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Premier League referee’s stark Liverpool testimony exposes truth about penalty controversy.

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Premier League referee’s stark Liverpool testimony exposes truth about penalty controversy.

The 2007 Goodison derby saw two red cards and two penalties dished out, and there could have been more.

Add to that a droll own goal by Sami Hyypiä, Phil Neville making a diving save and Steven Gerrard bizarrely getting hooked for Lucas with the scores still level, and it held all the ingredients of a classic.

Mark Clattenburg was at the centre of the scene. Having sent off two Everton players and waved away two penalty appeals against Liverpool, it’s fair to say that his reputation took a hit with the blue half of Merseyside.

Almost 15 years on, the referee has opened up about the fixture.

Speaking on Jamie Carragher’s Greatest Game podcast, he cleared up a number of lingering issues about the match.

It’s worth starting by giving his account of the first Everton red card: what particularly enraged the Blues was the obvious decision to upgrade a yellow to a red after protestations from Gerrard.

The original decision was clearly correct: even under today’s rules preventing triple punishment, it is hard to make the case that Tony Hibbert was making a genuine effort on the ball as Liverpool’s captain broke into the box.

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However, how the call was made seemed suspect. According to Clattenburg, though, there is an innocent explanation:

“I pulled the yellow card out to put the name and number on, and I had Martin Atkinson, who was the fourth official, in my ear going ‘it’s red, it’s red’, and I said ‘I know it’s red’.”

So that’s the first occurrence (sort of) dealt with. Dirk Kuyt dispatched the ensuing spot-kick, canceling out Hyypiä’s explicit finish at the wrong end.

Liverpool then took the lead in added time through another penalty — this one was less controversial, albeit no less amusing.

Lucas, who Rafael Benitez had brought on for Gerrard to the bafflement of players and supporters alike, struck a great effort at goal. With Tim Howard beaten, Neville made genuinely remarkable diving save to keep the ball out. Kuyt stepped up again, putting another penalty away.

It’s Clattenburg’s comments on not awarding Everton an even later penalty, however, are interesting.

Carragher was marking Joleon Lescott as a set piece was floated in, seemingly pulling his fellow defender to the ground. It’s one which falls firmly into the ‘seen them given’ category, though it would have been soft. Looking back on the incident, Clattenburg said this:

“When I was a young referee in the Premier League, I didn’t understand balance. If I’d seen it… the easiest decision was to blow for a penalty. Why? I would have come out [of] the game with a little bit less criticism.”

Somehow, it is striking to hear a referee claim that he would have made a decision guided by the wish to avoid criticism.

Thinking about it more intensely, though, it makes a fair amount of sense. In the legal world, there is a principle that governing bodies must avoid prejudice or the appearance of bias: giving two penalties and red cards against Everton and then turning down a likely penalty claim against Liverpool certainly falls into the appearance of bias category.

Thus, arguably, even if the Carragher event was no more than standard jostling from a set piece, it would still have been the right thing to award the penalty given the setting of the game. This is the basis of Clattenburg’s point.

The implication that coming to the technically correct decision is not always paramount has huge implications. For one thing, it undercuts the whole principle on which VAR is currently built.

The use of technology discourages the use of common sense: if replays can definitively prove something like an offside or a handball, it becomes much harder for officials to disregard this evidence in favor of the less tangible spirit of the rules.

This fugitive spirit cannot be captured through introducing further rules, like ‘thicker lines’ or ‘daylight’. It’s an inevitable consequence of using the technology — which is why arguments that pin everything on the application of the VAR as opposed to its very nature ultimately don’t hold water.

There’s no way of knowing if Clattenburg speaks for all referees when he says that an experienced official would have awarded Everton the late penalty as the ‘easier’ decision.

But it is very probable to think that this is standard refereeing practice: in a world of VAR that peels away context from decisions, common sense game management might soon be a lost art.

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Premier League referee’s stark Liverpool testimony exposes truth about penalty controversy.

Premier League referee’s stark Liverpool testimony exposes truth about penalty controversy.

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