle game. The game ended 1-1. The fallout: Jones wasn’t put in charge of a single game for one whole month. Around two months after the Newcastle game, Jones was put in charge of United’s match against Stoke. United won the match 2-0. Both goals came from dodgy penalties.

In the 2011/12 season, referee Mark Clattenburg was put in charge for the United-City match which City won 1-6, a match that Ferguson described as the most embarrassing match of his managerial career. Clattenburg was not put in charge of a United game for a whole year. The first United match that he took charge of since then: Chelsea vs. United at the Bridge, a match that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

So many referees were seemingly punished for presiding over a United loss and then when they were given a United game to preside over, they seem to ensure that United win. Coincidence? Bulls**t! However, I believe that a lot of it (the dodgy decisions) is down to one reason and one reason only: Sir Alex Ferguson. Yes, the same Sir Alex Ferguson who has been at the helm of Manchester United for a quarter of a century. That same Sir Alex Ferguson whose managerial record is a benchmark for all football managers around the world. That same Sir Alex Ferguson, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the biggest hypocrites of world football.

I called Sir Alex a hypocrite in one of my previous write-ups (read it here). Recently, he further proved my point. Sir Alex has always been one of the most outspoken managers in the world. If he has something on his mind, he says it without mincing his words. This includes singling out refereeing decisions that cost United matches. Yet after the controversial 2-3 win against Chelsea, he said, “It’s always hard to come here and it’s hard to get decisions here. Over the last few years there have been some shocking decisions against us, and I think everyone knows that. But today, if we did get a little break, I think we deserved it.” Funny how when dodgy refereeing decisions go his way, he has no complaints at all. And has he forgotten about the last Premier League match between the 2 teams at Stamford Bridge, when Howard Webb’s decisions ensured he went away from London with a draw?

Fergie’s general outspokenness means that referees are almost spooked into giving decisions his way because they are afraid of being at the end of one of his infamous “hairdryers”. But the massive number of controversial decisions that go United’s way cannot be put down to Fergie’s mind games alone. There coule be other factors involved. For instance, I mentioned the fact that Mike Riley, one of United’s most faithful referees, now chooses the referees for Premier League matches. But the rot could run much, much deeper. David Gill, United’s Chief Executive, was recently named the FA’s vice-chairman after being a part of the FA board for 6 years. The words “conflict of interest” suggests themselves. How can one expect just and fair rulings for other clubs when one of the board members is a powerful executive of Manchester United? It’s just not going to happen. Then again, I’ll be honest enough to admit that the point about Gill’s position is speculation, simply because I have no proof of any massive wrongdoing.

But the point that I made before is something I will stand by: due to a variety of circumstances that include not being assigned matches and being at the end of criticism from Fergie, referees seem to favour United, some very blatantly. And while I’ll admit that every club gets a few lucky breaks now and again, as such is the nature of the game, the number of “lucky breaks” that United get are far too many.

Don’t expect anything to be done about all this either. The FA can and will do nothing, for they are a useless bunch of…. well, you know what I mean. I wish I could offer non-United fans some hope of a better tomorrow, but I can’t. The situation can only improve when Fergie finally decides to retire from management. Until then, if your team is defeated by United thanks to an incorrect call made by the referees, all I can say is this: s**t happens.

< i>Shayne Dias

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