A look ahead to Man Utd – guest article by Martin Cloake


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It’s a big game in prospect this Saturday as Spurs take on Manchester United, and now the international round is over I’d like to see Harry Redknapp get a few things upfront in characteristic style. I’m hoping to see him say that in such a big game, everyone wants football to be the focus and so all eyes will be on the officials to ensure they don’t have undue influence on the game. Because I’m in no doubt we need to start employing the tactics of managers like Alex Ferguson and put some pressure on the officials so that they think very, very carefully indeed about the decisions they make.

I don’t like saying that, for two reasons. The first is that I went on record years back praising Martin Jol’s sportsmanship after the infamous Mendes ‘goal that never was’ incident. But I’ve learnt my lesson. Being sporting in these circumstance gets you nowhere, and we need to turn up the heat on the officials, planting that vital seed of doubt in their minds whenever they think they should award something against us. The second is that, despite not being part of the football press pack, I do write about the game for a living and I’m careful to try and preserve a semblance of balance even though I clearly state my loyalties.

But the list below must surely test even the most impartial observer. In just the last seven seasons there have been 11 separate matches in which numerous incidents have gone in United’s favour during games against us. A litany of inconsistency and error. It is, of course, easy to dismiss this as sour grapes. But when coincidences happen so often, it is hard not to stop and think about how coincidental they are. I should make clear that I am not making any suggestion of systematic and planned cheating. But I am saying that the hard facts indicate that United seem to have got more than their fair share of decisions in these games.

I watched last season’s league game at Old Trafford in my local with fans of various clubs and, at half time, at least three said to me “They’ll get an early penalty in the second half and it’ll change the game”. It’s now that obvious, and lo and behold what everyone suspected came to pass. As I say below, that was no excuse for the team’s spineless collapse, but you wonder how the cumulative effect of all these dubious decisions plays on the team’s minds.

So, let’s get everything up front and put some pressure on the officials. Doubtless Alex Ferguson would condemn in others what he is happy to accept as genius when attribute to himself, but then he would, wouldn’t he? We have a good side in good confidence, we just need to neutralise the officials to level the playing field.

Those coincidences in full

6 March 2002 at Old Trafford
Spurs are 1-0 down but still competing when Tarrico tackles Scholes outside the box. Scholes takes a few steps more into the box before he goes down. Referee Mike Riley incorrectly awards a penalty and then sends Tarrico off even though he was not the last man and it was not a penalty. Even United’s players look surprised. Spurs lose 4-0.

21 September 2002 at Old Trafford
A masterclass in one-sided refereeing includes the following highlights; an elbow on Robbie Keane resulting in a Man U free kick; Rio Ferdinand handling in the area, stopping in acknowledgement of his guilt and then realisng he’d got away with it; Fabian Barthez getting away with a two-footed studs-up challenge on Keane; David Beckham escaping punishment for a clear foul on Matthew Etherington; Ferdinand clearly kicking the ball off for a corner which is given as a goal kick. Spurs lose 1-0.

25 September 2004 at White Hart Lane
Dubious penalty given against Erik Edman for a challenge on John O’Shea gives United the points. Referee Mike Walton, who spends part of the interval in the United dressing room, also fails to give a corner after Jermain Defoe’s shot deflects off a defender, and gives a free-kick against Jamie Redknapp after Robbie Keane is scythed down. Spurs lose 1-0.

4 January 2005 at Old Trafford
Spurs match a good United side, and win the game when Pedro Mendes lobs Roy Carroll from the halfway line in the dying minutes. Despite the ball going at least one full yard over the line and Carroll clearly scooping the ball back from inside the gal, referee Mark Clattenberg claims to be the only person watching the game who didn’t see it and does not give the goal. It is one of the most astonishing blunders ever. Also in this game, Robbie Keane puts the ball out from an attacking position because a team mate is down, and United fail to play the ball back on the restart, and Gabriel Heinze’s elbow on Keane goes unpunished. Spurs draw 0-0, and the stolen two points prove vital at the end of the season.

22 October 2005 at Old Trafford
Edgar Davids is carded by referee Uriah Rennie minutes after being thanked by the official for not making a fuss over a similar challenge on him by Alan Smith. Michael Dawson concedes a free kick for a challenge on Wayne Rooney even though he is seen to have made minimal contact at best. United score from the kick. YP Lee goes down in United’s box later in the game under a similar challenge. No penalty is given. Spurs draw 1-1.

9 September 2006 at Old Trafford
Ryan Giggs’s header bounces just over the line. It’s not as far over as the Mendes goal, but this time all the officials have a very clear view. Spurs lose 1-0.

4 February 2007 at White Hart Lane
A poor performance from Spurs it has to be admitted, but the first goal comes as a result of a penalty award for a highly dubious fall by Cristiano Ronaldo in the final minutes of the first half. Later on Rio Ferdinand clips Dimitar Berbatov in the box, but that man Clattenberg’s eyes are playing up again. Spurs lose 4-0.

26 August 2007 at Old Trafford
Howard Webb fails to give two clear penalties to Spurs, one when Nemanja Vidic brings Dimitar Berbatov down in the box, the other after Wes Brown deliberately handled Berbatov’s goal-bound shot away for a corner. Spurs lose 1-0.

