Ref! On the cult of the manager

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


Evening lads,

So, all the best football managers in the world have now decided England is the place to be. And it’s the time of year when they can talk themselves up, as many are.

I noticed this about 18 months ago when Alan Pardew left Newcastle, where he hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, and went to Crystal Palace. And what did he say about his mission there, Dave, you remember? We discussed it at the time. That’s right, he said he was going to “teach them how to win football matches”. Like he was the first person to make that connection between winning matches and being successful. He cast himself in the role of Great Wise One. And he’s done all right there, he has “won a few football matches”, but his status as guru disappeared as soon as they lost one and kept losing them so it was clear they weren’t going to be the best side in the country.

But this is the time of year when managers can bang on about their philosophy – although they won’t be too specific about that because they haven’t actually got one. They’re just doing their best.

And now we’ve got Pep Guardiola, who has more claim than most to being a managerial genius, and he’s taken over a disgustingly rich club with a lot of top players. Manchester City, Baz. Well, disgusting in that that’s all it’s based on. People used to say that about Chelsea a few years ago, but they’ve achieved a degree of humility and therefore people aren’t so hard on them because they had such a rough time last season and nobody really knows why.

And Guardiola’s talking about the City players learning how he wants them to play. He’s had success from the start of his managerial career, so maybe either he is that good or he’s just been lucky. I mean, he wasn’t exactly short of talent at Barcelona and when you’ve got that many great players, you’re at an advantage, aren’t you? Yes, Baz, a considerable advantage – good word, your kids teach you that?

And then he was at Bayern Munich, who are so far ahead of the rest of Germany that, again, you’d have to be stupid to mess it up. But now he’s in England, where there is a bit of opposition. In Spain all you’ve got to do is beat Real Madrid a couple of times and steamroller the rest and you’re laughing.

But here, he’s got Jose Mourinho to contend with, a man with a point to prove. And Mourinho didn’t really big himself up that much at Chelsea, but now everyone else is at it, so he’s creating a mystique.

Cheers, Gary. I’ll have something new and exciting. Doesn’t matter what it is, just ask Derek what’s new and tell him why. Because we’re talking about new brooms, new ideas, mate, and I want to know Derek’s plans for the Duck and Peasant, see what his philosophy is and how he views the future.

Yes, I know that’s cobblers, but it’s an extension of the train of thought we’re on.

And at Chelsea you’ve got Antonio Conte, who we all know now because he was all over the Euros with Italy, looking smart in his dark suit and matching shirt and tie and building his image as the elegant tough guy. But can you get the best out of Eden Hazard and Nemanya Matic by shouting at them, which apparently he does a lot? I can see him getting a knuckle sandwich if he’s not careful. If John Terry was a few years younger, you know…

And who else, there’s Klopp at Liverpool who’s come out just about even after his first season, and now Ronald Koeman’s at Everton, where he is expected to do well, even though it’s a club built on former glories and in this day and age is no more of a football power than Southampton, where he’s just jumped ship from.

Have I forgotten anyone, Baz? Claudio Ranieri? No, he’s not bothered, mate. He’s had his miracle and he must have been expecting half the team to desert him, but they haven’t. Which might be a mixed blessing if it becomes apparent that the gift has left Leicester and with the same players they struggle a bit.

As ever, gentlemen, it remains to be seen.


Ref! On Swansea and building a football club

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


The magic of the FA Cup, eh, Dave? That’s what you think I’m going to talk about. Well, it’s only magical when it’s magical, and did anything exceptional happen at the weekend? Oxford United beat Swansea, which must be a choker for the Welsh and exciting for Oxford, but it’s hardly your pub team beating Man City, is it?

Yes, Baz, it just goes to show. Show what? No, there has to be another sentence on the end. It just goes to show that…

All right, I’ll help you out, since you’re not sure. It just goes to show that when you’re struggling, you’ll struggle against anybody. Is that what you meant? No?

Yeah, hang on a minute, Gary, I’ll have pint of whatever the guest ale is, but don’t disturb Baz when he’s thinking. I doesn’t happen often.

Okay, Baz, it just goes to show that… Anybody can beat anybody? Yes, I suppose that’s true, but it’s why that interests me. Swansea didn’t get beaten because Oxford were brilliant, they lost because they’re having a losing streak. I mean, it’s got to be tough for a club like that, hasn’t it? They’re not a traditional Premier League club.

They’ve got up there by hook or by crook and they’ve managed to stay there for a while, but players leave, managers leave – nobody’s really convinced. And now they’ve got a caretaker manager, one of their ex-players who wasn’t even a star really, just like Garry Monk, who he’s replacing. That’s right Dave, it’s like a castle built on sand. It takes time to build a castle, and sometimes that means … in this case, they’ve got to scrape away the top level of sand – to a depth of, I don’t know Baz, it’s a metaphor again, not an engineering class. But they’ve got to get a solid base on which to build. And one of the ways of doing that with a football club is to have consistency. A manager who’s there for a long time.

