*** image courtesy of ibtimes ***

“There’s nothing more important in a democracy than a well informed electorate… When there’s no information, much less wrong information, it can lead to calamitous decisions and clobber any attempts at vigorous debate.”

Mackenzie McHale, The Newsroom (2012)


In this day and age, we are free to think and hold an opinion. But mere thinking and holding of opinions is not enough. That is because in this day and age, we are usually guilty of not thinking for ourselves and formulating our own opinion. We are not like the great thinkers of the age of the enlightenment. Men and women who adhered to the mantra ‘sapere aude’ – dare to know. Who listened when Immanuel Kant instructed them tohave the courage to use your own intelligence – but not all of us can be Immanuel Kant or Galileo Galilei now can we.

But we can aspire to. We can look into what we see and what we are told. What we read (for those of us who still read). We don’t have to believe it all. We can test it against what we know. Against what we deem to know. But do we really know? Do we take that extra mile to? Do we read a little more, ask a little more. Do we dare to know?

Here’s my point, and the reason for writing this. In the past week, a notion that is held by many football fans has been reiterated again and again. That notion has caused many to hold an opinion. An opinion which I respect (for the simple nature of it being an opinion) but that I do not hold myself.

That referees consciously assist Manchester United.

Events of the Stamford Bridge clash between Chelsea and Manchester United fuelled this. Mark Clattenburg was at the center of it all (literally). He apparently was the reason Manchester United won 3-2. He sent off two players and awarded the away side an offside goal. Controversial decisions these.

And from that fallout, this is what has ensued. Articles have been written and the matter discussed in football banter. Stats and facts have been put forward to prove it. You can’t argue with stats and facts now can you?

Well, you can.

When stats and facts are not put into proper context, then the strength of an argument is slightly reduced. Stats and facts are reliant, and only occur because of a certain context. They do not merely produce themselves from thin air; they are a product of something. Causality; an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event.

Consider this fact : The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. True,right. No arguments. But in the context of either the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, in the periods of the Midnight Sun or the Polar Night – 24 hours of sunlight and 24 hours of darkness respectively, then in that context, the sun neither rises, nor sets.

What I am saying is this: you can say ‘2’ ; and the number ‘2’ on its own stands as a fact, or a stat. But you make your argument stronger when you say that ‘2’ is brought about because of 1+1, or 5 – 3, or 10/5 … and so on and so forth.

So when subsequently you say that Manchester United has been awarded such number of penalties in a certain period, I will not dispute. But how were the penalties awarded? Were they awarded for fouls on the halfway line? Maybe non-existent fouls? I seem to remember Ashley Young diving to earn Manchester United penalties last season. But that was on around two occasions. The rest of the occasions which make up those huge figures portrayed, I really can’t remember.

You see, the thing is, Manchester United, just like all other clubs, will always get decisions in their favour.  A referee’s decision (or indecision) affects both sides; one team favourably, the other adversely. The only problem is that when decisions tend to favour United, it is amplified.

Nobody remembers how Eduardo Da Silva earned a penalty for Arsenal with a dive in a Champions League Qualifier against Celtic in 2009, or how Mikel Arteta scored from an offside position in the Premier League against Queens Park Rangers. Nobody remembers how two seasons ago, Frank Lampard’s strike was spilled by Heurelho Gomes, but did not cross the line, yet the goal was given, and how later on in the same match, Tottenham defenders appealed in vain as Salomon Kalou scored the winner from an offside position. How about Juan Mata’s ghost goal in last season’s FA Cup semi final, or Luis Garcia’s one for Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League semi?

If they are remembered, they are not talked of with as much gusto as those of Manchester United. They are considered isolated incidents, as if Manchester United doesn’t (can’t) get those.

All clubs will get a decision that goes in their favour. That is by no means the referee assisting them to win.

Then, you will probably ask – if that is the case, why does it seem to happen to Manchester United more often? The frequency of decisions going in United’s favour is more than for other clubs. Does coincidence really smile on Manchester United that much?

I don’t claim to have a conclusive answer to that. But what I do know is that referees suffer from something that in Italy is known as  ‘sudditanza psicologica.’ – the subconscious instinct referees appear to show in favouring a big club over a small one. It exists, and not only in refereeing. Everywhere. In daily life. Somehow, some people are usually treated better, shown more favour than others. This may be due to their status: political, social, financial or otherwise. It is subconscious so we do not even know when we are doing it. But it happens.

That is why it happens so frequently to Manchester United – a big club. It is also why the examples given in the paragraphs above feature Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool – big clubs. It would be (and is) a struggle to find examples of the same for teams such as (with all due respect to them) Wigan Athletic, Blackpool or Hull City.

And since this is universal, you will tend to find it virtually everywhere. In Spain,  it’s Real Madrid. In the Champions League, FC Barcelona. In Italy, Juventus. Portugal – FC Porto. The list is endless. All big clubs. All with refereeing decisions favouring them. This is by no way a reflection that referees are assisting them towards winning.

Blaming referees does in no way hide the fact that great teams will still be successful. For all of Rafa Benitez’s ‘facts’ rant, Manchester United were still the better side than his Liverpool one. And the answer to Jose Mourinho’s absurd ‘Por que’ rant – Why, why, why always Barca in the Champions League? – because with or without favourable refereeing decisions, they are still  simply the best.

Whatever the case, you are still entitled to hold your own opinion. Be careful however to be absolutely sure of what you are holding. For even Malcolm X, the man who did more than most to popularise certain ideals through his brilliant oratory prowess during the US Civil Rights Movement struggle. This man who once said ‘if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything’, eventually found out that what he was standing for was wrong.

If you wish to partake in any debate, at least be well informed, or at least have the right information. If you do not, then in Ludwig Wittgenstein words, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent”.  That though, however, is but just my opinion…