Tag Archives: Howard Webb

‘Grateful’ Man United to Unveil Statues of Rupert Murdoch and Howard Webb – by Rob Atkinson

Theatre of Hollow Myths - due a name change?

Theatre of Hollow Myths – due a name change?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything can exclusively reveal that Man Utd – the former football club now known throughout the observable cosmos as The Pride of Devon – are to show their appreciation of two massively important figures in their recent history, by erecting statues in their honour.

The legends concerned are Aussie media tycoon Rupert Murdoch – who single-handedly ended Man U’s 26 year title drought by buying the game for them in 1992 – and former referee Howard Webb, who still holds the all-time club record for career assists, beating even Ryan Giggs and Mike Riley into second and third positions. Mr Webb is now the technical director of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, where he will be able to continue in the service of Man U, ensuring that the “right” referees are selected for their fixtures.

A Theatre of Hollow Myths insider, speaking on a lobby basis to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything, confirmed that the two statues have been commissioned in recognition of the club’s immense gratitude for the contribution of these two individuals towards their unprecedented and frankly suspicious level of success. The identity of our source cannot be revealed, but we are able to confirm that he has an elder brother, a centre-half for the best team around, who won a World Cup winner’s medal for England in 1966, and that he himself is now mainly occupied in the “unofficial match ticket supply chain”, going under the nom de guerre of “Ticketmaster“. His anonymity guaranteed, he was able to give us full details of the nature and locations of the planned statues.

The first surprise is that the statuary tributes will not be a feature of the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself. “We thought that might be overkill,” our source told us, flicking nervously at his comb-over, “After all, we already have a statue to Alex Ferguson, and various tastefully-sponsored reminders of the Munich Air Disaster. Alex himself was none too pleased about the possibility of “yet anither piece o’ mairble clutterin’ up ma groond”, so we’ve had to move to reassure him that the new statues will be located elsewhere. And, to be fair, they were likely to be just too big for the space available. The Murdoch statue in particular would have been the biggest erection in Manchester within living memory.”

So, we asked, Alex was happy – as long as the statues weren’t actually outside the ground, then? “I wouldn’t say happy, exactly,” our man admitted. “He doesn’t really do happy – but he has calmed down a lot since we told him we’re planning to name the whole stadium after him. He was quite pleased about that, I think.” Startled by a second big and exclusive piece of surprise information, we indicated that this was news to us, and doubtless would be to many armchair-bound gloryhunters throughout the world. “Yes, it’s been kept under wraps,” conceded “Ticketmaster“, “but we think it time to make a lasting tribute especially to S’ralex. The change of name from Old Trafford to Old Pillock will therefore be registered in time for the start of next season.”

Finally, then – where will the new statues be – ahem – erected? It turns out that this has been the subject of heated debate within the club, who are ever conscious of their need to maximise merchandising income involve their loyal and faithful Sky TV subscribers throughout the country and beyond. “In the end, it came down to the two real hotbeds of support – so we’ve decided to apply the Wisdom of Solomon – and give one statue to Paignton and the other to Milton Keynes.” Sir Bobby Our source nodded, contentedly. “We feel that this is an equitable solution.”

Sir Bobby “Ticketmaster” Charlton is 103.

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Chelsea Defeat Best Proof That Man U Miss the Fergie Fear Factor – by Rob Atkinson

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S’ralex in happier times

This year, just as in the past two seasons – but for a vastly different reason – the Chelsea v Man U fixture has provided a litmus indication of the influence Alex Ferguson has held over the game of football in England since the inception of the FA Premier League in 1992.  In the previous two meetings between the two clubs at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson was still very much in charge of Man U – and it showed.  This season’s clash found the Pride of Devon under new management – and, boy, did that ever show too.

Two years ago, it may be recalled, the game followed a pattern very similar to Sunday’s clash – up to a point.  Chelsea established a three-goal lead by early in the second half on both occasions, but from then on the games followed very different paths.  Back in February 2012, the brooding presence of Ferguson in the Man U dugout, together with the co-operative Howard Webb on the field, saw two penalties awarded to the away side as they swiftly reduced the arrears to a single goal.  By that point, Chelsea were reeling, their confidence shot through, and it was clearly only a matter of time before an equalising goal.  When it came, in the 85th minute, the build-up told its own damning tale.  The sight of a demoralised Chelsea defender, attempting to close down a left-wing cross as he backed away, hands studiously behind his back, clearly convinced that a third penalty would be awarded if the ball could be struck against any part of his arms, was symptomatic of a refereeing culture dominated by fear of what Fergie might do or say if his side were defeated.  It was like watching a boxer trying to avoid a knockout blow with his guard held down, a pitiful sight.  In the event, two dropped points meant the title would end up with Manchester City – but Howard Webb had done his bit, as he did so often for the benefit of Man U.

