I've long held the view that something very fishy goes on in English football.
I’m not the most naturally trusting of guys anyways. When it comes to institutions, I'm downright skeptical of them. I have very little respect or trust in governments, police, and media or football institutions. It's not me being paranoid either: week after week, I’m proven correct on my doubts about them (to any Liverpool fan the findings of the Hillsborough report came as absolutely no surprise).
When it comes to football, it's not even lack of trust. It's plain common sense.
In recent years, we've had a huge number of corruption scandals all across Europe. Several of them in Italy, the corrupt referee Hoyser in Germany, Fenerbahce being docked their title in Turkey, Spain's second division scandals, Marseille a while ago in France, Porto in Portugal etc...
Of course, the one league where nothing ever gets proven to be dodgy is in England. The richest and most watched league in the world is, we are told, completely squeaky clean.
Leaving aside the sheer ridiculousness of that statement, ask yourself this: if corruption gets proven all across Europe, how is the most popular league in the world, with the biggest prize monies in football, whose clubs are owned by some of the richest people in the world, run by stakeholders that are the most powerful media moguls in the world, immune from this? With the amounts of money at stake, how has it managed to be so clean for so long?
To dismiss any talks of corruption in the premier league is to fall for 2 of the traits that characterize the English the most: a sheer egocentric belief that they are better than anyone else and their complete faith in the country's institutions. To them, it’s entirely logical that that stuff goes on abroad where institutions are corrupt, but it’s impossible in England. Just like diving is a foreign disease and Uruguay is the epicenter of racism, unlike the multi cultural tolerance of middle England.
I share neither of those traits. By pure logic, when I see corruption in every facet of English life (MP's expenses scandal, banking sector, the war on Iraq, Leveson enquiry, Hillsborough, The Guilford 4, The Birmingham 6 et all...) as well as entire European football, I ask why is it impossible as many deem, for it to be happening in English football too?
I have followed football since 1986. I have seen for years how Manchester United benefits from refereeing decisions. I don’t need an investigation to tell me this: it happens on a near weekly basis to the point where people are so immune to it, they laugh it off.
I have seen the influence Alex Ferguson has on every facet of the English game. When his Darren son got fired as manager of Preston North End, I watched with bemusement as Ferguson immediately recalled his loan players from Deepdale. I then watched in horror as another club in the premier league, managed by Ferguson’s father’s friend Tony Pullis, also recalled their loan players from PNE.
The message was clear: Mess with Mr Ferguson or his children, and you will be punished.
And not just from Mr Ferguson either. By his friends in football.
Recently, ex referee Jeff Winter stated that he once sent Roy Keane off in a match. He was then criticized by Ferguson and not given a Manchester United game to referee for 2 years. He saw that as punishment as he said that “The FA is reticent to give Manchester United games to referees that Ferguson has criticized in the past”.
Read that statement again. Ferguson criticizes referees that give decisions against his club. Most likely, these decisions happen in games Manchester United lose. The FA reacts to the criticism by not assigning said referees in future Manchester United games. Thus, the only referees assigned to United games are ones that Ferguson approves of.
The referees that have given decisions Ferguson deem to be incorrect against United, however, no longer referee their games (usually the most high profile ones). It’s a terrible indictment of sporting impartiality, justice and the way the game is run in England. This form of selective referee assignement led to the Juventus scandal in 2006.
Winter’s comments prompted me to do my own research. I focused on the referees that took charge of United 2 biggest high profile losses in the last decade or so.
Alain Wiley refereed United’s 4-1 loss to Liverpool in 2009. In that game, he gave both United and Liverpool penalties and sent off Nemanja Vidic. All 3 decisions were absolutely correct and Wiley was praised by Sky TV co-commentator Andy Gray for his performance. Not even Ferguson complained.
Later that year, Wiley was given another United game to referee and despite sending off Kieran Richardson of Sunderland, Wiley was lambasted by Ferguson for being “fat and unfit”. The game ended 2-2.
That would be the end of Wiley’s refereeing career. Wiley, it says cryptically on his Wikipedia page, “agreed to retire” at the end of that season. Agreed with whom? No one knows.
Last season, Manchester City romped to a 6-1 win at Old Trafford, inflicting on their rivals their biggest embarrassment under Ferguson. The referee on that day was Mark Clattenburg. He sent Johnny Evans off in the second half for a clear professional foul.
There have been 34 Man United league games since that day. The number of times times Clattenburg has refereed them? Zero. Not a single one.
It seems that the FA, for whatever reason, doesn’t want Clattenburg to referee Man United games anymore. Some of us more paranoid folk may just wonder who’s behind that decision.
Webb’s history in Man United games are well known and documented. All I have to say on the matter is that more than 18% of the penalties he’s awarded in his ENTIRE premier league refereeing career have gone to Manchester United. Over a 9 year period, that’s a huge percentage.
So in closing, let’s resume what we’ve discovered. We have an ex premier league referee who has openly stated he was not handed a Manchester United game for 2 years after sending off one of their players. We have an FA who, in said referee’s words, don’t hand Manchester United games to referees that the United manager has previously criticized.
We have a referee who took charge of a heavy United defeat and “agreed to retire” a year later after being called unfit by Alex Ferguson. We have another referee who hasn’t been handed a United game to officiate since he reffed a heavy United defeat 34 league games ago.
Meanwhile, the most used official in United games in that time is the man who has handed 18% of his entire career penalty awards to Ferguson’s team.
Factor in the fact that Manchester United CEO is ON THE BOARD OF the English FA, Alex Ferguson is a knight of the realm with political connections that go a lot deeper than football (just read Allistair Campbell’s diaries if you don’t believe me), and the evidence in the Darren Ferguson sacking that clubs that cross Ferguson get punished by his friends, and you have all the tools there for someone more investigative than me to really delve into.
But yet, nothing happens. Year on year, I watch as not a single journalist utters a peep on the subject. I watch as decision after decision goes United’s way and people in the UK, so much better than everyone else and trusting of their institutions remember, brush them off with insouciance.
In Italy, there would have been phone tap investigations a long time ago. In "so much cleaner than everywhere else" England, we’re paranoid.
Why is that?
Well, when you look at who runs the sport in the country, you understand a bit more. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky live off the premier league. So do his other publications like the Sun. The English media’s last priority is going to investigate and damage one of their biggest cash cows.
Imagine the hit to the revenue streams of the media and clubs if corruption is proved in the premier league? The richest league in the world, so carefully and beautifully marketed across the world, would suffer a huge blow. The effects an investigation would have on Manchester United, the cash cow’s biggest cash cow, would also be devastating.
So it’s all swept under the tabled and every refereeing decision shrugged off. “They even themselves out” we’re told by journalists who get banned from United press conferences for asking a question about team selection.
God knows what would happen to them if they investigate United’s behind the scenes dealings.
Maybe, like Preston, they’ll learn that if you cross Man United, all of football will turn their backs on you too…