rss twitter facebook mobile

Is Ferguson Right About Referee Decisions?

The usual hacks got all excited when they saw that Manchester United were awarded a penalty for a good tackle at Old Trafford, with their ‘what a surprise’ articles and ‘only at Old Trafford’ remarks.

Of course, there’s this myth that United get it all their own way at home, with referees like putty in our hands. If we want a penalty, we shall be rewarded one, simple as that, right?

Wrong. Whilst there was more to substantiate this myth in the early 90′s, there is little to suggest that is the case any more. Often, referees don’t want to be a statistic, another official to give a penalty at Old Trafford. There have been times when I wonder if our player has to be decapitated before the ref will take notice!

On Saturday, when Rob Styles made that ridiculous decision to award us a penalty, he opened up old wounds on these past stereotypes.

Sir Alex Ferguson responded to the penalty decision after the game, claiming there were several penalties we were denied last season, and therefore this was us getting one back. But is he right?

“I was surprised,” said Ferguson. “I haven’t seen it again but it looked to me as if the Bolton player got a foot on the ball. But Rob Styles turned down four or five (penalties) for us last season, so maybe we’re getting payback now. But he still owes us four!”

Without taking in to consideration our away matches, here are a selection of the stonewall penalties we should have had at Old Trafford last season. By stonewall, I mean the decisions the press thought should be penalties, rather than just a fan’s point of view.

Penalty 1: Joe Cole vs Patrice Evra 23.9.07

BBC: The home side were denied a penalty when a sliding Joe Cole appeared to make contact with Evra ahead of getting a touch on the ball.

The Independent: He [Mike Dean, referee] failed to award a penalty to Manchester United for Joe Cole’s crude challenge on Patrice Evra on 17 minutes.

Ref: Mike Dean

Penalty 2: Michael Brown vs Cristiano Ronaldo 6.10.07

The Independent: [Ronaldo] being denied legitimate appeals because of his reputation. Early in the game, Michael Brown simply barged him over in the penalty area without punishment.

BBC: Ronaldo gathered up the loose ball and looked to be clearly fouled by Michael Brown, but referee Mike Riley waved play on.

The Guardian: They should have had a penalty in the fourth minute when Michael Brown pushed Mario Melchiot out of the way in his eagerness to barge Cristiano Ronaldo over in the area. It was as clear a penalty as you could wish to see, yet alone in the stadium the well-placed referee, Mike Riley, viewed it as a fair challenge.

Ref: Mike Riley

Penalty 3 and 4: Steven Taylor vs Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Smith vs Ryan Giggs 12.1.08 

ESPN and MEN: Critics would argue Ronaldo merely fell over Steven Taylor’s outstretched leg as he flew into the area. However, as Taylor made no contact with the ball, it was easy to see why Ferguson had a different opinion. There was no mitigating factor on the second occasion, though, as Alan Smith barged over Ryan Giggs. Styles was only a couple of yards away but yet again, he waved play on.

Ref: Rob Styles

As I said, this is just a selection, although I’m sure there would be plenty more where these came from. Of course though, these occasions aren’t highlighted in a massive way. The headlines don’t read “United won, but they would have won by more if not for poor decisions from the referee against them,” in the same way Sunday’s headlines looked at how United had been “handed” a win.

I don’t want to come across as a whinger. I’m fully aware that all teams get decisions against them on a weekly basis and that will continue for as long as we don’t have a video ref. My complaint is more to do with the fact that the penalties that we’re not awarded don’t bring about any attention at all, however when we do get a wrong decision in our favour, everyone is crawling all over it, dragging up bags full of statistics from years gone by to paint the picture United have the officials in their back pocket. I suppose that’s what comes with being the most hated and successful club in the country.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

View all posts by Scott »



  1. Penguin says:

    The turning down of stonewall penalties does frustrate, but as you say it is the same for everyone – I can think of a few we “gave away” last season that weren’t given against us either.

    As for the media coverage, I’ve long since given up. I barely read match reports in the press now – I know my own mind and I like to think I’m unbiased enough to know whether we were genuinely hard done by or not. To be honest, I only really read them when we were really good (what United fan doesn’t like to read effusive praise of the boys?) or really bad (to see what non-Reds thought of the display).

    The press need stories to make their job worthwhile – if I was a hack and I had to write 700 words on what seems to be a routine 2-0 win over Bolton, I’d hype it up by dwelling on the penalty incident and playing off popular dislike of Ronaldo. Fortunately, as a blogger I don’t have that problem.

  2. Par says:

    I was willing to put this all down as a bit of a joke from Fergie until you went and put up a list of perceived injustices. Is every team going to compile a dossier of ref mistakes and try to cash in their karma chips? It’s okay to feel angry about decisions going against you, but to actually feel entitled to receive gifts from referees is exactly the kind of arrogance and self-importance that makes united fans so unpopular. What if you get a bunch of calls in your favor this season (like this weekend, or Ronaldo not being booked for apparently being bowled over by one of Frank Lampard’s chakras at the bridge last week) are Chelsea going to ask for a points deduction for you? Well okay, CHELSEA might do that…. but the right thinking football world won’t.
    When you get gifted something like that from a ref, at least be humble enough to accept your good luck. Don’t act like you deserve an apology for not getting it more often.

  3. Scott the Red says:

    Par – read the final paragraph before you get all self-righteous. Whatever you are chatting on about certainly isn’t in reference to anything I’ve written.

