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Fourth official: The managers' punchbag, the chief sportswriter of refereeing . . .

THERE is nothing to beat a bit of steak pie, a sparkling water and watching a Barclays Premier League match on somebody else's telly.

Phil Dowd is having none of Arsene Wenger's complaints. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Phil Dowd is having none of Arsene Wenger's complaints. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Frankly, I swear it is my only vice. Well, that and swearing.

It is big screen, nae noise because one is in a booth far from the madding commentator in a suburban bar. One watches with the sort of focus one once reserved for the opening sequence of Baywatch. I cannot tear my eyes from the screen. Serves me right for leaning forward with a bad bout of conjunctivitis.

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It was Everton v Arsenal last week and it featured four goals, a comeback and the Manager v Fourth Official rumpus one so loves.

It starred Arsene Whinger, who whines more than a pack of huskies after a 500-mile trip pulling the North Tokyo branch of the Federation of Retired Sumo Fighters. His sparring partner was Michael Oliver, who is so young his mum was watching closely for the time added-on for a 5.30pm kick-off lest it meant he could not have his bath before his 9pm bedtime.

Fourth officials are in charge of substitutes' boards, keeping managers in the technical areas and looking at the bottom of footballers' boots with such a determined scrutiny that one suspects a winning lottery ticket is attached to them. They have as much power as an iPhone after it has been running for four minutes and 30 seconds.

The main role for the fourth official is to be a punchbag for aggrieved managers. They are there to take the insults but have, frankly, limited powers over decision making. They are the chief sportswriters of the football world. Managers berate them with such fury it as if the fourth official has not only spent the night with said manager's wife but has also used his toothbrush.

Oliver's cameo last Saturday was frankly brilliant. He can give Arsene about 30 years in age and a lesson in sang-froid. As the Frenchman ranted, one wanted to freeze the screen so that a bubble could be produced to contain the riposte: "Whatever." Or: "You are not the boss of me."

But if Oliver was quietly resilient, almost bored, one waits in hope for a new movie: The Fourth Official Strikes Back. This would consist solely of officials turning on their tormentors with the words they always wanted to say.

One aches for the following exchanges:

Jose Mourinho "I cannot say, other than the referee, must have a priority, that is not coincidental, I think, when we are the little horse, and the bus is parked."

Fourth Official "Listen, Wee Man, if I want crap out of you I will squeeze your head. And you can tell your mental assistant that he may be as angry as a UKIP MEP at an Esperanto conference but he looks as hard as an outtake from the Baked Alaska episode of the Great British Bake-Off.

Steve Bruce "Oi, that was our shy."

Fourth Official "Yeah, but whatever way the decision goes, your face is still like a burst tomato."

Arsene Wenger "That goal was an injustice. Naismith was offside."

Fourth Official "Looks like a wrong decision but how long did it take you to make that oh-so correct call not to play with a striker and instead populate a patch of Liverpool with a group of forwards who are so small they not only seem to be looking for Snow White but actually have to look up to meet the gaze of the pre-school mascots?"

Tony Pulis "Never a penalty."

Fourth Official "You are just about old enough to qualify for a bus pass but are wearing a baseball cap and trackies. Go find a can of lager and a pitbull called Tyson. I am busy here."

Alan Pardew "How could you not see that?"

Fourth Official "Because I had dropped off watching the level of mediocrity you have taken tens of millions to create. And if you are considering placing your hands on me or even contemplating applying napper to napper, I will shove this board with lights so far down your throat that a bout of flatulence will cause you to double for the bingo board at the local Mecca."

Now that would go down well with a bottle of sparkling water and a bit of steak pie. The scene. Not the substitutes' board.

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