The finger will soon be pointed at an umpire

'Greed and envy being perennial springboards for corruption, it's surely significant that umpires and referees are invariably the poorest men on the playing surface'
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The Independent Online

Here's a funny thing. Of all the allegations of match-fixing, which keep surfacing like the Monster from the Blue Lagoon to throttle the reputations of cricketers and footballers previously thought paragons of honesty, none have implicated the man most capable of delivering a result for dodgy bookmakers, namely the umpire or referee.

Here's a funny thing. Of all the allegations of match-fixing, which keep surfacing like the Monster from the Blue Lagoon to throttle the reputations of cricketers and footballers previously thought paragons of honesty, none have implicated the man most capable of delivering a result for dodgy bookmakers, namely the umpire or referee.

It is, I fear, only a matter of time. After all, these guys control the course of a match far more than a Hansie Cronje or Bruce Grobbelaar. And greed and envy being perennial springboards for corruption, it is surely significant that umpires and referees are invariably the poorest men on the playing surface. "Psssst! Five grand in your dressing-room locker if you send off X or give a penalty against Y. After all, Z, that git who keeps slagging you off, earns £50,000 a week and has parked his new Ferrari next to your old Cortina. It's no more than you deserve."

Suspicion of sporting officialdom is nothing new. Try prompting Tommy Smith even now on the subject of the referee who officiated decades ago in Liverpool's 3-0 defeat by Internazionale, a result which overturned a 3-1 win at Anfield. It's not a pretty sight, or sound. Of course, accusations of corruption are often unfair. I have no doubt that 99 per cent of officials are unimpeachably straight. But, mark my words, it won't be long before someone blows the whistle on a referee, or fingers an umpire.

That said, by giving Alec Stewart out lbw for England against Sri Lanka in the worst umpiring decision since I myself was given out caught behind for Southport Trinity against Standish in the South-West Lancashire League on May 19, 1980, not that I bear grudges, umpire Manuel last week offered absolute proof of his integrity. A bent umpire would never have dared be so brazenly wrong. There was clearly nothing more sinister going on than plain incompetence.

All the same, had it not been for the incompetence of the umpiring in Sri Lanka, coupled with the failure of Nasser Hussain's toss-calling, we would probably now find ourselves reflecting on one of those rare weeks containing an England cricket, football and rugby international, in the dazzling light of a creditable draw and two marvellous wins.

Unfortunately, I was not at Villa Park or Twickenham nor did I even watch the victories over Spain and Scotland live on television. On Wednesday I got home just in time to see the footie highlights on ITV, having managed, by hook, crook and eccentric loud humming in the back of a taxi, to avoid hearing the result. I poured myself a stiff drink, persuaded my wife to switch over from Sex and the City, and settled down with excitement and apprehension to watch the curtain rise on the Sven Goran Eriksson era, only for the damn fool of an announcer to chirrup "to Villa Park now on Carlton, where England's new manager makes an impressive start". I was furious. Did he know nothing of that blessed relief when you make it to highlights time still not knowing the result? Or the corresponding frustration when someone has given you a strong inkling? Had he never watched the greatest-ever episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, for heaven's sake?

Still, the ITV highlights provided some pleasures apart from England's performance, not least the contribution of Big Ron Atkinson (who said of Heskey's goal "he's took it beautifully" - proving himself yet again to be the finest exponent of that tense unique to football people, the deeply imperfect). On the whole, though, it is safer to videotape these things, which is how I came to watch Sky's Calcutta Cup coverage at 6.30pm on Saturday, this time with not a clue of the result. I even sat through the build-up, which included Bill Beaumont solemnly opining that it would be a very close thing indeed.

Another erstwhile England forward, Martin Bayfield, had the night before been less inclined to sit on the fence - which was perhaps as well since at 6ft 10in he is twice as high as most fences. I was fortunate enough to attend the Lord's Taverners' enjoyable eve-of-Calcutta Cup dinner at the London Hilton, at which Bayfield and former Scotland star John Beattie were guest speakers. Both were wonderfully fluent and funny, and laced their speeches with just the right amount of vulgarity - lots. Beattie told us that the Scottish Rugby Union, looking to strengthen the national team with even more southern hemisphere talent, has initiated a breeding programme, billeting 1,000 Polynesian girls at Edinburgh University halls of residence and inviting Scottish males aged between 16 and 65 to apply for the necessary task. He applied and was told to get himself to Carlisle. "But I thought they were in Edinburgh," he said. "Aye," said the man from the SRU, "but Carlisle is where the queue starts."

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