Former referee Ray Tinkler has been venerated by generations of match officials in this country and further afield ever since his one moment of real fame, way back on 17th April 1971. On that spring afternoon, the man from Boston, Lincs managed with one crass decision to rob Leeds United of not just one but two Football League titles, thereby elevating himself to demigod status with the powers that be in English football. The missed offside call which allowed West Brom to score a decisive second that day made the difference at the end of the season, costing United the title by one point. Further, the resulting crowd invasion of the pitch (And Leeds will go mad! And they’ve every right to go mad!! – BBC Commentator Barry Davies) saw Elland Road closed for the first few home league games of the following season; the points dropped in playing those fixtures elsewhere saw Leeds condemned to second place behind Derby instead of comfortably Champions as they otherwise certainly would have been.
In a country where Leeds have been at odds with the football establishment for over half a century, Tinkler’s little moment in the limelight is quite enough to see his name worshiped by modern-day officials who can only dream, under the all-seeing eye of today’s blanket TV coverage, of making a similarly blatant “mistake” to the disadvantage of the Damned United. It’s a deep, dark secret – but there is a highly-movable feast known as “St Tinkler’s Day” which is there to be celebrated by any ref who does get the chance to drop a real clanger that will cost the Whites precious points. Generally speaking, it’s been foreign refs who have most famously “done a Tinkler” – the European Finals of 1973 and 1975 are testimony to this – but the chance will still be grasped eagerly to this day, if there is the least possibility of getting away with it. What other explanation can there be, after all, for the kind of glaring mess-up made by Scott Mathieson in the Blackpool v United match on Boxing Day?
With the score at 1-1, the game was finely poised going into the last twenty minutes or so. Lee Peltier had given United a first half lead with a terrific far-post header, only for the Tangerines to equalise somewhat fortuitously, Ince’s shot being deflected away from Paddy Kenny’s reach by the attempted clearance of Marius Zaliukas.
Shortly after this, Leeds’ lethal striker Ross McCormack received a ball outside the area and turned brilliantly to leave a path clear through on goal. Defender Kirk Broadfoot has little choice but to haul the Scot back just outside the 18 yard box. It was clearly not a penalty, but – with Broadfoot undeniably the last man – it was just as clearly a red-card offence. Everyone could see it, Broadfoot himself seemed resigned to it. And this is where Mathieson saw his golden chance to do a Tinkler. With the air of a man who was thinking “I’ll be famous for this”, he produced and brandished a mere yellow, to the amazed delight of Broadfoot and the outraged horror of everyone in the United camp. The free-kick came to nothing, and the game was destined to be a draw. Maybe United would have overcome ten men, and maybe they wouldn’t – but referee Scott Mathieson, establishment man and Tinkler protege, had done his bit to deny them.
This was not a marginal decision, nor was it at all difficult to get right. Mathieson’s weak excuse afterwards was that he didn’t think McCormack had the ball under control. This opens a whole new can of worms, as Ross was being fouled and yet still looked favourite to score – but the warped logic of Mathieson’s position seems to be: Defenders! Make sure your man is incapable of proceeding on goal by whatever foul means possible – just make sure he can’t control the ball, and you won’t be dismissed! Utter rubbish of course, but a man has to try and justify his Tinkler Tribute by any means possible.
Leeds emerge from the Blackpool game frustrated but with the knowledge of a job well done. They looked the likelier throughout, and had the game tactically in their grasp from the word go. An unlucky deflection and a truly woeful refereeing performance stood between United and a deserved victory. Broadfoot was ironically dismissed in the last few minutes; a straight red for an awful tackle on Marius Zaliukas. That’s the second time in two games that an opposition player has seen red when faced with the mighty Marius – it seems we have a good’un there, and we’ll just have to hope he remains in one piece.
Onwards to Forest now, and here’s hoping that Leeds can perform just as resolutely as they did at Bloomfield Road. We’ll have to trust to luck as well, and make a wish that whoever the ref is at the City Ground, he’s not looking for a chance to pay his own tribute to refs’ patron saint Ray Tinkler.