Having watched Arsenal drop points against a Fraser Forster inspired Southampton, I was livid.
Toys out of the pram, forcing myself not to hurl inarticulate and futile profanities into the night. Only I wasn’t angry at the team or the performance.
Referees. A thankless role that always divides opinion due to inherent bias of fans and players. Except in certain cases. Some match officials seem to unite the fans. Against them.
Lee Mason is one of those officials. Against Southampton he had a notable reluctance to giving free-kicks against the visitors, and even when he felt obliged, he seemed to have a remarkable allergy to utilising his yellow card.
The statistical average of fouls per booking for a team is between five and six in the Premier League. Statistically over the last few years Arsenal have yet to drop out of the top three of least fouls committed to earn a yellow card. In 2014 Arsenal players were booked once every four team fouls. That season Southampton players were booked once every nine. That’s twice as many fouls per booking.
Tonight Lee Mason surpassed that, booking one Southampton player for what has been varyingly recorded as between 19 and 25 fouls. He booked two Arsenal players for less than half that.
Of course this may just be a statistical anomaly…
But when you consider that two of those fouls were deliberate handballs, five or six were for deliberately stopping counter attacks, and the vast majority were committed by three players (Long, Romeu and Ward-Prowse) none of whom were booked, then it starts to look suspect. Particularly when on three occasions Southampton players kicked the ball away without so much as a quiet word.
And of course we all know that a physical pressing game reliant on rotational fouling is rather less effective if the match official does his job. Which as ever, Mr Mason declined to do. Having clearly made a conscious decision to let the physical (and cynical) side of things go unpunished, he failed to do his job in a number of other ways.
Southampton, particularly the aforementioned Forster, were time-wasting from the 30th minute onwards. Not once did he even hurry them up. His determination to impede in any Arsenal momentum then extended to giving us free-kicks for offside while we counter attacked at least twice in the second half, and my personal favourite, re-positioning the ball on free-kicks by less than two yards on three separate occasions in the last 15 minutes, not one of which was within 35 yards of the opposition goal (twice on the edge of our own area).
And then of course, there were the plethora of decisions he didn’t give. I’ve no problem with Wanyama monster-ing our midfield because the guy is a brick outhouse, and perhaps rightly Mason deemed him to win the ball fairly in some fairly robust challenges. The same cannot be said for multiple unpunished foul challenges by Romeu in particular in the first half alone. Not to mention incorrectly overruling the linesman on several occasions.
On separate occasions Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott, Monreal and Flamini all lost their rag with his incompetence – hardly the most demonstrative or aggressive group of individuals.
I was just glad he had no really big decisions to make.
What irks me so much, is not one slightly dodgy performance from a ref that favours a well-drilled and more physical side. It’s that Mason is so consistently awful.
Not in a Mike Dean, Phil Down way, where deeply suspect big decisions are made to hog the limelight and massage the ego (invariably to our cost), and not even in a good old Uriah Rennie random decision generator fashion. Just totally consistently avoiding making any decisions if he possibly can and then guessing when he does.
Accordingly, Graham Poll has previously described him as “tentative and nervous”, observing that he sometimes gives “only what was 100 per cent obvious”, along with the suggestion that he is often more concerned with seeming fair than being fair.
Although not the most independent of observers, Walter Broeckx picked up on his weakness in making correct decisions for fouls and giving cards, particularly in Arsenal games, in detail a couple of years ago.
I’m not just talking Arsenal games or to our cost. Hell, he got demoted for SIX WEEKS for not sending off Coquelin against Crystal Palace earlier in the season (talk about a message from above from our old nemesis and his boss Mike Riley). His catalogue of basic errors (in some cases just incorrect applications of the laws) have scuppered Bournmouth, Q.P.R, Manchester United and Middlesbrough in particularly high profile incidents. Liverpool blog The Anfield Wrap also agrees he is guilty of incompetence rather than bias, and BBC man Alan Green has described him as “the worst referee in the Premier League”.
Even match official website you-are-the-ref.com has questioned his fitness for purpose regularly at both Premier League and Championship level.
So why is he still officiating at this level?
There is a dearth of quality at the top level. Partly due to the pressures of being a high profile ref, and partly due to the incompetence of good old Mike Riley, who somehow wangled the job of being the referees boss, despite being a bloody awful ref himself. He has subsequently removed what little elements of transparency and accountability there were. His predecessor Keith Hackett, described the current crew as the “worst that we have seen”, and called on Riley to resign. Graham Poll agreed with him. So did Mark Halsey. Howard Webb resigned from the Professional Game Match Officials Board in the summer.
On top of this, Lee Mason is from Greater Manchester. Not only is this where Mike Riley has been based form much of his career, but is also the epicentre of English refereeing, and has been since Riley took over, with the North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire dominating English refereeing. We are currently at our annual average of only 15% of referees being from the south of England, with the institution often criticised for being an old boy’s club, and something of a closed shop.
So it seems until he chooses to retire (or starts making more decisions in favour of Arsenal and being suspended again by the deeply suspect Riley), we are stuck with him.
Which means plenty more games like Tuesday night…