Yesterday evening, as Manchester City lost in the Europa League Round of Sixteen, I saw something I never expected I would ever see at a football match. I can only assume, due to the kick off being at the unusually early time of 6pm, that the man I witnessed eating soup at half time hadn’t had time to get home from work and eat something. So he had it at half time, instead. Since taking over the catering at Eastlands, Marco Pierre White has got a lot to answer for. Including the very latest chant of “Who ate all the Salmon Goujons with Wholemeal Crumb Coating, Sauté Potatoes and Fresh Garden Peas?”
I might have made that up.
But, while we’re talking about chants, it was nice to hear City’s latest adopted chant get another airing last night. Not only has it become a regular thing, taken on this season, but it’s starting to catch on, too, which is nice. I am, of course, being sarcastic about our new favourite song of “you’re not fit to referee.” Though that doesn’t quite push my sarcasm buttons as far in as “you’re worse than Clattenburg”, but that’s only ever wheeled out every other week, these days.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I do think that the referee from last night’s Europa League exit wasn’t great, but moaning about every decision given against City in every game and then singing one of the aforementioned songs is starting to get tiresome. There’s no agenda against City; there’s just some occasional instances of incompetence. Some weeks you’d think we’d lost.
And, having watched a fair few games from other leagues this season, I can say with some degree of confidence that, on a regular basis, we’re blessed with some of the best referees in this country. I think it was Lokeren vs. Racing Genk in the Jupiler Pro League where the standard of officiating went beyond abysmal and into the hilarious. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a player booked (and concede a free kick) for being blatantly fouled.
Anyway, back to the point – because there is one. Somewhere.
There’s been something of an overkill from City fans recently when it comes down to the officials. Singing every week that the referee’s not qualified to do his job, or that he’s worse than the one we have deemed the worst because of a bad game he had a while back, or that he does unsavoury things whilst alone in the privacy of his own home, it becomes more of a routine and it loses all effect.
Okay, so maybe last night was a poor showing: City players were booked for fair challenges, the referee fell for Dynamo Kiev’s diving antics and numerous ‘injuries’ that seemed to be miraculously cured about 90 seconds later (one even including a stretcher ride), there was a distinct difference in the awards of soft free kicks… He got the red card right, though. And didn’t give any unjust goals or rule out any fair ones… He just made us retake the odd free kick or two and didn’t award a foul throw.
But we can’t really blame anyone but ourselves for losing the tie; the second goal in the away leg was the really big killer and Lord alone knows what was going through Balotelli’s head when he decided to leave an impression on Popov. Literally.
In fact, Balotelli became quite the convenient excuse when he did the idiotic thing and made the molehill that City were facing a mountain. Between him and the referee, it does gloss over the fact that a lot of fans greatly underestimated our opponents. Kiev may well have gotten away with the oldest play acting in the book, but they did get themselves two goals and I suppose it’s a compliment to City that they resorted to the tactics they did in order to win the tie.
Though, if City are going to get anywhere, they’ll need to beat teams that play in that style – Kiev weren’t going to come and open the game up, especially not with a two goal lead, and sometimes the poorer teams will have to break the game up to get what they want. How else would Birmingham, Blackburn or Manchester United have taken a point back from Eastlands?
And, in fact, in all of the aftermath of the exit from the Europa League, we’re forgetting that a ten man City almost got what they needed to force extra time against a strong Kiev team. City played quite well and, on another night, would have got that second goal, and perhaps a third, too. It’s easy to forget that City were the only team left in the draw that hadn’t previously played in the Champions League.
Some weeks, referees will have a poor game. Some weeks that will be at City. But this feeling with the referee cheating us out of matches or decisions is becoming obsessive. So much as a throw-in goes the wrong way and that could spark off shouts of a conspiracy. Every week.
Anyway, if there really was a conspiracy to stop City in their tracks, then whoever is behind it isn’t very good at it. Not with City in third place in the league and in an FA Cup semi final, at any rate.
There is no conspiracy. Only mistakes.