2 November ~ In the aftermath of Nani’s bizarre goal against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday we were, inevitably, treated to Alan Green et al going on and on about common sense. On 6.06 he suggested that referee Mark Clattenburg should have gone to his assistant after the goal and contrived a free-kick (by whispering to each other, brilliantly) on the basis that they’d made a mistake and needed, somehow, to put it right.
The point that is, unfortunately, missed by those who consistently bleat about the need for referees to use their common sense is that it makes their other frequently expressed desire, for consistency, utterly impossible. The laws of the game are already too subjective for referees to enforce consistently (just look at the definitions of excessive force), but adding a further, wildly subjective, element of the referee making an arbitrary decision based on some loose concept of fairness would render the game a farce.
Everyone’s idea of common sense is different, after all – Green believes that common sense dictates Clattenburg should have disallowed the goal, in spite of being “technically correct”, whereas I believe that the only sane way that referees can run the game is by applying the laws as they see them and not simply start making stuff up. We can’t both be right – indeed, it is perfectly possible that we are both wrong – so who would be the final arbiter of whether or not a referee had applied common sense appropriately?
We also see this with yellow and red cards, especially with red cards awarded for second bookable offences. The ex-pros in the commentary box or the studio will tell us all too often that the referee should use his common sense and not show a second yellow card, in spite of the offence committed. This is palpably absurd: an offence that merits a yellow card has to be treated in the same way regardless of whether or not a player has been booked. To do otherwise is to be wildly inconsistent and, essentially, unfair to the other side. The only person who should be showing some sense in these circumstances is the player who has already been cautioned, not the referee.
On Saturday evening it was not Clattenburg who failed to show any sense, it was Heurelho Gomes. One caller to 6.06 complained that the referee hadn’t waved play on and so the Spurs keeper was confused, but in the absence of a whistle from the referee he was asking for trouble in putting the ball down (in the wrong place) for a non-existent free-kick. Once he had done that then there was nothing Clattenburg could have done without seriously undermining the integrity of the game. I can understand why Tottenham fans feel aggrieved, and I would have felt the same under the same circumstances, but ultimately the person responsible was the goalkeeper, not the referee.
If we go down the path of instructing referees to use their common sense then we are opening an enormous can of worms, for even more decisions would be called into question than are now. It may well be that the laws could, or should, be revised to make them more explicit, although that would be no guarantee that players, managers or pundits would understand them, but the last thing that is required is more woolliness.
There is a certain irony in the fact that many of those who routinely criticise referees seem to think that they are incapable of making any sensible decisions, but are also keen to give them far wider, and far less defined, powers than they have at the moment. That way lies madness. James Thomson