Last year’s game between these two at Stamford Bridge was even more indicative of where the power really resided.  This time, Man U had raced to an early two-goal lead and it appeared that no undue interference with events would be needed.  But two goals from Chelsea in four minutes either side of the interval restored parity – and suddenly the establishment’s favoured team were in danger of losing a game they had looked to have comfortably under control – and what would S’ralex say then, pray?

That thought was plainly too horrible to contemplate for the referee, Mark Clattenburg on this occasion.  His sending-off of Ivanovic for a foul on Young was reasonably clear-cut – but then Clattenburg made two decisions which demonstrated the influence of the Ferguson Fear Factor.  Firstly, an already-booked Torres was clear and racing through on goal when he went down under challenge from Jonny Evans.  If the foul were to be given, then Evans would have to go for a professional foul, and it would be ten-a-side.  Clearly, that would not do – so Clattenburg brilliantly decided that Torres had dived, issued him a second yellow and made the contest 9 v 11.  To cap a tremendously influential performance, he then allowed the clearly offside winner for Hernandez after 75 minutes, and Man U saw the game out against their demoralised opponents to bank the three points.

Both of these games stand as damning evidence of what former referee Graham Poll admitted recently – that when officiating in a Man U game, it was always a relief to get the match over with, ideally with Man U winning – and certainly NOT having made any crucial calls against them, for fear of what Ferguson might say or do in retaliation.  But for this year’s game, there was no Ferguson in the dugout – and the performance of the referee seemed suddenly free of those perceived pressures of the Fergie years.

It’s not as though Man U didn’t try to apply such pressure.  There were concerted efforts by their bench, with Moyes to the fore in his Fergie-Lite guise, to get David Luiz sent off instead of merely booked – to no avail.  Penalty shouts – an ever-present feature of any Man U game – likewise went unheeded, despite the presence of the usual diving suspects.  Chelsea, having eased into a three-goal lead despite a well below-par performance, never looked seriously troubled.  In contrast to the two previous years, they never seemed to have the slightest fear that the game might suddenly turn against them.  The referee even went so far as to dismiss Vidic and book Rafael for ugly challenges – decisions he probably got the wrong way around.

The late-ish Man U goal might have heralded a late onslaught in previous years, with the winning side suddenly assailed by fear and insecurity – but that was when Fergie was on the bench.  Now, with the impotent tyrant up in the stands, shaking his head glumly, there was no sign that the consolation goal would be anything but exactly that.  Man U had been beaten, despite early dominance of possession, despite a lacklustre showing by Chelsea.  It was their seventh defeat of the season, leaving them 14 points behind the leaders – or, more relevantly, a possible 7 points off Champions League qualification.  Tellingly, people have even begun to speculate as to their main rivals for a Europa League place.

It’s a new and unwelcome landscape for the ailing champions, and a lot of people are beginning to wake up to what all of this says, not only about their immediate prospects, but also of their record over the past twenty years, and to what degree that has been skewed by the ever more apparently crucial Fergie Fear Factor.  Thirteen titles in twenty years – how many would they have won without the dubious methods employed by the Govan Gob?  A virtually identical squad to last season’s runaway winners is now being revealed as the ordinary group that it is.  The myth of Man U is being ruthlessly exposed – and while nobody could argue that this is good for them, or for their globally spread cadre of fans, including the tiny minority that actually attend matches – it surely has to be good for the game that such an evidently dominant force for the swaying of authority and the warping of results has now departed the scene.

It would seem likely that history may not take quite such a rosy view of the Ferguson legacy as he would perhaps like – and the ironic fact is that this could perhaps come about not because of results under his leadership, but in the light of the pallid performance of virtually the same team, newly deprived of the advantages bestowed by the malign influence of S’ralex.  If that turns out to be the case, then we may all be taking a somewhat more realistic view of those so-called Ferguson Glory Years.

Man U’s “Olympic Diving Trio” Fail to Deny Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

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That Moyes half-time team talk in full

It seemed as though the selection of referee for today’s Man U v Spurs match at the Theatre of Hollow Myths was spot on and just right for the job in hand.  Howard Webb is a man who has proved time and time again that he’s one referee who knows exactly how to deal with the acknowledged divers of the best Man U tradition. Howard does not shirk his responsibility, Howard acts decisively. Howard doesn’t even hesitate; he gets the whistle to the lips and blows shrilly for the statutory penalty.  We’ve seen it repeatedly down the years.  The man is Mr Consistent, and his collection of Premier League title winners medals have been due reward for this.

