Sunderland, Arsenal and Atkinson: ‘not just us’ or ‘not us at all’

Jake has that sinking feeling
Jake has that sinking feeling

Two things happened at Twitter as I spread word of Jeremy Robson’s gloomy piece about the ruinous impact of Martin Atkinson’s refereeing on his attachment to Premier League football.

Mark Cameron (@markscameron), globe-sailing Sunderland supporter (he works as chief engineer on cruise ships), wrote: “We are not alone regarding Martin Atkinson!” and drew attention to this compilation of how to get things wrong Atkinson-style:

And another Sunderland fan, Ian Whan (@whanie49), who describes himself as “an extremely amusing referees assessor”, broke ranks to offer a quite different view of Saturday afternoon’s big talking point.

Here it is, from Ian’s blog, The Pub Corner:

ian whanMartin Atkinson: right even when wrong

Judging by Twitter yesterday, referee Martin Atkinson is a cheat, he favours the big teams, he’s incompetent & they were the nicer things that were being said. So how on earth could a Premier League referee get something so badly wrong that even Arsène Wenger could see it?

In simple terms the referee didn’t do what everyone expected and for that he has been castigated by fans, pundits, managers and anyone else who wants a pop. The questions are: was he actually so wrong and, if he was, how did he arrive at those decisions? Or did he actually get it right?

Jake's vision of plenty
Jake’s vision of plenty

Catch up on all that’s been said about the match and the Atkinson controversy: navigate the home page at

First of all as the ball is played up to Altidore the ref is in a great position and can see the Sunderland striker being held. At that point he hasn’t got the whistle anywhere near his mouth and he’s doing what good referees do, delaying and having a look to see if advantage will accrue. A parks ref will often blow immediately and no one will bat an eyelid.

The next point is at this stage 95 per cent of forwards fall over and plead for a free kick, so when Altidore rolled the challenge and stayed up, the ref is facing something different.

Altidore then literally pushes Sagna off using his superior strength and you can see the whistle go to Mr Atkinson’s mouth. He has a split second to process what he sees and I believe he is seeing it as Altidore committing a foul in pushing Sagna off so decides to penalise the first foul by Sagna. Altidore then trundles on and finishes but it’s rendered futile as the whistle has gone.

Having not applied the advantage clause, the expectation is that Sagna will be sent off … but he isn’t. Why not… surely he’s last man, surely hes denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity? Well actually no !

In penalising the first foul the ref has to assess what happened at the point of the foul, namely that Altidore was 30 yards from goal facing the touchline & running diagonally to receive the ball. At that point it wasn’t an obvious goal scoring opportunity regardless of what happened subsequently. As for Sagna being “last man” that is actually irrelevant; there is no mention of the “last man” in the laws of the game. So having stopped the game & awarded the free kick, I would suggest he got the 2nd part right, not popular but factual in law.

As for the first bit, should he have played advantage, should he have let Altidore muscle Sagna off the ball? My answer would be that at the top level, referees live by the fact that a major decision should never be a surprise, but the decision not to play advantage was a surprise to everyone. With hindsight he will know that had he let it play out and a goal had been scored it would have been accepted by everyone. Martin Atkinson isn’t a cheat, he did what Dalglish did when he paid £35m for Andy Carroll, he did what John O’Shea did when getting sent off last week, he did what Martin O’Neill did when he signed Danny Graham, he made an error of judgement that he will wish he hadn’t.

So, shock horror, Martin Atkinson isn’t a cheat, he’s not looking to deliberately begrudge Sunderland a goal. He’s a referee who in the space of a few seconds made a series of judgements as he saw fit and there then followed a series of events that left him just where he didn’t want to be …. the centre of attention.

Good piece, Whanie, even if many of us – and also Graham Poll in his Daily Mail ref watch column – will profoundly disagree. And don’t anyone suggest for a second that it is a product of another of your favoured pursuits (again from your Twitter profile): “whiskey and vodka enthusiast”.

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3 thoughts on “Sunderland, Arsenal and Atkinson: ‘not just us’ or ‘not us at all’”

  1. Interesting post…and I didn’t know there was no last man rule….. so thanks.

    Its funny what incidents a live football match can throw up.My first instinct on watching the game(and I have not even seen a replay)was whether or not it was a goal,because whatever happened before that cannot have mattered as it was all part of one continuous piece of play.

    I assumed that we must not have scored as the only explanation that a free kick was awarded.I only found out it was a goal after the game.By which time its too late.

    I did feel gutted for Altidore.The only thing I can assume is that the ref was thrown by the uniqueness of the event.99% of centre forwards would have gone down,Altidore is just so strong he was able to carry Sagna as well as control a ball,shoot and score…almost an impossible task.It can only have been that assumption that made Atkinson blow that whistle,he anticipated something that never happened.

    If there is a next time I am sure he will give Altidore the benefit of the doubt,now he can see what he can do.So unlike some I hope we do get him again…he owes us.

  2. The point is Ian that he didn’t at any point think that Altidore had committed a foul at that indeterminable point where he had played the advantage (albeit for not long enough). Had there been a foul committed by Altidore then Arsenal would have been given the free kick. They weren’t, we were fiven the free kick and in Atkinson’s distorted view, the foul Sagna was the offender at all points in the proceedings. that’s where your argument falls down at the first hurdle and the second place it falls down is as follows. Altidore was being denied a goal scoring opportunity (and not the hypothetical type), because he scored.

    Your explanation is very sympathetic to Atkinson and is a reasonable one apart from the fact that it’s completely wrong.

  3. While I’d normally be chuffed to be miles away from a Graham Poll opinion … I would suggest his comment that

    ‘My opinion assisted by watching calmly on the TV, was that he should have held the whistle and see what developed – but I cannot say that he was wrong factually.’

    Actually mirrors my view.

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