But even that’s not easy to arrange. It’s luck or fate or something. When Liverpool needed to rebuild in the early 60s – no, I wasn’t around – they happened to pick Bill Shankly. Who just happened to be the perfect man for the job. If they’d appointed Bill Smith, it wouldn’t have worked. No, it’s just a random name, Baz, there was no Bill Smith around at the time, and certainly not a world class football manager of that name.

Chelsea wouldn’t have become the club they are if Abramovich hadn’t chosen Jose Mourinho, even though his time was eventually up, as we know. Manchester United wouldn’t have flourished under anyone other than Alex Ferguson, probably. But the directors don’t know that in advance. It’s a gamble, like so many other things in life.

It’s possible that in 10 years’ time Swansea will be winning Champions’ Leagues every year, but only if they get their management situation sorted out with a huge dollop of luck. And a fabulously wealthy owner, of course. Owners have to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good these days. But for now, the guy in charge is the guy in charge and he’s not rushing into an appointment because he has to make sure it’s the right one, and he clearly feels nobody of the right caliber is available at the moment. And, if you want to be cynical about it, he can save himself a few bob in the meantime, because Alan Curtis isn’t on Mourinho money, you can bet your life. Cheers Gary, Adnam’s, eh? A bit of tradition there, my friend. Nice.


All I ask of the top teams is that they do okay for us in Europe. You don’t have to love Liverpool to enjoy seeing them win the Champions League. We used to complain about Ferguson and fergie time and all that, but I’d rather see him breaking into his annual grin than the current Barcelona manager, wouldn’t you?


Ref! On the manager-go-round

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


That’s right, Dave, only one subject to talk about today: the manager-go-round. Remember I said a couple of months ago I thought there was something fishy going on at Chelsea with Doctor Gorgeous and Mourinho’s overreaction? Well we still don’t know the actual details, but it looks that way, doesn’t it? The way the team suddenly looked good again when he was out the door: Mark Lawrenson described it as disgraceful, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

Because, Baz, some of the players seemed to be holding something back. I don’t know if it could be construed, as you put it – good word, mate – as match fixing exactly, but it’s not far off.

Anyway, Mourinho’s very publicly available and the popular little equation is him to Man U, Guardiola to City and Simeone to Chelsea. But things don’t often work out so neatly and I think we could be in for a surprise. Let’s say Roman Abramovich is at a Christmas party and he gets pissed and bumps into Tony Pulis. And somebody’s put magic mushrooms in the punch and they become instant pals and he can see Pulis working his magic at Stamford Bridge.

Or how about this? Arsene Wenger to Chelsea for two years before he retires, allowing Drogba to gain managerial experience at, say, PSG, before taking over in west London.

Stranger things have happened. Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a mulled wine please. No mushrooms in it, mind.

Why didn’t I go into management, Dave? Because my talent for discipline with harmony led me down my current path. Yes, I suppose there are similarities – transferrable skills if you like. You don’t know what any of these guys are really like in the dressing room, but there have been some real characters. Bill Shankly, Cloughie, Fergie. And also some quite grey ones. You can’t imagine Alf Ramsey telling too many jokes, can you? Bob Paisley: like a nice old uncle, he seemed, but there must have been more to him than that. Sven-Goran Eriksson. Capello. Grim.

Nowadays, is Van Gaal really such a miserable sod as he looks? Maybe he’s just got worse over the years and now he’s a grumpy old git, but he used to be all right.

Thing is, we think these foreign coaches are so good because we don’t really know them. Then they come over here and they’re not geniuses after all, but where are the English managers who are going to replace them? People complain about the lack of black managers, but first things first. Let’s get a generation of Brits running the clubs, then we can empower the minorities. As it is, I mean who have you got? Sam Allardyce? Dinosaur in many ways. He likes dossiers apparently, but so did Don Revie, and Allardyce makes him look sophisticated. No, that’s not negative, Dave, it’s realistic.

Anyway – cheers Gary – Merry Christmas one and all, but Santa can’t bring everyone three points on Boxing Day. Such is life, lads, such is life.




Ref! On the value of Europe

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


That’s right, Dave, I think we should make tonight a European night. Well, to acknowledge that these islands are part of a larger entity, namely a continent, and that we have many things in common. Show a bit of solidarity with the French.

Remember when the idea of a European league was being discussed back in the 90s? Yes, a lot of people thought that would spell the end of the English league. But the Champions League came along and it hasn’t done us much harm, has it? Yes, Baz, very perceptive – it’s not actually a week-in week-out league, but it’s brought us all closer together in terms of keeping an eye on other countries.