But clearly, something went badly wrong today.  A goal down at half time, and needing their main man on form in the second half, Man U increased their divers complement, using all three specialists at the club with Ashley Young joining Welbeck and the promising young triple-salko expert Januzaj.  Between them, these three gave Webb every opportunity to award penalties, with brilliant build-up play leading to immaculate finishes, landing on the face in the box in the approved fashion. Webb, though, appeared to have forgotten his lines completely, refusing to give even one penalty and actually booking the latest “New George Best”! His performance was disgraceful, and he is expected to be carpeted at Carrington later this week. On this performance, Webb’s place in Moyes’ matchday squad must be in doubt.

Looking at the displays of the three-man dive squad against Spurs, any and all of them could have had success on the day were it not for the official deciding to come over all impartial, in blatant breach of the standard contract.  Let’s take Danny Welbeck first:

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Welbeck’s matchday scorecard

Danny tried hard, but possibly a little too hard.  One of the tabloids, the Metro, has chosen to be a little treacherous and highlight one of the lad’s less subtle dives – and oh dear, it does look bad (see here). Overall, not one of Danny’s better displays. But, at the risk of straying into irrelevant areas, at least he scored.

Moving on, let’s check out the promising young Adnan Januzaj’s form:

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The Januzaj scores.

Young Adnan again is a trier and he shows real potential.  The fact is though that he’s been booked at least twice now, for “simulation” as they prefer to call it these days (cheating is such a nasty word). This may indicate that he’s perhaps not yet a true Man U class diver.  It’s a part of his game he’ll obviously be encouraged to work on – Moyes is on record as saying he’ll be having a chat with the lad, and there are good, solid examples of effective diving already at the club, from whom he can learn a great deal.  But for the moment, he’s flattering to deceive, and there are even suggestions that the blatant nature of some of his “precipitate descents to ground level” are threatening to blow the gaff on the very fabric of the club’s entire diving policy. This is something that should put all concerned on notice; the quality of diving needs to be addressed just as much as does the inexplicable form of the normally-reliable Webb.

Last, but by no means least, we have Man U’s main diver, usually benched until his particular gifts are needed – the one and only Ashley “Nautilus” Young:

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Ashley’s impeccable style and artistic interpretation

If there is one man who should shoulder no blame whatsoever for today’s defeat, it’s that man Young.  Always available to come on when required, his single-minded approach warms the hearts of every fan from Torquay to Milton Keynes and back again.  Such dedication deserves some reward; on days like this, Ashley could be forgiven for thinking he might as well go back to playing football.  But such a devoted practitioner of his art will not long be cast down.  You can guarantee that Ashley will be back, arms and legs akimbo, nose ploughing a furrow inside the eighteen yard box and that lovely, fluid motion as the dive turns seamlessly into a loudly-squealed appeal to the normally willing ref.  Looking at today’s match, Moyes was livid that one dive of utter quality didn’t result in a penalty. Unlucky, Ashley – don’t give up.

As for the rest of the match – Spurs even had the cheek to claim a penalty of their own.  But goals either side of half-time, both inexplicably allowed, were enough in the end to see them take the three points.  Sadly, it will have been an uncomfortable journey back south for the bulk of the Man U support, having to share trains with gloating Spurs fans.  It’s at times like these that the mettle of such faithful and dedicated gloryhunters is truly put to the test.

These are worrying times though for Man U.  Spurs have been nothing special this term, and the fact that they have been able to face Man U’s triple threat and not concede even ONE penalty is a matter of grave concern.  Some MPs in Home Counties constituencies are being asked to table questions in the House.  It’s that serious.  The problem, clearly, is with Webb – and you’d almost wonder on today’s performance if someone’s got at him? The Premier League Referee’s Panel, perhaps – though they’re normally very good at keeping their nose out of Man U’s private affairs.  Whatever has happened, something has to be sorted out, and soon – or it will be hard to see how personnel changes are to be avoided.  Several younger refs have put in promising performances for Man U lately, one even pulling a muscle in his eagerness to point to the spot.  It may even be time to think the unthinkable and act to replace Howard – even though there’s little doubt that he will go down as one of the true greats in the club’s history.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Webb is summoned to meet an irate David Moyes in the next few days. He’s likely to have to do some hard, fast talking to have any hope of retaining his squad number, and even then it’s likely that beady eyes will be watching him from the stand.  Yes, even his old mentor S’ralex is rumoured to be bitterly disappointed with Webb’s lamentable display today.  Things are getting serious – for sound marketing reasons, Man U simply must finish in the top four at the very, very least.  So could we really be about to see the end of a glorious Man U career?  The next few days way well decide that.