A Dish Best Served Cold
From Issue 48, Autumn 2000
It had to be the cheese. My weakness for French
cheeses - Camembert, Brie, Roquefort - and the
French street markets in which they are sold -
the freedom to sample a taste before you buy-
the visual richness of the displays and the assault
on one's olfactory senses all combine to seduce
me with all the ease of a Scandinavian teenager.
So it didn't seem at all strange when the phone
rang on that Friday evening and a voice said "Listen,
we've got a bit of a problem with tomorrow's big
match. Graham Poll has been abducted by aliens
and everyone else is busy. If you could get to
Old Trafford by 9.30 you would be helping us out
of a really deep hole."
"Look, think of the kudos. Refereeing Manchester
United against Liverpool. It doesn't get any bigger
"Name your price. Money really is no obstacle
at that club. Of course you would be expected
to give them half a dozen or so dodgy decisions
but they really do make it worth your while. Some
people have made enough to retire after this fixture.
Say you'll do it?"
Being a Liverpudlian, I tried hard to do the decent
thing and tell him that I shouldn't really accept
his offer because of my complete lack of impartiality
in this fixture. But while I was trying to get
a word in edgeways, the endless possibilities
began to elbow their way to the front of my mind
and I could begin to see how this was a heaven
sent opportunity to right a few wrongs, settle
a few scores and ruffle a few feathers. I said
'OK' in a reluctant sort of way, just to make
sure he realised what a huge favour I was doing
Getting down the M62 at 620 mph in my Star Wars
pod racer next morning was fun and we made light
of the usual snarl up of traffic at the Croft
interchange. My hair was a bit ruffled and my
ears were ringing a bit when I pulled up at Old
Trafford. The poor sod at the car park was a bit
miffed at me upstaging all the Ferraris and Porsches.
I walked off to the dressing room with the words
"Becks is definitely going to want one of
these..." fading behind me. But I had to
rush back because I remembered that I had left
the Ion thrust accelerator in the drive and we
all know what can happen when you don't immobilise
your vehicle in Manchester......
Inside the ground I was assigned a minder who
claimed he was there to protect me from those
'sad Scouse losers who can get a little bolshie'.
That wasn't to be the first time I had to bite
my tongue that day. I found it most unsettling
when Siralex came in and started spelling out
his game plan to me - why WAS he doing that to
the goat? I just kept saying 'Yes' at regular
intervals while, at the same time formulating
my own vindictive agenda. As he and his goat left,
he tossed a bundle of £50 notes into my
kit bag and with a sinister look in his eye, added
"Remember - we've got to win by three clear
goals". My tongue was starting to bleed.
I nodded in the affirmative. I thought I heard
the goat squealing again in the corridor outside.
Having been advised by Siralex that there was
no need for the traditional visit to the team's
dressing rooms I decided to heed his advice lest
I alert him to the fact that I wasn't 'on-message'.
I was glad of this when, as I made my way to the
tunnel, I heard the unmistakable sound of a bleating
goat being ritually sacrificed behind their dressing
room door. Siralex emerged from the dressing room
seconds later wiping what looked like blood from
Out on the pitch the atmosphere was a bit special
and they had even allocated a couple of hundred
tickets to Liverpool. Those brave enough to run
the gauntlet of that incisive Mancunian wit (not
to mention the hail of rubble, bottles and mucous
that invariably accompanies such wit) continued
to make a disproportionate amount of noise and
assembled unaware that, this time it was their
team. OUR team that had the advantage. This time
the Man In Black had a mind of his own and an
attitude to match.
I had a nasty moment when I called the two captains
together. I thought for a second that there was
a flicker of recognition which flashed across
Sami Hyypia's noble Viking brow. It turned out
to be nothing more than wind and we were soon
enveloped in a sickly brown cloud. "Book
him ref" insisted Roy Keane. I was quick
to point out that there was nothing in the rules
about farting on the pitch. "Nicky Butt got
us a penalty against West Ham last season when
John Moncur farted on him in the box" replied
Keane. I could see that many mysteries were going
to be revealed to me during this morning. I couldn't
find a way of switching their double-headed coin
so they won the toss, picked ends and Liverpool
Mercifully, the first ten minutes were a bit quiet
as both teams seemed to be feeling their way into
the match. This gave me a chance to keep a low
profile and not draw attention to my allegiance.
It was Steven Gerrard who put me on the spot first
with a fabulous tackle on Giggs as he swept towards
the Liverpool box. Gerrard emerged with the ball
laying it off sensibly to Berger who, as ever,
was available nearby. I was instantly surrounded
by red shirts who insisted (in language of industrial
strength) that my eyesight had failed me and that
the marital status of my parents was questionable.
I shuddered slightly as I feared how they would
react to one of the more controversial decisions
which I knew lay ahead.
Within a couple of minutes controversy arrived
in the uncompromising form of Jamie Carragher.
