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Andre Marriner: if refs want the big money, they must pay the price

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Andre Marriner sends off Kieran Gibbs for an offence committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Picture: Reuters
Andre Marriner sends off Kieran Gibbs for an offence committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Picture: Reuters

There was more than a sense of deja vu about Andre Marriner's Rubicon moment at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. By sending off Kieran Gibbs instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for handball, only for the latter to inform the referee that he was the guilty party, Marriner managed to get three decisions wrong in one: the ball was going wide and should not have been a sending off, it was not Gibbs who handled and, even then, Oxlade-Chamberlain gave the official a chance to redeem himself.

Forget insinuations of casual racism, this was simply the latest in a succession of howlers by Marriner and while he hasn't made a habit of sending off the wrong players he has been a serial offender when it comes to getting decisions spectacularly wrong. Saturday's aberration might just have been the worst but certainly wasn't the most damaging.

One only needs to return to October for evidence of Marriner's hapless propensity for the egregious having a far more troubling effect. A month after defeating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford, Steve Clarke was on the brink of guiding his West Bromwich Albion side to a same scoreline win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge when Marriner adjudged that Steven Reid had clipped the Brazilian midfielder Ramires in the area. Replays showed zero contact and Chelsea successfully converted the spot kick to earn a point in the 94th minute.

Less than a month later, Clarke paid for poor form with his job. In the aftermath of that game, the general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, Mike Riley, came to Marriner's defence. "I understand why Andre gave it," he said. "He thinks he sees Ramires getting in front of Reid, catching his back leg and making him off-balance without playing the ball so it's a penalty." He then hinted that it was the player's fault for giving the referee a decision to make: "The truth is only Ramires truly knows."

There is a degree of sympathy for football referees in this. There is huge pressure on them to arrive at the correct decision and they are not helped by FIFA's stubborness over how the task can be made easier.

Nine days ago at the Millennium Stadium, rugby referee Jerome Garces was able to consult the big screen to establish that Stuart Hogg had to be dismissed for his reckless tackle on Dan Biggar, allowing him to overrule his incorrect decision to award a yellow card to the full-back.

Yet, since FIFA are committed to a policy which seeks to curtail the use of cameras - notwithstanding the softening of the stance over goalline technology - the governing body has resisted calls to extend the use of replays to other decisions.

Nevertheless, all professional sport demands that referees should be of the highest possible standard - and that they reach the correct decisions - otherwise spectators, players and managers arrive at the conclusion that the individuals in question are inept.

There is a body of evidence which makes it easier to level this accusation at Marriner. The West Brom and Arsenal examples aside, he has been guilty of some of the more high-profile bloopers in recent times. Last season, he denied Reading three points in their home match against Newcastle when he allowed Demba Ba's 83rd-minute effort to stand despite the striker clearly directing the ball into the net with his hand. In 2011, he allowed Morten Gamst Pedersen to take a corner to himself, before the Norwegian dribbled into the area and teed up Junior Hoilett to score.

Marriner is not alone. There have been serial mistakes this season by such as Jon Moss, Michael Oliver and Mike Jones but the intransigence shown by Riley's organisation and the closing of ranks when officials are in the spotlight does little to enhance the Football Association's Respect campaign. Indeed, it gives the impression that officials expect respect to be a one-way street.

There is a sense that referees have become part of the big show, contaminated by the fame and trappings of the game. Howard Webb, generally perceived to the best the Premier League has to offer, earns an average annual salary of £120,000 but recently he was advised by Mark Halsey to concentrate on his refereeing rather than his after-dinner speaking from which he was commanding £4000 a time.

While the figures earned by Webb are far removed from the wages commanded by the top players in the game, they are still far in excess of the money pocketed by the man in the street and speak to how refereeing has become a cottage industry. The old adage that the best referees are conspicuous by their absence no longer holds.

Mark Clattenburg has a personalised number plate C19TTS (Clatts), a series of flash cars and a swagger that gives the impression he is bigger than the game itself.

Referees are well rewarded for their contribution to the spectacle of Premier League football, mistakes and all - just as managers and players are. But there is a significant difference - the latter usually pay for those errors with their jobs.

"I can't see that would do a referee any good. I can't see it would do Andre any good," said Dermot Gallagher on BBC Radio yesterday when asked whether Marriner should be stood down for the rest of the season. "You've got one of the leading referees in not only England but in Europe, and you're going to stand him down? That doesn't do the Premier League any good because he is a top top-flight referee - he's made one mistake and his confidence would be shattered if that happened. I can't see that would do him any good whatsoever."

He should try telling that to Steve Clarke, who is still looking for a job three months on from his sacking.

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