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Atkinson must regain quick perspective

Sunday's teatime FA Cup semi-final saw Martin Atkinson achieve the type of infamy that referees probably fear most. Atkinson's copybook has already been blotted by his part in awarding Clint Hill's goal that never was, and the fudging of Mario Balotelli's vile hack at Alex Song, but this was an error set to enter Tottenham legend. That a huge terrestrial audience looked on as Atkinson gave the Juan Mata goal that never should have been compounded the misery.

"I spoke to him. He says he feels worse than I do. I said: 'I don't think so'," Harry Redknapp said. "He knows he's made a mistake and he says he'll have a bad week as well." Redknapp sounded almost sympathetic, though thousands of others were not. Never mind the 5-1 scoreline - here's the scapegoat. It was a horrendous decision, visible even to this naked but bleary eye at the time. No need for video technology here, this was just rank, bad refereeing.

Spurs now have a moment to supersede Pedro Mendes' 2005 denial of a goal at Old Trafford. For Ray Tinkler and Leeds United, Tom Henning Ovrebo and Chelsea, Clive Thomas and Everton, we have Atkinson and Tottenham Hotspur. Atkinson's predecessors in the hall of shame all committed errors that have continued to inspire incredulity down the ages.

Ahead of last Saturday's all-Merseyside semi-final, former Evertonian Ronnie Goodlass could be heard bemoaning Thomas' refusal to award Bryan Hamilton a goal at Maine Road fully 35 years ago in 1977. Tinkler will be forever linked with the Colin Suggett goal from a clearly offside position that denied Leeds United the 1970-71 title. Don Revie looked on "a sickened man", in Barry Davies' memorable description on BBC TV's commentary. And this week, Ovrebo revealed that he still receives death threats from Chelsea fans in response to his erratic officiating of the 2009 Champions League semi-final with Barcelona. Ovrebo ended that game being chased the length of the pitch by Michael Ballack, while Didier Drogba bellowed into a camera that the Norwegian had been a "f**king disgrace".

"Mistakes are part of the game," Ovrebo says now, seemingly barely scarred by the barrage that continues to be aimed at him after his retirement from the game.

Atkinson, meanwhile, needs to gain a similar perspective, and fast. Scott Parker may want him to receive punishment but Atkinson remains on the Premier League referees' list.

And, at Euro 2012, Howard Webb, England's representative referee, will be able to call on an experienced extra official to judge should he be unsure whether a ball has crossed the line. Behind the goals, Martin Atkinson will be keeping them peeled. It is a summer assignment dripping in irony.


Wembley's other semi-final offered an opportunity to become reacquainted with Kenny Dalglish's infamous press conference technique. Despite guiding Liverpool to a second cup final of the season, Dalglish was grimfaced as he faced the press. As a coterie of correspondents littered the desk with dictaphones, he sat, head bowed, staring blankly at a spot on the floor in front of him.

Once started, his words were an exercise in caution and defensiveness. "If you cannae enjoy winning, you may as well put the lid on the box" was a statement hardly matched by the body language of enjoyment. Aside from my colleague Kelly Cates, his own daughter, few interrogators have this season received any view of the smile Brian Clough once said resembled that of Clark Gable. It is a far cry from the knockabout Glaswegian japester who eased back into the Liverpool manager's job last January, but his recent demeanour is not out of character.

Your correspondent had the pleasure of interviewing Dalglish back in 2006, at a time when he had been six years out of the game and was three years from taking up a back office role at Anfield. The guard was still up then, and the answers to a series of not particularly challenging questions were hardly fulsome. However, it should be noted that Dalglish was charm itself either side of the 'record' button being pressed on the interview tape.

He gently chided me for not selecting a beer from the generously stocked drinks tray in front of us with the words "you're no' a proper journalist!" - it was before midday - and he also enthused about how much he enjoyed his Blackberry smartphone. It was a surreal but telling moment. The next interviewer, hailed as 'Scoop', was greeted with a bear hug and that broad grin. In amongst those short vignettes, it was clear why Dalglish is a man to encourage such loyalty in his friends, colleagues and other people whose lives he has touched.

Accusations that he is a man out of time continue to be aimed at Dalglish. And he is just doing things the way he always did. Targeting cup competitions is an old-school route to success in a time when coming fourth is considered a victory in itself. But who is to say he's done a bad job if he collects both Carling and FA Cups? Just don't expect him to smile when the tape is turned on.


Roberto 'Spanish Bob' Martinez has staged a late surge to be manager of the year. It looks like he's repeated the trick of keeping an ever-lessening talent base in the Premier League after twin victories over Manchester United and Arsenal. Wigan look set for what looks like an eighth season in the Premier League. A team forged in substantial part in the footballing furnace of the SPL is staying up.

Plenty of sneers are aimed at Wigan for their lack of support, often by supporters of teams whose days in the Premier League are in the past, and not in the near future either. But the reality is that Dave Whelan has chosen his managers well in Martinez and predecessors Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce. And Wigan is a town where rugby league is still the main sport, in an area equidistant between two cities in Liverpool and Manchester that offer four of the biggest clubs in the country.

Perhaps Wigan's continuing lofty position should be cherished rather than derided. A small-town club enjoying relative success is surely a force for some kind of good.

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