Ref! On England and Ross Barkley

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

So, weekend off, yes, that’s the beauty of international week. No Premier League, so no action for yours truly. I’m a football fan like all of you, so of course I watched England on Friday. A lot of people thought it was a bit of a snooze to watch, and okay, there was nothing at stake because England have already qualified, but what would you rather watch: a 2-0 win at a canter or a humiliation in a real game?

No, Dave, I don’t watch the referee as much as the play. You can’t help noticing things, obviously, but – you’re a builder, right? Do you watch the match or are you looking at the stands and the tunnel and thinking you could have done a better job?

Exactly, it’s in the back of your mind, but unless you notice something very bad or exceptionally good, you’re watching the football.

Yes, I think we’re going to get a shock at the actual Euros – got some scary friendlies coming up, in fact – but at least we’re not having one of those nailbiting qualifying campaigns.  Surprising how quickly things can settle down. Like Harry Kane, I feel quite comfortable with him up front. He’s not scoring hatfuls of goals, but he looks the part and they’ll come if you stick with him.

Cheers, Gary, paynt a hayvee. That’s my Glasgow impression, mate, some Jock asking for a pint of heavy. I don’t know, but heavy’s not going to be Bud Light, is it? Something with a bit of body to it I suppose. A bottle of Newky Brown, if you don’t mind.

What I really liked was seeing Ross Barkley showing a bit of skill. Pity he looks like he does, mind. He’s got this permanent look of being off his face and itching for a fight, the sort of drunken numbskull you steer clear of in the kebab shop on a Saturday night. Barkley’s not that sort of bloke, apparently, but all he needs is a boozy flush to his cheeks and you’d avoid looking at him.

What I mean, Baz, is haven’t you ever been waiting there at half past midnight and there’s some guy going, “Oo you fakkin’ lookin’ at mate?” You know, he hasn’t pulled, so he’s looking to indulge his second passion, which is punching people. So you look anywhere but at him, cos whoever does catch his eye is going to be invited to step outside.

No, I’m not saying Barkley is like that at all. That’s what I’ve just said, Baz. Barkley is apparently not that sort of bloke. Maybe it’s that short back and sides; he looks severe. But football-wise he’s the latest in a long line of gifted midfielders that goes back through Matt Le Tissier to Glenn Hoddle and Tony Currie and Alan Hudson. Too talented for their own good. England managers don’t trust them when the chips are down. You bet your life in a proper match that matters Hodgson is going to pick James Milner and Adam Lallana and Jonjo Shelvey and play Phil Jones in midfield. Anything but let the wizard do his stuff.

No, it’s not what I would do, it’s what tends to happen. It’s… oh, thank god for that… cheers Gary.

 

Ref! On Rodgers and Newcastle

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, lads, I had the privilege of being the ‘man in the middle’ as you put it, at the City of Manchester stadium for City’s demolition of Newcastle. To tell you the truth, when a game is as one-sided as that, the problem is to keep your concentration. If you’re a fair-minded person you want to see a balanced game. You don’t want to see anybody get whipped 6-1, and apart from anything else you worry that you’ve lost count.

Newcastle, I don’t know, they’ve just been left behind, haven’t they? In today’s technological terms they need to shut down and reboot. They’ve tried everything – they even tried Alan Shearer as manager a few years ago, just because the fans think he’s God. They had to appoint him and let him fail so they could move on, but where have they moved on to? I know somebody was bound to give Steve McClaren another chance in England, but that’s the problem with the Geordies, they’re too sentimental.

Only they would have persevered with John Carver as long as they did, purely because he’s an honest-to-goodness local boy, and when they finally saw sense, they give the job to a nice guy who has demonstrated repeatedly that he’s not going to be successful in English football.

And now the poor sod’s got the weirdest haircut in the Premier League, with that little tuft at the front. Used to be a quiff and you can tell he’s still proud of it, but it’s like a bird standing on the beach when the tide’s gone out.

Fair enough, Dave, his follicular problems have nothing to do with his ability as a manager, and he’s endured enough ridicule, but you can’t help noticing, can you?

So who’s next up there in Liverpool? People are talking about Jurgen Klopp, who’s regarded as a bit of a guru, plus we don’t know that much about him, which is always good when you’re speculating.

