Charles, Feliciano, Bocelli… Clattenburg?
April 10, 2012
— bad calls, blind referees anonymous, dave boyd, Howard Webb, lee mason, mark clattenburg, mike riley, unique twelve step programs
The door to the Well of the Saints opened, allowing those patrons who might be thinking about getting home to the missus to see that the rain was still coming down in sheets. Several sighed, and to the publican’s satisfaction, signaled for another pint. A few muttered about English weather and swapping life in West London for the sunny comforts of Ibiza, or perhaps Tenerife. Pipe dreams, that. Not a one took any notice of the man who entered, shook out his umbrella, and wedged it into an already crowded stand.
That was just as well. At the moment, anonymity was exactly what he craved. Striding to the far end of the bar, he caught the sturdy publican’s eye and ordered a pint of bitter.
“That’ll be three quid fifty, mate,” said the barman, taking the opportunity to size up his new customer as he set the glass down in front of him. “You might want to get out of that mac, boyo. It’s drenched, it is.”
The man downed the pint in one go, slammed the glass down on the bar, and shook his head. “I’m here for the meeting.”
There was an awkward pause, before the barman recovered. “Ah well, in that case, straight to the back, boyo. There’s plenty of pegs in the room.”
“Cheers,” replied the customer, offering a courteous but empty smile as he pulled a tenner from his billfold. “I’ll have another to take with me, if you don’t mind?”
The barman looked at him with an odd measure of sympathy for the briefest instant, then resumed his professional good humour. “Sure an’ why not, mate? Back in a jiff.”
A moment later, having collected his second pint, the customer turned away, failing to notice as his elbow nudged a barmaid’s, causing a full tray to slosh across and down her low-cut top. As she gasped in shock, he blithely began to pick his way through the crowded bar to the hallway in the rear. Incensed, the young lady started to call after him, but was halted by the publican’s meaty hand on her forearm. He whispered something in her ear.
She looked after the departing customer, her expression quizzical. He looked the right build, alright. Tall, handsome, in his mid-thirties but still looking fit. It could be him, she supposed. Uncertain, though,she eyed the barman suspiciously. “Are you havin’ the piss with me, Paddy?”
Paddy shook his head sagely. “No, lass, not in the slightest. They all meet here twice a week.”
“But the hair is wrong,” she persisted.
Paddy made a strange gesture, patting down his own thinning scalp with one hand.
She gasped in disbelief. “No!”
Paddy nodded in the affirmative. “It’s the only way he can be safe in public.”
Looking towards the hall the customer had just entered, pity overcame her. “Poor thing,” she whispered. “Poor, poor thing.”
The customer stopped at the end of the hall. To the left was a door with a mounted placard that read ‘Lasses’. To the right was another, originally designated ‘Laddies’, but now causing some minor confusion due to one of the middle consonants having been mischievously etched away. The man thanked his lucky stars that he had done his business before leaving the ground, thereby eliminating the need to make yet another crucial decision after what could best be termed a bad (although others might say typical) day at the office. Sighing sadly, he turned the knob of the middle door, which was adorned with a sign that warned, ‘Private Meeting in Progress — Do Not Disturb’, and entered.
The room was buzzing with so much activity. There were close to three dozen men inside, all wearing identical garb: black knee-length shorts, matching knee-high socks, and collared three button shirts, also black, with offsetting white strips separating the torso from the sleeves. On every chest was a patch featuring a lion posing regally, one paw atop a football.
Two of the more junior looking men stood alertly to either side of a table holding complimentary tea and pastries. A third man, bordering on heavyset, with the crumbs spilt on the front of his shirt offering evidence as to why, approached the refreshments. Instantly, two arms raised, holding aloft bright orange flourescent flags. A whistle sounded shrilly, and a short, thin man with wisps of light brown hair barely covering his pate, scurried over and scolded the pudgy offender.
“Phil, how many times must I tell you? The budget only allows for one treat per person.”
“Give us a break, Mr High And Mighty Riley,” Phil complained. “Look at me. One crust of bread is hardly going to get me through one of these meetings. You know how they drag on.”
Mike sighed. “Phil, these meetings are necessary, long-winded or not, and you know it. We need to be aware that we’re not alone out on that pitch. Now come on, take a seat, will you? There’s a good lad.”
“No!” Phil rebelled. “I’m not going to be a good lad. Not while there’s still favoritism at these meetings!”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Dowdy, are you going to go on about Howard, again?”
