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Oh yes he is! A baddie ref is vital to the football pantomime

Mike Dean gleefully takes up the role of bad guy during the festive fixture list

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 5:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 9:13pm

Where would Batman be without the Joker? What good Star Wars without Darth Vader, Harry Potter sans Lord Voldemort, Sleeping Beauty minus Maleficent, Peter Pan robbed of Captain Hook and football without bad refs?

More specifically, what would the Premiership be without Mike Dean?

Ref Dean has been the subject of a witch hunt after a series of mistakes during recent high-profile games.

Slaven Bilic accused him of ruining West Ham’s match with Manchester United last week by incorrectly sending off Sofiane Feghouli with the game delicately poised at 0-0. United went on to win 2-0 and Bilic accused Dean of “killing” his team with his Yuletide blooper.

Dean is no stranger to contention having courted controversy over the seasons with the same vigour as Zsa Zsa Gabor did potential wealthy husbands.

His bizarre facial expressions when directing play and having been more than once accused of celebrating goals during matches have made him one of the most recognisable and despised refs among many football supporters.

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His appointment for Liverpool’s recent late win at Everton was fiercely debated because he is from the area and lives close to the two Merseyside teams; the jury has long been out on whether he is blue or red, though there is no evidence other than conspiracies that he is anything other than a professional neutral.

But instead of being the grey man at Anfield, Dean skipped about as though he was starring in a Broadway musical, flashing with dramatic affect a yellow card at Ross Barkley while not even looking at the player, a Dean trademark.

In the same game, he indulged in some exhibition refereeing, allowing a pass from Roberto Firmino to run through his legs to Adam Lallana – and he repeated the nifty footwork just days later, letting a loose ball run between his legs for Tottenham’s Dele Alli to latch on to.

But if Liverpool and West Ham fans are angry with Dean, that has nothing on those at Emirates Stadium.

Irate at their team’s poor record in matches refereed by Dean, some Arsenal fans set up an online petition demanding that he never officiates in one of their games again. More than 106,000 signatures were lodged.

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His on-pitch animation has been put down to his enthusiasm for the game, enjoying like the rest of us an intelligent flawless piece of play and blinding goal, and as full of the exacerbated aahs and oohs at chances missed.

One accusation against him does seem to ring true: he adores the spotlight as much the amateur actor playing the role of Widow Twankey in the local village Christmas Aladdin panto. And he likely smirked when he learned he was trending on the UK’s social media with 72,000 tweets after the West Ham game.

Though on many occasions they are, refs should not really be the talking piece of a game; the headlines should be the preserve of players or managers.

But on closer scrutiny, what would football be like without the baddie ref?

Dean is indeed the standout culprit among a rogues’ gallery of perceived sub-standard refereeing so far this season, and a slew of horror shows by the men in black has amplified calls for more technology to be relied upon to call the tough decisions.

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But that is where Dean and refs of his calibre (he is still thought as one of the best) stand out. It is because they have the guts to call the big decisions as they see it according to the laws as applied during the frenetic pace of modern football that makes the game so addictive.

The critics of refs like Dean – many pundits among them – are misguided and myopic in their vision of the game as they would like to watch it, with more video play backs during play.

Goal-line technology is working well and was a smart introduction. But there the march of the machine must stop. Otherwise the atmosphere will truly become like a library (or the Emirates) or a politically correct safe space for thin-skinned university students afraid of their sensitivities being exposed to confrontation.

Far from being detrimental to the game, refereeing controversy is core to football’s popularity.

Referees make mistakes that drive avalanches of indignation, outrage and satire. They spark debates that can rage in the pubs, workplace, at the bus stop, and around the breakfast table for days, weeks, months or even years.

No other sport comes close to pulling such emotional triggers that the human condition finds so addictive and would miss terribly if they were sanitised by a video replay every two minutes.

Refereeing errors are, in the grand scheme of things, rare. The better team usually wins on the day regardless of what the ref did or didn’t do. In the main, they get enough decisions right to protect the game’s credibility, and theirs.

And without a baddie, football would be as redundant as James Bond without Blofeld. Oh yes it would.