He lunged into the marauding Keane with both feet,
sending Keane spiralling upwards in a most theatrical
manner. Keane landed on top of Carragher with
a sickening thud of bone on sinew. I awarded the
free kick to Carragher and the yellow card to
Keane - well, what else could I do? It was well
inside Beckham's range. To defuse the situation
I had a quiet word with Carragher. The red shirts
all thought he was getting a stiff talking to
but what I really said was along the lines of
"Next time roll out of the way before he
hits the deck". Jamie looked a bit shocked
- which suited my little pretence and seemed to
pacify the Mancs a little. They didn't stay pacified
for long because, from the free kick, Liverpool
swept down to the other end of the pitch. Berger
unleashed a laser guided cross to the far post
where Fowler was waiting. He took the ball on
his chest, it dropped onto his thigh and he hit
a fabulous volley past Barthez. Straight away
I recalled the trouble that Mike Reid had got
himself into when celebrating Berger's goal against
Leeds the previous season so I restricted myself
to a strangled 'yersssssss'. I wasn't aware that
Paul Scholes was standing so close (I had a cold
that day) and as he turned to remonstrate with
me I did a very passable job of turning the sound
of elation into a coughing fit.
As Cole restarted the match my telepathy (I did
mention that I was telepathic didn't I?) seemed
to detect the message "Right, now he owes
us - we can get away with anything" flashing
around the red shirts. I knew things were about
to get difficult. It was also going to be a hard
job to protect the Liverpool players from the
physical approach I knew the Mancs would adopt.
Scholes' challenge on Redknapp gave me no choice
- the card had to be red. Besides, the ginger
tosser had almost rumbled me and was going to
be a problem for as long as he remained on the
pitch. I insisted that he repair the rip in Redknapp's
tights before he left the pitch. I thought he
wasn't going to go but then it seemed to occur
to him that he had better go and have a word with
Siralex. He trotted off but the noise was deafening.
It only took a mere five minutes to restore order
and re-start the game. I wasn't phased by all
the jostling but it was difficult to restrain
myself when somebody like Beckham was screaming
into my face from six inches away. The urge to
deck him was very difficult to contain. But I
knew that if I was to stay on the pitch and finish
the job, restraint had to be the order of the
The penalty decision made itself really. Emile
Heskey was understandably close to tears at the
torrent of racial abuse heaped on him by Jaap
Stam. It's just a shame that the crowd couldn't
hear the little outburst which the Sky digital
viewers with Nicam stereo prologic dolby surround
sound were treated to. Then they might have understood.
It is imperative that we kick racism out of the
game and I was going to do my bit for the cause,
however unpopular it made me. Redknapp (now sporting
fetching lime green tights) put the kick high
and wide of Barthez who by now had developed horns
and a little pointy tail sticking out of the back
of his shorts. He was reciting the Lord's Prayer
backwards as he retrieved the ball from the back
of the net and cloven-hoofed it up the field.
The half time whistle came as a relief to us all
although I knew that my dressing room would be
the centre of attention at half time so I hid
in a cleaner's room to avoid trouble. How was
I to know that it was the next room to their showers?
And what was all that sniffing going on at half
time? Was there a sudden outbreak of sinus trouble
in the Manc camp? Anyway, I learned that talcum
powder is a useful remedy because several of their
players came out for the second half with white
powder around their nostrils.
Fortunately, I was back out on the pitch before
Siralex could present me with that meat hook,
which I presumed was some strange Manc ritual.
I knew that this was going to be the longest forty
five minutes of my life but I was determined to
exact my retribution for those years of diabolical
decisions and stroke pulling that even the likes
of Machiavelli would have shied away from.
The Mancs were soon on the attack and Babbel had
to be on good form as Giggs kept throwing himself
to the floor in a desperate bid to impress me.
Events were soon taken out of my hands when the
linesman flagged for a penalty after Giggs made
one such lunge inside the box. As I couldn't over-rule
him, I had to award the spot-kick. As Dennis Irwin
stepped up to take the kick, I had a word in his
ear and told him that he had always reminded me
of Liberace and did he know that his mother had
had an unnatural relationship with a baboon? So
it was no surprise when he did a Dean Windass
and kicked the ball straight at my head, leaving
Sander Westerveld's goal untroubled. I didn't
mind too much - my head only hurt for about five
minutes and it left me free to administer the
justice which should have befallen Windass as
I brandished another red card. The crowd was getting
seriously hysterical by now. There were red shirts
flying in everywhere but they were getting tired
because there were only nine of them now.
I'm proud to say that my lack of impartiality
had no influence on Owen's sensational goal with
ten minutes to go. He just turned Stam inside
out and slotted it past Barthez who by now was
breathing fire from his nostrils and looking distinctly
satanic. As there wasn't long to go, I decided
to finish with a flourish. I booked Gary Neville
for being ugly and Stam for looking like Mr Potato
Head. Phil Neville got a yellow for giving away
THAT penalty in Charleroi. Andy Cole got one for
being crap but I reserved my 'coup de gras' for
the Manc we love to hate. Of course they were
giving me a hard time as we left the pitch and
Becks was at the front of the mob. While he was
busily engaged in trying to string a sentence
together in joined up thinking, I grabbed his
shirt and head butted him sweetly on the nose.
The sensation of the bone breaking under my forehead
was so satisfying but why was I hearing 'Supertramp'
singing 'Dreamer' when I clearly wasn't.
and that Radio City jingle.
my radio alarm has gone off and I'm vowing never
to eat cheese before bedtime again!