27 January 2008 at Old Trafford
In an FA Cup tie, the referee manages to spot Michael Dawson handling the ball in a similar manner to Wes Brown just months before. The penalty puts United 2-1 up, and Spurs lose 3-1.

2 February 2008 at White Hart Lane
United salvage a point after Carlos Tevez scores four minutes after full-time. Spurs draw 1-1.

25 April 2009 at Old Trafford
Spurs dominate the first half, racing to a 2-0 lead, then display a disturbing lack of spine after conceding yet another dubious penalty. There’s no excuse for the collapse, but the penalty changed the game and you wonder how much the catalogue of dubious decisions in these games plays on the team’s minds. In addition to the incorrect penalty decision, referee Howard Webb choses to “have words” with United players for committing almost identical offences as the Spurs players he books. Spurs lose 5-2.

Martin Cloake’s new book, The Pocket Book of Spurs (VSP, £9.99) is out on 5th October, and can be pre-ordered for the publisher’s website.

Watch table topping Spurs take on champions Manchester United live and exclusive on ESPN and ESPN HD this Saturday from 5pm. Subscribe today at www.espn.co.uk/subscribe or call 0844 324 1533.

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  1. A very well written artcile and you have given as balanced an article as possible given the serial type patheticness of how long these decisions have been going on. I have went to many many games over the years and the boundaries of my astonishment were always pushed even further by all the instances you have examplified above.
    Last season’s first half display away at old trashford I watched here on tv and thought we totally outclassed them on their own turf. However, due to the history you have mentioned above it did not take any brain surgeon to know that the inevitable would happen and the skids would be put under us by refereeing dubiousness. We knew it would happen , think the scousers would have been more dismayed at the penalty decision, at least we expected it to happen. It does make me so angry that we can go back so long with all this….so the neutrals cliche of sour grapes would just not hold any ground. Totally expect the same thing to ruin our run this weekend and no doubt Dick Turpin adorned in black will apologise the very next day for his mistake !

  2. I did not realise there was so many recent incidents of refs. favouring United when playing Spurs. I am aware of the Yellow Card trick that benefits United against several other clubs especially Bolton. One or two key players of the opposing side are yellow carded in the first half hour of play. In the closing stages of the match, with United having victory assured, the yellow carding is balanced or nearly so with yellow cards to Man. U. players, sometimes a recently subbed on squaddie is the recipient. Any quick appraisal of the match stastitics indicates a balancing of carding, when in reality the opposing sides best players are handicaped in the key early stage of the contest

  3. solid analysis, backed up by some classic examples of Ref-based robbings.


    You failed to list the (admittedly seemingly slim) number of games where Spurs got the rub of the man in green.

    and, getting the face of the ref is best left to reds of all ilks – its not very becoming of the lilywhites and symptomatic of the game today.

    That doesn’t mean can’t beat, join. That would be a sad day for The Spurs i grew up admiring (im still only 31!).

    Oh, and Respect!

  4. Not forgetting O’Sheas filthy challenge on Mordric in the Carling Cup Final after he had already been booked! Still cant believe how he wasnt sent off!!

  5. It shouldn’t be, but it is the way it is. When we’re playing in front of 50,000+ Spurs’ fans and regularly finishing in the top 4, I won’t be complaining when more decisions go our way.

    I agree that in Manure’s case there seems far too many incidents of this kind, and I think you’re right in wanting Redknapp to strike pre-emptively regarding the officiating of Saturday’s game. However, as you hinted at, the players have a lot of mental questions to answer and to continually play the victim role in all of this will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

    Hopefully Redknapp is the man to balance the players’ mental extremities, i.e. from: ‘We’re winning, we’re the best’ to: ‘We’re losing now, let’s not bother’. Redknapp will hopefully instil a quiet confidence and belief so that the players, no matter what is thrown at them, stay calm and composed.

    Whatever happens in the next two games ahead (Manure and the chavs), the real test will come in how they respond against the five ‘lesser quality’ sides after.

  6. I wonder how many other clubs can tell the same sordid tale of favouritism …. I guess the majority!

    Who remembers John Duncan our underated Scottish forward back in the early 70’s?
    I remember him turning Gordon McQueen inside out right in front of goal one Saturday afternoon at the Lane.In full view of the ref the then,Utd Centre Half,took his legs.In all my many years of following Tottenham it was and still is the most blatent penalty I have ever seen!And guess what the then England’s number 1 ref(to be honest I’ve forgotten his name,can anyone help me out)waved play on.I was perfectly in line with the incident and there is no doubt whatsoever that it was cheating.Remember in those days players did not dive and even if they had of done John Duncan was not that sort of player.
    And this came hot on the heels of a similiar incident,just I think 2 years before,when the legendry Alfie Conn was likewise brought down.

    Both matches were tight and I think in at least one of them it cost us the match.

    As Martin write’s in his article these incidents continue to happen.

    My own feeling is that after the Munich Air Crash there was a hugh wave of publicity and sympathy across the country shown to them and this has carried on to this day at everyone else’s expense!

    It is about time that these year after year incidents were highlighted by the media.But of course who are the Media’s Golden Boys??

    And where is the BBC sports department moving too in 2011 —- MANCHESTER!!

    Enough said!


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