Sam Allardyce is available but you can’t have that. Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a black and tan. You’ll have to explain to the barman, cos he’s only a nipper. Half a draught Guinness topped up with a bottle of pale ale. And then you can watch while he makes a mess of it – see you in half an hour, mate.

No, I reckon they’re going to go for someone really unlikely. Baseball coach with transferrable skills. Sir Clive Woodward. Nigel Clough. Drew Barrymore. They’re desperate enough, Baz, yes – you’re on the ball tonight, what’s the matter?

Jose Mourinho? Stranger things have happened, but nothing as strange as that. Abramovich probably can’t believe what’s happening, but when he leaves the denial phase he’s going to do something, isn’t he? He’s ruthless – they have to be, shady characters like him.

You know what I reckon? He was having it off with the doctor, Eva Carneiro. Then he got tired of it and told Mourinho to get rid of her.

Like Bill Shankly said, Baz, the only thing that surprises me is that I can be surprised.

 

Ref! The enigma that is Liverpool

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

What do I think of Liverpool, Dave? In light of the fact I did their game against Villa, you mean? Well, it was thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view, but that’s not what you’re asking, is it? You’re asking if, in my professional opinion, Brendan Rodgers has got it right.

The answer is, as so often, circumstances have helped him. I thought he – or his transfer committee – had a terrible summer. First it’s all about Danny Ings. He snaps him up as soon as Burnley are relegated. Indecent haste, mate. Embarrassing.

But okay, he’s got Ings and this is going to be the answer to Liverpool’s prayers. Then he buys Benteke, who is a more high-profile player and a different kettle of fish altogether. Big target man, a throwback to John Toshack, almost, and everybody’s saying they’ll have to build the team around him.

Then Daniel Sturridge comes back from injury and Benteke does a hamstring and it’s all about Sturridge. And him and Ings do look more like it, you have to admit.

But all the time, guys, all the time, there’s little Philippe Coutinho, who’s their real diamond, and he must be thinking ‘Okay, Brendan, sort it out and get the team to catch up with me’, cos he’s your Brazilian Mata, he’s as good as Hazard, but he’s like a beautiful carrot that’s already grown and ready to dig while they’re still spreading manure on the rest of the garden.

That, Baz, is called mixing metaphors. It’s what happens when you’ve got a football brain like the thoughts of Chairman Mao meets the mind of Brian Clough.

Cheers, Gary, pint of that milky stuff we invented last week: Guinness and Baileys. Gaileys, yes, Dave, good one. Well, a bit… you know, but we’re all secure in our sexuality, I think.

At the back, mate? Liverpool, you mean? The jury is out, Dave. He’s got lots of options but they’re so unconvincing the jury is not just out but has gone for a pint, had a few scotches and is now hanging around the only remaining chip shop in the area, in search of a bit of relief from the tedium.

Manual relief, yes, Baz, maybe, but someone else’s manual.

They’re a funny bunch, though, Liverpool. They’ve been hopeless for years apart from that little Suarez interlude, ever since Fergie did what he set out to do and knocked them off their effing perch, but they don’t see it. They still think it’s a blip. But manager after manager buys ten cheap shirts instead of one beautiful one and wonders why they shrink in the wash.

Yes, Baz, minced menopause again. Go back to sleep, for Clough’s sake.

 

Ref! Diego Costa

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, Dave, I did Bournemouth-Sunderland on Saturday. I tell you what, although a referee can’t afford to get emotionally involved, we’re only football fans like anyone else. There can’t be many people in England who don’t want Bournemouth to survive in the Premier League, because it seems like a nice little club from an area that doesn’t get much credit football-wise.

The old thing about Southern Softies – just because your Dad wasn’t down a coal mine eight days a week and you’ve got a nice beach to play on and the weather’s a bit warmer, that doesn’t mean you’re any less dedicated. Yes, I speak as a Surrey man, nothing wrong with that.

And on this occasion you had the complete opposite as the opposition. Sunderland, where hardship is worn like a badge of honour, it’s all “we had to eat earwax sandwiches” and the club’s struggling and changing managers every five minutes but they’ve got a glorious history if you go back far enough. So you want them to do okay as well.