Personally I am not interested in watching one Turkish club whose name ends in spor playing another, but there you go. It’s just not the same when you don’t know the players. True, Dave, the Turkish league is full of Premier League rejects at the moment. Perhaps that’s a bad example.

Anyway, what I was going to get on to was the so-called El Clasico in Spain, where Barcelona hammered Real Madrid and suddenly Rafa Benitez is useless and has to go. It’s unfair isn’t it? What if Baz had a bad day on the building site and a wall fell down because he hadn’t built it right? Would the papers be screaming for him to be sacked? I know, Baz, nobody knows who you are, but I’m just using it as an example.

All right, me, then. I’m fairly well known, I’m on the telly a fair bit, football people know my name. They don’t scream for my head when I have the occasional bad game.

Yes, Dave, people call me all sorts of names, but they don’t want me removed from the roster. No, that was an internal matter and I was out for six weeks. I know I’ve never fully explained it and I’m not going into details now. Personal, mate, personal, and I’m not even going to respond to that – twat, he is, doesn’t belong in a professional body.

Bottle of something European, Gary, thanks, Lowenbrau or something – okay, something you can pronounce. A bottle of Pils will be fine, but no, not aspirin. He’s a card, isn’t he?

So, Benitez. One bad result and it’s Armageddon. So what if it’s their biggest rivals? It happens. Mourinho’s been in the slough of despond all season but nobody’s rushing him out the door.

In Spain it’s that Latin hysteria. They can’t take things calmly like your Brit can. Bloody Europeans is what I’m saying, Dave. Who needs them except for holidays on their beaches?

Yes, I do think we should stick together, because where would our out-of-favour players and managers go otherwise? The lower leagues in England? I don’t think so. Scotland? That’s even worse. No, if you’re in trouble you get on a plane to Alicante or Istanbul, mate. Lick your wounds there for a while. They don’t know who you are and they don’t care. You must be okay because of where you come from.

Ahem, where was I? Cheers Gary. Holsten, eh? Good old north London lager.



Ref! On Kendall, Mourinho and bad boys

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


Yes, I ‘done’ Newcastle-Norwich at the weekend, Dave. And refereeing-wise it was no problem at all. And so it should be at this stage of the season. Everybody’s settling down and it’s all to play for, as they say. There’s no point losing your discipline when there’s loads of time left.

Newcastle will be thinking they can get out of trouble and finish halfway up the table, and the best way to achieve that is with 11 players on the pitch. That’s a point that’s often overlooked by the less intelligent player. No, nobody in particular, Baz. It means less intelligent players in general; the ones who can’t see past the present moment.

That’s not the same as impetuous, but funnily enough the hotheads don’t tend to go into management afterwards. They go on TV and spend their second career trying to make us forget what twats they were in the first.

As a ref you can sometimes forge a decent relationship with a pillock after he’s retired, if he’s suitably embarrassed about his reputation. You get the odd one who still wants the world to come round to his point of view, but you often find that there was a brain in there all along. So you get your Robbie Savage, who as a player was a mouthy git with talent that was overshadowed by his volatility – sorry Dave, getting a bit poetic in my old age – but who’s actually all right. In his case there is the hair issue, yes, which has always been a feature.

Nowadays he’s not so much a scruffy sod as a preening bloody narcissist. It’s probably his missus, or one of the BBC’s make-up people. Stylists, they call them, and they’re obsessed with making people look attractive, or in Savage’s case ridiculous in a Kings Road sort of way.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a brandy and Canada – no, that bloke’s hair just makes me think of the way we used to get stiffed by birds with expensive tastes – pint of Stella please.

John Hartson, he’s another one who’s gone straight since he stopped playing, and he can often sound quite intelligent and humble when he’s talking to that Jake Whatsit on Football Focus.

Yes, Dave, shame about Howard Kendall, but he was nearly 70 and it comes to all of us. Slightly before my time as a player, but he did wonders with Everton as a manager. Should he have been an England manager? Good question. His name never seemed to come up, did it? It would now, too true.

They’re starting to look at life after Hodgson, and Mourinho’s a candidate. It’ll never happen, mate, the guy’s too much of a maverick and they don’t like that. The FA were quite happy to let us think it was going to be Harry Redknapp last time when all along they had Uncle Roy up their sleeve. They wouldn’t have Cloughie and they won’t have Mourinho, simple as that.

Actually, I’m not that surprised that he seems to be considering it, because the way things are going this season he must be thinking it’s not a job for life at Chelsea after all. Yes, I wonder if he does drink pints of special. Cheers Gary. Good man.

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.


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.