Few, bar BSkyB one suspects, hope that the officials play a key role in next Monday’s crunch derby at Eastlands when the 2011/12 Premier League title will surely be decided in favour of either Manchester City or Manchester United. So it is with some suspicion, and no little surprise, that Andre Marriner has been appointed by the Premier League to referee the biggest game of the domestic season to date. The Birmingham-born official is, after all, no stranger to controversy involving Sir Alex Ferguson’s team , as well as others.
Indeed, many supporters will be surprised that Premier League has not entrusted the most highly anticipated game of the season to Howard Webb, given that the 2010 World Cup final official is widely considered a safest pair of hands by the game’s governing bodies. The widespread, yet erroneous, belief that Webb has previously favoured United surely did for the former Policeman’s chances.
Yet, even away from the Yorkshireman, Marriner was not the obvious choice. After all Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Mark Halsey and even Phil Dowd have officiated more Premier League games this season than Marriner.
But Marriner it is, and while the Brummie may now be one of the country’s top officials, his introduction to refereeing came quite by chance. While attending a grass root match as spectator in 1992 Marriner was asked to officiate when the appointed referee failed to show. He was paid £10 for the privilege, so the story goes, and has rarely looked back since.
Marriner rose through the ranks of the football pyramid, achieving Football League referee status in 2000, and being appointed to the select group officiating in the Premier League by 2005 – his first match pitted Wigan Athletic against Fulham at the DW Stadium. By 2009 Marriner was appointed to panel of international referees, taking charge of the under-21 fixture between Norway and Romania in May of that year.
Yet, like many officials Marriner has fallen foul of Ferguson’s ire. The legendary United manager laid into the official after his team’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield in 2009, when Marrier failed to dismiss Jamie Carragher after the Liverpool captain brought down Michael Owen. Carragher was Liverpool’s last defender and few observers believed the foul did anything bar deny a goal scoring opportunity.
Worse for United, Marriner also sent off Nemanja Vidic for two cautionable offences, with Ferguson accusing Marriner of bowing to a hostile Anfield crowd.
“It is very difficult atmosphere here,” mooted Ferguson in the game’s wake.
“There was a wounded animal aspect to the game and it was something we did not overcome. I think it affected our players and it affected the referee.
“There were so many controversial things that happened we have to feel aggrieved at some of them. The Vidic booking was the worst decision. It is a foul, fine. But the player has played on, he won the second ball and knocked it for a throw in and got booked.
“The most controversial decision was Carragher bringing down Michael Owen. He was clear through. The laws of the game were altered to prevent professional fouls of that nature and if Carragher goes off, he is their best player and their captain. It would have been a different game. They would have been under pressure. Michael was clean through.”
More controversial still was Marriner’s pivotal involvement in the Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra affair at Anfield last October, when the official took no action despite the Frenchman pointing the finger at his Uruguayan abuser. Indeed, far from taking charge, Marriner simply told Evra to “calm down” after the defender accused Suarez of calling him a “negro.”
Further evidence of Marriner’s inconsistency came a year later in the Brummie’s career, when the official took no action against Steven Gerrard’s two fingered salute. The teflon-coated Liverpool captain not only unfurled the obscene gesture in the referee’s direction, but uttered a series of expletives. Gerard had been booked for scything down a Wigan player in the 2010 Anfield encounter at the DW, but received no punishment for the verbals.
This season Marriner was dropped by the Premier League after allowing a controversial Blackburn Rovers goal to stand in the November 2011 fixture with Wigan. Latics’ manager Roberto Martinez was incensed after Blackburn winger Morten Gamst Pederson dribbled a corner into the box and set up Junior Hoilet to score, even though no player bar the Norwegian had actually touched the ball before the goalscoring strike.
Martinez received an official apology from referees’ chief Mike Riley, and Marriner was dropped for one round of Premier League matches.
“Obviously, it is a very difficult action to explain. It is not something that you are going to see on a football pitch too often and I saw it as very careless at that moment. It is probably one of the few aspects where refereeing in a game is black and white, with no grey areas. You have to deal with it with a little bit more care,” said a dignified Martinez afterwards.
Yet the incident, alongside others, paints a picture of an official who has made mistakes like any other, but can also be impressionable and weak; an official who is not always in control. It is with hope, rather than expectation, that fans are not discussing the official after next Monday’s game.
Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham)
Assistants: A Watts, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Jones
Match Delegate: T Dolan
PGMO: J Worrall
Andre Marriner’s Career[table id=17 /]
Referees 2011/12[table id=18 /]