But as a ref you keep out of the way as much as possible, We’re, to use the modern parlance, facilitators. What that means, Baz, is that we facilitate the match – we provide the framework, the rules, the schedule – that enables the match to be played. It’s one of those contemporary words that many people think are bollocks, but one has to rise above that and just do the job.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a large Scotch. I’ll get the large if you get the Scotch – no, it’s just what I feel like having, it’s not that’s I’m desperate to catch up just because I was half an hour late. I had a couple at home, as it happens.

See, that’s the challenge, and it’s what Mike Dean fell foul of in the Chelsea-Arsenal game. He got the blame in some quarters – Garth Crooks, to be precise – for becoming visible, if you like. He sent off two Arsenal players when the one who should have gone was Diego Costa. He’s a bleeding troublemaker, everyone knows that, but the referee can only give what he sees, and Costa does most of his mischief off the ball, when you’re following the action. So all you know is when the defender finally gets pissed off with it and lamps him one.

Like at home when the missus has been needling you in her subtle, underhand way that doesn’t break any of the rules of domestic interaction. She just quietly picks away at you until finally you might erupt and call her a fat cow or something. We’ve all done it.

Mike did what he thought was right based on what he saw, and I don’t agree that he was making himself the centre of attention. But you are anyway, that’s the trouble. I get home after a game and Yvonne’s daughter, Kellie – 16 now, Dave, why? – she’s noticed my performance and is very complimentary. What can you do? She’s a perceptive girl, takes after her Mum.

 

Ref! On Grealish and Vardy

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, lads, I did Leicester-Aston Villa. It was a bit of a seesaw, cos, you know, Villa go 2-0 up and then Leicester come back and win it. Tim Sherwood was well pissed off, wasn’t he? He must have thought his season was really getting going when Jack Grealish scored.

I don’t know where he’s been, the Grealish boy. Maybe he’s only just sobered up after that skinful he had on holiday in the close season. They don’t seem to realize they can’t behave like their mates, because if JG’s Mate gets paralytic in Tenerife, nobody notices or cares, but if the lad himself does it, there’s every chance it’s going to get photographed and find its way to the British media.

But they’re only kids, Baz, fair’s fair. Look at Grealish himself. Baby face and his grandad’s haircut. The boy’s a child. And a couple of good displays last season and he’s got Roy Hodgson trying to make him commit himself to England, rather than playing for Ireland. No talk of actually picking him. He just wants to have the option, like Chelsea with all their players out on loan. Most of them will never play at Stamford Bridge, but if the club owns them, nobody else can.

Funnily enough, two they actually let go have turned out to be genuine talents. They had to buy Matic back for an inflated fee after he blossomed abroad, and now there’s Kevin De Bruyne, who’s gone to Man City of all people. So maybe their policy is right. Sign them and deprive others of the pleasure.

Cheers Gary, just a bottle of Grolsch, mate. No, a bottle, the draught’s not the same.

Anyway, I’m at the King Power Stadium – Leicester’s ground, Baz – and a nice little game it turned out to be. Nothing too naughty, nothing demanding from a reffing point of view, and that means you can enjoy it. It’s where I do a lot of my thinking, to be honest. One part of my brain is doing the job, running the game, and the other part is thinking.

Well, since you ask, Dave, what I was thinking was about Hodgson again. What does he see in Jamie Vardy that he keeps picking him for England? Nobody else thinks he’s more than an average lower-half-of-the-table striker. It’s not like he’s ever scored shedfuls of goals. Maybe he’s just an exceptionally nice bloke, because Roy does value that. It’s a good thing injury has kept Danny Welbeck out of the picture for the last year, or he’d have kept selecting him ahead of your Harry Kanes. And yet Vardy’s in there, as if Roy thinks he’s going to kick-start his career by gaining confidence at international level.

But you have to give people credit for being experts in their own field. Few know the intricacies of refereeing – and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye – and I suppose international management is the same. Come to think of it, Roy Hodgson would probably have made a good ref.

Now now, Dave, oddball is not a nice expression. And you wouldn’t describe me like that, would you? I mean would you?