  4. RedDevil says:

    What about the Blackburn game? We should have had 3(!) penalties, but got none! And against Wigan away, when Bramble lunged into Scholes. Middlesbrough away, Ronaldo shot handled on 8 yards? Pompey in FA cup, Distin on Ronaldo. And more, but I dont remember. All those we paid for, Rovers and Boro we drew, Pompey we lost. The only game we won after such a (wrong)decision was against Wigan. Blimey! :rolls:

  5. katty says:

    i think you missed one scott. FA cup tie against portsmouth last season at Old Trafford, Distin challenge on Ronaldo early in the game a clear penalty.

    bbc: “United were understandably furious after six minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly bundled over by Distin as he raced into the area, but referee Martin Atkinson ignored the appeals, to the clear disgust of Ferguson”

    guardian: “United were denied a clear penalty in the first half….”

    btw i think its about time for the managers to be honest in their post match interviews at least about ‘clear’ refereeing decisions. he could have simply said that ‘we did get lucky with the penalty but we deserved to win’.

  6. Scott the Red says:

    Katty – I hadn’t forgotten it, as that is the picture that I’ve used for the article, but I just wanted to look at occasions in the league when we’ve been denied stonewall pens.
    Cheers though.

  7. katty says:

    @scott: sorry mate i have my ‘show images’ option turned off in the browser to save some bytes of download every time (here in India we have limits on data transfer (which is lame) and i am way over the limit)…

    and i think you are right. we are the most hated team in england. the tabloids get after us (especially ronaldo) every time. it was an important moment in the match and anything could have happened had it been 0-0 though we deserved to win by a couple of goals… but having said that i wonder could it have been possible in any case to overturn the penalty decision? could the beneficiary team tell the ref that it wasn’t a foul… has such a thing ever happened before? it would have certainly won us the fair play award :D

  8. Arsene wanker says:

    Good article.

  9. North Stand,Tier 3,Back Row says:

    How about the penalty Roma got against Wes Brown last season at the start of the 2nd leg in ? That SHOCKING decision could of changed the tie completely only for they blasted it over the bar. What goes around comes around.
    What gets me is the way other fans and journos go on about United getting so many of these decisions at OT, and how many penalties we’ve been given in contrast to how mant we concede. When we play at home, 7 times out of 10 the away team sets up camp in their half, and we end up with 75% of the ball, and 90% of the chances. We have always had quick tricky players in around the box that will make things happen, and fool defenders into lunging in, and making clumsy mistimed tackles. It only makes sense that we would create more chances, get more corners, score more, and would be awarded more frees and penalties at home – we attack, its what we do…

  10. Drew Vader says:

    I know Scott was looking at home fixtures, but wasn’t there a rather clear handball in the box against Pool about two or three mins in?

  11. john ferry says:

    Truth is…just what are you supposed to say. Fergie was in a difficult position and answered as best he could. The man is a legend partly because he isn’t a push over. Could you really imagine any manager truthfully saying, “yes, we didn’t deserve that penalty and we should have lost.” or even better, “that john terry should play against us and should have his red card rescinded because he is a class act.” Would anyone ever respect a manager like that ? Admitting mistakes to fans or players is one thing, but admitting a mistake to a ref is different…once a manager does that refs will have free reign to screw us even more !!!

  12. Tom F says:

    Everyone gets screwed over by the justice systems inside and outside of football. It doesn’t make a difference where it is or who it involves, teams mess up all the time. What about Wigans penalty against City? I didn’t see a mention anywhere of Palacios’ super somersault back flip dive.

    Only United get picked up on those decisions and we yet again make the headlines. However, the press and the neutrals can go hang because we are United supporters and we know why these remarks are always made.

    People hate it when you are successful.

  13. divedivedive says:

    None of you have the decency to admit that ronaldo went down, arms outstretched, to try to influence the ref. Then on some blogs it is claimed that ronaldo is a hero for not celebrating the goal when he scored the penalty. If he wasnt a cheat he could have just tapped it to the goalkeeper or put it wide but that is not something he or anybody at old trafford would ever dream of doing. It doesnt matter if its styles, riley or bennett its always the same, you get all the decisions whether or not you dive.

  14. Scott the Red says:

    I suppose you missed the article where Nolan revealed Ronaldo insisted it wasn’t a penalty.

    No professional footballer would look that gift horse in the mouth though, and you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s only United players who would have scored it.

    You’re as bitter as they come.

  15. OTRed says:

    @Divedivedive: Ok, how did you find this blog now???? let me guess it was listed on your newsnow page? But how? I’m sure whatever team you support don’t have the words Ferguson, Right, About, Referee, Decisions in the clubs name, so how’d you stumble here? Another bitter, United obsessed ABU.

    Penalty or not, Bolton deserved to lose, i can’t imagine that we’d dominate a game for so long and then end up with a draw?

    @Par: what part of a joke don’t you get? You really think Fergie was serious when he said Stiles owed us? Isn’t there anything better for you bitter lot to waste your bitterness on than United? Surely sports don’t take up all your life.

  16. suhayl says: on pal

    Dive dive win some you lose some…you get some you dont get others. IT all evens itself out at the end of the season..after 38 games. for every 1 bad decision….im sure you’ll get 5 stinkers. So you dont look a gifthorse in the mouth. We’re not all puritans living in a utopian society. ” tap it wide” lol lol

    Ronaldo isnt the upholder of the game..he ist the law maker or the bastion of the game. That job is for the guy with the whistle. And whether and whatever decision he makes.

    I suppose you’ll now want players admitting to fouls…walking off if they feel guilty, not trying to touch their fellow man, missing shots because they think the other team deserves some luck, not trying because we’re all mates…just p off you clown


You must be logged in to post a comment.