Man of the Match

FA Cup Quarter Final (rearranged) – Tottenham Hotspur FC v Bolton Wanderers FC
Wednesday, 27th March 2012, 7.45pm
White Hart Lane
Distance 31 miles, Attendance 30718
Twenty minutes into the game last night, those lovely life-improving flashy advertising hoardings demanded we all VOTE NOW for the Man of the Match. One could either quadruple your bill on the magic premium-rate number, log on to where bottle top collection seems de rigueur, or even pop on to facebook*. Now forgive me if I’m wrong here but (assuming you realise it’s purely a money-making exercise) it’s fairly easy to take umbrage with this. Firstly, if one goes to a game, one generally wants to concentrate on the action, rather than interact with an automated message on a smart phone. Secondly, I’m not Mystic Meg so how can I make an accurate assessment on the remaining 70-odd minutes? And more importantly, unless you’re happy to sit a PDR** on your first day in a job, why would you do it to others?
In all honesty a Man of the Match award seemed a little misplaced as justifiably, “the match” was steered by the events ten days before, and the one man on everyone’s lips was recuperating elsewhere. This game really wasn’t about individuals, it was about unity. Before the game there was unequivocal support for Fabrice & his family, appreciation for the medical staff that have cared for him, and a heavy promotion of relevant charities; British Heart Foundation, Pan-African Heart Foundation, and CRY. Additionally the playing staff, in the warm up, wore sympathetic Katharine Hamnett style t-shirts, whilst fans chanted his name, and the applause from all before kick-off was truly heart-warming.


Of course, thirty minutes earlier my mind had been filled with; beef and beer pies, the absence of any preview in the Evening Standard, bottle top rules that don’t apply to those working in stadiums, reports of the changing codes in Beach Volleyball outfits, and the numerous Alice In Wonderland small doors situated in and around White Hart Lane (can someone explain?). Then as the pitch was cleared of the usual paraphernalia, the big screens enticed young fans to coaching courses with hints to The Cruyff Turn, before word emerged of the traffic congestion outside and consequent DELAYED KICK-OFF. To keep us warmed up, the screen burst into highlight mode; showing the stars of yesteryear, and the seven goals Spurs had scored thus far in the tournament (it didn’t of course mention that Tottenham had a bye of the first eight rounds).
When the whistle signalled the start, Bolton got the first chance on goal. Spurs immediately stuck back with some good attacking moves though no clear cut  shots. It was as I’d expected, both teams testing the water, trying to find a chink in the armour without exposing themselves, and then the opportunities started in earnest; Gareth Bale with fierce drive after good work on left from Luka Modric. Minutes later Modric and Jake Livermore forced a heroic double-save from Adam Bogdan; really I could stop there for the first half. A second wave of respectful applause that accompanied Darren Pratley as he was stretchered off the park has raised the thought that the game would alter, but no. From an excellent seat I could see it all close up; one team was full of emotion but without an edge, the other full of determination with a choir chanting Ossie’s Dream. Spurs had the upper hand throughout with four chances to each of Bolton’s, but both defences held firm and Ledley’s knee was celebrated in song to illustrate his dominance. Elsewhere Nigel Reo-Coker was frustrated by team mates, Parker sat in the hole, and Bale strode the pitch like a general on horseback; and Bogdan… well, Bogdan was sublime, BOGDAN WAS INVINCIBLE.

At halftime we were told how the signed match shirts would be auctioned for charity, and past stars reminded us why The Cup is special. David Howes and Paul Miller gave us anecdotes of TVs, Wembley Way and open-topped buses, but Alan Mullery really hit the nail on the head, “It didn’t matter if you won the league”, he said, The FA Cup was more important; it had more had more prestige (if only that was still the case). As the second period kicked off it was if the Spurs players had heeded his words. They were rampant.

Penalty appeals, free kicks hitting woodwork, thwarted attacks, last ditch tackles, missed passes when they mattered, and great save after great save after great save from Bogdan. The game ebbed and flowed, and every single minute another chance came and went. Suddenly it was an enthralling tie, but one could also see the frustration setting in amongst the home support as a rare moment up the other end saw Chris Eagles’ shot was fortunately deflected over. Rafael Van der Vaart then missed an open goal, Emmanuel Adebayor header was saved, Kyle Walker shot wide, Adebayor lost out in a one-on-one, more crosses were collected and a Jermain Defoe shot was parried wide. The stats must’ve been extraordinary; four squillion Spurs shots on target but zero goals. Tottenham almost seemed to have given up hope of ever getting past the Bolton stopper when on the 73rd minute he made his first, and only, error. As a corner sailed in, Bogdan came, and missed the ball, leaving Ryan Nelsen an empty goal to aim for. The sound of Doris Day broke out about me. Three minutes on Bale hammered in the second and the game was well and truly over. Even when Kevin Davies got a Bolton consolation, you knew it would not amount to anything more. Spurs kept pushing forward and when time really should’ve passed sub Louis Saha cracked in a fine solo effort and Howard Webb signalled the end.

Leaving the ground to hear Adam Bogdan had won the Man of the Match was hardly a surprise. It was the obvious choice. Every other player on the park had made countless mistakes. He made one (the other two goals he was left stranded by his defence). Interestingly, if the votes were counted seventy minutes earlier, when Budweiser first asked, he’d probably never have won, but the good natured journey home thought nothing of this. To all the right man had won, and the right team had won. Fans wished each other luck for the rest of the season and just went on their separate ways. I, on the other hand was left totally unsatisfied. I’d seen a thoroughly entertaining game but THE WRONG MAN was made Man of the Match and I’m not going to let this one lie…
Despite the fact that every game involves a minimum of twenty-five athletes for some bizarre reason only twenty-two are deemed suitable to be The Man of the match. Really it makes a total mockery of The Respect Campaign. I challenge you, watch the match again, watch the officials, and find me just one mistake Howard Webb made. Yes, some biased supporters wanted more free kicks given for their team, but every time he played advantage superbly. Yes, others harangued him, but this was just frustration in their own imperfections. Howard Webb strode manfully around the centre of the park, not dominating the game, just calmly keeping control of it, only to pop up in the thick of the action every time he was needed. Unlike some previous referees (whom I won’t name, *curses Milford under his breath*) Howard Webb gave the game to the players. He let them play. Hwas awesome.
Ignore what the mouthy pundits, that regularly bemoan the officials for not giving the decision that they (in their inexperience) want, if the authorities REALLY respected referees, they’d open of these Man of the Match awards to everyone on the pitch. It should be a celebration of the best, not the best of a select few.
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you; The best football referee whatever the standard, A man admired by many, The President of the Northern Counties East League, Athletic, Authoritative, Calm, and FA Cup Man of the Match: Howard Webb.

 (*intentional lower case, **where the line manager approves your appointment but has reservations about you hugging the boss’ wife)
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