“Bloody right I am! Sergeant Webb of the Yorkshires never comes to these meetings, does he? Not even after that fiasco in Jo’burg. Sir Alex’s pet he is, and Scudamore’s, too. Gets special treatment, he does, and I can’t even have a second bloody scone. What’s the world coming to when a man can’t even get a decent bit o’ food in his gullet, Mikey?
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Mike muttered in exasperation. “I give up! Have another bleedin’ scone. But you see if I produce a fudged report for you next time Fergie questions your fitness!”
Phil broke into a smile. “Thanks, Mikey. You’re the best!” Sneering at the young linesmen guarding the table, he stuffed a scone into his puffy cheeks, then one into each pocket. Finally, he refilled his styrofoam cup and sauntered back towards a bank of chairs set in front of a dais.
Mike shook his head disgustedly, then came over to greet the new man, who during the commotion had taken off his dripping coat, hung it on a peg marked MC, then carefully adjusted his hair so that a modest mohawk rose up in the middle. The uniform underneath matched the others, but was soaked through to the skin.
“Tough night was it, Mark?”
“Afraid so, Mike. Right from the beginning, too. I let Mereiles get away with a shocker, then another nasty tackle, and finally gave him a yellow, when he had actually pulled up in time to avoid contact. Worse, I gave a penalty for Stephen Kelly clipping Salomon Kalou just before the half, when everyone thought it was on Danny Murphy for a two-footed tackle. Lamps buried the spot kick and when I reviewed the play during intermission, it looked like neither player made contact.”
Mike reached up and squeezed the taller man’s shoulder. “Well, it all worked out, didn’t it?”
“I suppose. Dempsey leveled late, but I still made a hash of things.” After a long pause, he added, “Again.”
“Mark, you’re forgetting the first step of the BRA program,” Admit that you are powerless on the pitch, and that, because of the speed of the game and the ever-present television replays, our job has become unmanageable.”
“No Mike, I haven’t forgotten. But you’re retired now. Perhaps, perched up on high, overseeing the rest of us, it’s you who’s forgotten what it’s like,” Looking his chief of officials straight in the eye, Mark continued his lament. “The twelve steps don’t work for us, mate. The only higher powers we can turn to are the FA and the Prem, and they don’t give an effin’ damn when we’re left to twist in the wind of public scorn. Nor can we make a list of people we’ve wronged and make amends. We’re bloody well forbidden to give make-up calls, aren’t we? Christ, I shouldn’t have even told you I reviewed the penalty at the half.”
A sadness appeared in Mike’s eyes. “I wouldn’t rat you out, Mark. It hurts that you’d even think for a minute that I might.”
Mark looked at his boss and, too late, remembered that they’d been colleagues once, brothers in arms. His face tinged red with shame, and he bowed his head. “Sorry, mate,” he mumbled.
“Forget it, Mark. You’ve had a rough night. Slip of the tongue is all it was, not worth dwelling on. And no one will, either. They’ll all be talking about Lee and young David, handing United the title and gifting Chelsea two offside goals. Roberto Martinez has been leaving some nasty texts on my phone, I can tell you.”
“Christ, you’re right, Mike. I’d forgotten about the weekend after my own woes. I heard that David was being stood down.”
“Well, yeah, technically he is. He needs to get out of the spotlight for a bit, so we’re sending him on a ‘refresher course’ for a week, in the Bahamas.”
Mark whistled enviously. “Lucky bugger. How many times have I cocked things up, and you’ve never sent me anywhere?”
Mike shrugged. “It’s a new theory I read in a psychology manual. It’s called positive reinforcement.”
“Yeah?” Mark raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “I hope it works.”
Mike shrugged again. “At this point, I’m willing to try anything, but can we chat later? I’d love to get your input, but I’ve got to get this meeting started. Guest speaker from America, you know. A baseball umpire named Don Denkinger. Blew a whole World Series, the story has it.”
Mark’s eyes lit up and he rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Ooh, that should be good. Let me get a seat!”
Mike smiled as Mark moved off, and turned to look at the refreshment table. It was picked clean, and the two lads guarding it seemed none the wiser. He caught their attention and gestured towards the vanished spread.
“Where’s everything gone?”
The pair looked at the table perplexed. “Dunno, sir. We didn’t see a thing.”
Mike rolled his eyes once more. “Where do we find them all?” he muttered under his breath, then made a mental note to send Dowdy on a different sort of refresher course.
Making his way onto the dais, Mike lifted the gavel from the podium and rapped sharply three times. He had to repeat his effort before conversations were curtailed and all eyes were looking his way.
“Hello, welcome to this evening’s meeting of the BRA,” he said. “My name is Mike, and I’m a blind referee.”
Charles, Feliciano, Bocelli… Clattenburg? by Martin Palazzotto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.