Listening to French whinges about the quickly taken Giggs free kick against Lille, and hearing Juninho’s scathing criticism of Mike Riley as the man in the middle for AS Roma vs Lyon, I began wondering about the worst refereeing performances I have seen in a Sunderland game.
It goes without saying that I am thinking only of matches where we were the victims of atrocious, costly decisions. I am honest enough to admit that I more quickly forget referees whose incompetence (or bad luck) helps us out.
A lot of SAFC fans will straight away point to Paul Danson, who became a hate figure after two first-half sendings off at Arsenal in 1996 turned the game into a mockery, with no SAFC attempt to venture more than a few yards into the Gunners’ half until they scored.
But only one of the red cards was wrong. Martin Scott, in all truthfulness, deserved to go for two rash tackles in quick succession.
It was the second yellow for Paul Stewart, accused of deliberately handling the ball when in fact he was flailing about in mid-air as an Arsenal defender climbed all over him, that really rankled.
Then there was Graham Barber’s amazing failure to spot Gary McCallister launch into the most blatant, if graceful of dives when tripped by Varga well outside the penalty box as we led Liverpool 1-0 at home in 2001.
Varga was the last defender and should have been sent off. He wasn’t. But Liverpool inevitably scored from the penalty.
The free kick would have been so far out that we’d probably have survived it, giving us every chance of clinging to the lead instead of settling for a draw.
I can think of other single decisions, penalties refused to us or wrongly awarded to opponents. But I can think of only one referee to make a whole series of grotesque clangers to our detriment.
Step forward the other Graham from Tring, Herts.
Remember Mickey Gray’s sending off at the Stadium of Light in 2001, when he ran half the length of the field to offer some choice words to Graham Poll after Man Utd went one up against us?
No serious complaints about the straight red. But what led to it was Andy Cole’s utterly obvious hand ball in the build up to the goal. At the same end in the first half, a free kick had been given against Quinn for a goalmouth incident which ought to have been a penalty for us.
Wasn’t it during the same defeat by Man Utd that Poll booked Don Hutchison for the sort of quickly taken free kick from which Giggs scored at Lille? Yet Hutchison had used the trick earlier the same month, at West Ham, and the resulting goal had stood.
Much, much worse, though, was the incredible Ben Thatcher assault on Nicky Summerbee at Wimbledon in 2000. As Summerbee lay on the ground, Wimbledon swept upfield and scored the winner in a game we should at least have drawn.
Poll admitted later that he was “disappointed” to have missed the incident. Thatcher was punished retrospectively (tends to happen to him). The defeat remained unchanged.
Broadly, good and bad decisions even themselves out over a season, we are told. Poll did once disallow a perfectly good Boro goal when we won 1-0 at home. But I can think of no other occasion, at least none seen by me, when his mistake handed us points.
To be fair, and this is probably a minority view, I quite like the way Poll handles a game. He is fast and authoritative and a long way short of being among our worst refs.
Also, a word in defence of Riley. He may have fluttered his yellow card around as if it were a new toy he wanted to show the big TV audience. How many ga mes really warrant 11 bookings? But he did have to put up with a pathetic amount of play-acting and scores of fouls from both Roma and Lyon players.
And I will always support officials in the more general sense that they commit many, many fewer howlers in each game than the far wealthier strikers, defenders and keepers they are there to monitor. Just don’t count on me not to join in the “Don’t know what you’re doing” chant when things go against us.