There’s a hugely culturally important scene in the movie So I Married An Axe Murderer, where Mike Myers (playing his own dad) explains How Stuff Works to his son’s friend. “Well,” he barks, “it’s a well-known fact, sonny Jim, that there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world known as The Pentaverate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and who meet triannually at a secret country mansion in Colorado known as … The Meadows.” The friend humours him by asking who’s in this Pentaverate. “The Queen, the Vatican, the Gettys, the Rothschilds,” comes the reply, “AND Colonel Sanders before he went tits up …”
I was reminded of this when I read of the latest theory about football bias: in this case, the notion that Match of the Day pundits, including Ian Wright, are biased against Arsenal. This claim is hotly disputed – mostly by the pundits in question, but also, tacitly, by all the fans of other clubs who know that, actually, it’s their club against which Match of the Day is biased. And the newspapers and the referees. Well – I have news. But before we go any further I want you to be absolutely sure that you want to take football’s reddest pill, because there’s really no going back once you have. OK?
OK. If you’re still with me, prepare to have your mind blown – because it’s all TRUE. It’s a massive conspiracy, and it’s bigger than you can possibly imagine. It’s not just the referees that hate your club – it is, as you suspected, the newspapers, the websites, the television programmes, and the Match of the Day pundits too. And Colonel Sanders before he went tits up.
No doubt you’ll immediately want to know how this thing you knew you were right about works. So please join me over at my wall of pictures of players, ex-players and officials – and Colonel Sanders – all linked by lengths of yarn in the manner of one of those LSD spider’s webs. Put simply, the fact that Wright is biased against Arsenal shows you the power and reach of his puppetmaster organisation: it is able to embed individuals in football clubs for many years, in several cases allowing them to rise to the status of legends. Only when they are on the Match of the Day sofa and faced with a 3-1 loss to Manchurian United – sorry, Manchester United – are they activated. In a very real sense, their entire career has been leading up to this moment of commentary and the training just kicks in. No emotions, no deviations from the script. Ice-cold. It’s just too damn important.
And it’s equally important the conspiracy holds, meanwhile, which is why They spend almost as much time gaslighting you. Those blank looks your mates who support other clubs give you? They are behind those. They basically control your friends. Now, I know that you’re going to have one final question, which is in many ways the big one. Namely: why is it just my club (whichever that club may be)? Why are all these entities so biased against just your club, because you’d definitely notice and say something if you thought they were biased against another club, as opposed to biased towards them (which is another thing you suspect)? That, I concede, is the one bit I haven’t pieced together. Yet. But the truth is out there – somewhere – and the minute I know more, so will you.
Clattenburg, the impresario, returns
Speaking of puppetmasters, it is always a pleasure to hear from that wonderful old ham Mark Clattenburg, who has been talking to NBC’s Men in Blazers podcast. The last we heard of Mark, he was calling a press conference in Jeddah to announce his sensational signing as head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia, where he was going to “support and educate” local referees. Fortunately, he seems to have escaped the crown prince’s recent “anti-corruption” purge – indeed, knowing Clattenburg, he may even have taken partial credit for it.
This week he was taking credit for something else, though. His interview with Men In Blazers and its fallout contained the usual third person references to himself, but its most ear-catching moment was the bit where Mark explained he’d “allowed Tottenham to self-destruct” during the 2016 2-2 draw with Chelsea during which Spurs conceded the title to Leicester. Let’s see that claim in action: “I allowed them [Spurs] to self-destruct so all the media, all the people in the world went: ‘Tottenham lost the title.’”
“Some referees would have played by the book,” Mark went on. “Tottenham would have been down to seven or eight players and probably lost and they would’ve been looking for an excuse. But I didn’t give them an excuse, because my gameplan was: let them lose the title.”
For those who’ve occasionally wondered what goes through a referee’s head at certain moments, it’s instructive to learn that Mark was storyboarding his notional next day’s press cuttings as he declined to deal too harshly with any Tottenham miscreants. As he put it: “If I sent three players off from Tottenham, what are the headlines? ‘Clattenburg cost Tottenham the title.’” And that’s just the News at Ten.
Anyway, Mark’s next statement served to remind us that he is an impresario first, and a referee second, as he declared: “It was pure theatre that Tottenham self-destructed against Chelsea and Leicester won the title.” Put like that, the fact he was overlooked for a Tony award feels even more criminal than ever. What a Prospero figure he is, and we can only hope he stages more revels at his very earliest opportunity.