Friday 4 April ~
Dissent towards referees is a hot topic at the moment and all player behaviour is being monitored feverishly by the scandalised tabloids. As a side-effect referees have received plenty of sympathy and had a relatively easy ride over the last few weeks. This situation has just been reversed, however, following Dirk Kuyt's penalty area challenge on Alexander Hleb on Wednesday night. The inevitable storm of controversy after the game was shortly followed by whispers of conspiracy. These fears have been given if not quite credence, then certainly greater exposure by Kuyt and the referee himself in today's papers.
As expected, Arsène Wenger managed to spot this incident and complained loudly of a "blatant penalty right under the eyes of the referee". However, the referee in question, policeman Pieter Vink, hails from Noordwijkerhout – “the town in the middle of dunes, woods, the sea and the beach” – a place only five kilometres from where Kuyt grew up in Katwijk. Both towns in the “Dune and Bulb region” sound idyllic. Indeed Katwijk's own promotional material boasts that the most concise image of the area is “consuming a nice herring on the beautiful boulevard”.
Many saw an alleged “thumbs up and cheeky smile” from Kuyt to Vink as hard evidence of collusion. Understandably all concerned have refuted the allegations. Vink said “It’s ridiculous to say I made the decision because I’m Dutch” and UEFA stated that the the origins of players is “not even raised” when choosing referees. Fair enough. Dirk Kuyt reported that he did know the referee but that he was not biased, that Robin van Persie knew the referee just as well and that in the past Vink had given him “some good decisions and some bad ones”.
On the eve of FA Cup semi-final weekend, the press seem at a loss without “big four” representation so KuytVinkgate has filled a gap. If the unawarded penalty turns out to have crucial bearing on the tie, the Dune and Bulb region can expect a sudden increase in inquisitive visitors from the UK armed with cameras and tape recorders.