Chelsea and Manchester United have lost a true pal in referee Mark Halsey
FORMER Premier League referee Mark Halsey is selling his life story in the Sun and a book, and working as a rules pundit on BT Sport. Given that refs are routinely called biased and some countries have had issues with officials being bribed, Halsey comes across as bit of a berk. If he had a personal relationship with Chelsea manager Joe Mourinho, as he said, did the manager pick players the ref admires or wants to meet? Will jokes that if “Halsey stays fit United can go the season unbeaten” be rooted in something more sinister than rival fans’ bitterness at a perceived injustice? If there is one thing we at Anorak dislike and distrust more than the official who brings you to book it is the official who wants to be your pal. Matt Dickinson is unimpressed with Halsey, writing in the Times:
It started, as perhaps these things do, with an innocent cup of tea some years ago. Mark Halsey arrived early at Stamford Bridge to officiate at a Chelsea game. José Mourinho invited him in for a chat. A few months later it had developed to full-blown hugging, with Mourinho embracing Halsey after the Community Shield. Halsey delighted in that squeeze and the whispered post-match compliment in his ear. …When Halsey’s wife, Michelle, was found to have myeloid leukaemia, the Portuguese paid out of his own pocket for Halsey and his family to stay at a five-star hotel in the Algarve. “Obviously,” Halsey said, “I wouldn’t have gone if he’d still been at Chelsea. But what can you say? He’s been an absolute inspiration.” How touching. Only a cynic could look at such a close friendship and think it brought into question both men’s professional judgment. Only a nasty sceptic could doubt a referee who thinks it appropriate to accept thousands of pounds’ worth of gifts.
Dickinson might be both. Or neither:
As for setting up a conflict of interest? Perish the thought. Halsey insisted that enjoying frequent hospitality from Mourinho while recovering from his own lymphoma did not place him in a difficult position even if their professional paths crossed. “Certain people might think it’s an issue but, for me, no,” Halsey told one interviewer. “José knows that when I cross that white line, I referee a football match fairly between two teams.” All of this, and more, is being retold in Halsey’s autobiography, Added Time, which is being serialised to reactions of alarm and disbelief.
“I may have spoken to him a lot and shared texts, but he knew when I crossed that white line there were no favours.”
And that wasn’t all:
The ex-official claims that he asked the Scot to defend Clattenburg over allegations that Mikel had been called “a monkey” in the October 28 fixture. Speaking in his book Added Time, Halsey said: “I took matters in my own hands and rang Sir Alex asking him to speak out. “He agreed and used his Friday press conference to say he could not conceive of Mark saying such things. It helped the situation a great deal.”
Short of examining every match he officiated, we will have to take Halsey’s word for that. However, we would much rather not be left wondering. Criticising referees is not something anyone should rush to do. Their job is thankless without the rest of us making life harder. Yet hard questions are bound to be asked in the light of Halsey’s book and its alarmingly blasé revelations. It has spread paranoia. It has made fans wonder how a leading referee can be so lacking in judgement. It has made fans of smaller clubs wonder afresh if the top sides benefit from power and influence.
Other refs have basked in the limelight:
Before Halsey, we had Graham Poll revealing in Seeing Red how he once begged Zinédine Zidane for his shirt DURING a Champions League tie, asking the maestro: “Am I good yet?” We had Jeff Winter in Who’s the B****** in the Black? telling how he added time to his last game at Anfield so that he could savour the occasion before his final whistle. When the Kop applauds a 4-0 home victory, Winter asks: “Did they know it was my final visit? Was the applause for me?” Halsey’s book joins this inglorious genre, the “referee memoir”, notable only for its staggering self-delusion. The more we read of Added Time, the less we want to know. He tells us that he stopped one half of a United game early because he was bursting for a number two.
What was the score in the game? Were United and not only Halsey’s innards under pressure? Dickinson says Halsey is “needy”. But maybe he’s just a fan who wanted to get close to the action?
One thing is certain though: Halsey had best get his views in quick. With new goalline technology, it will be remarkable how little we need to hear from him.