Fergie, Wigan and Referees


“We’re going to play the 12 men.” So said my friend Edward on Boxing Day of 2011 when Latics were due to play a league match at Old Trafford. He recounted the many controversial refereeing decisions that had gone in United’s favour aganst Wigan over the years.This match was to end as any kind of contest after Conor Sammon was sent off after 40 minutes, with Wigan 1-0 down.

The ESPN Soccernet match report later in the day stated that “There is no doubt Sammon’s arm did end up in Carrick’s face, offering referee Phil Dowd the opportunity to send him off. However, it did appear the Wigan man was attempting to use it as a barrier to shield a bouncing ball from his opponent.There was no malice, and very little force, behind the action and Latics chief Roberto Martinez was not on his own in believing his side had been harshly treated.And, as good sides do, United quickly exploited the situation.”

My friend was angry, but not surprised, at the sending off. United did exploit the situation, beating a demoralised Latics 5-0.

Last night the tables were turned and Manchester United had a man sent off against Real Madrid. The Spanish team duly exploited the situation and knocked United out of the Champions League. Reports suggest that Ferguson was so distraught that he did not attend the after match press conference, sending his assistant in his stead.

There will be debate for years to come as to whether Nani’s high kick in the chest of his opponent merited a red card. The cynic might say that an English referee would not have had the bravery to give the red card, even if he believed it to be appropriate. Foreign referees are not intimidated in the same way by Ferguson and United’s huge home support.

I have not been in touch with my friend, Edward, for a while. He has a long list of those refereeing decisions that have plagued Wigan in their meetings against the Red Devils. He has some legal training and if asked what he thought about Nani’s red card he might change the context. For example, if it were a Man U-Wigan match and a Latics player did the same as Nani – what would have happened?

Most Wiganers will feel sad that another English team has been knocked out of the UCL. By the middle of next week the Premier League will almost certainly have no representation in the last eight of the competition. Ferguson tends to polarise public opinion. Love him or loathe him, he continues to behave in the same way as he has done for years.

I don’t remember Roberto Martinez failing to attend a post match press conference. His Wigan teams have been so unjustly treated by referees for so long, particularly highlighted when they have played the Red Devils. If Ferguson were to take over at Wigan – most unlikely of course – would referees look more kindly on the Latics? Would he be muzzled to the same degree that Martinez has been?

Maybe Ferguson was right not to attend the press conference, where he might have said things that could get him into trouble with UEFA. However, I find it hard to imagine Roberto Martinez backing out in a similar situation.

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