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Beesotted contributor Jim Levack looks back at the refereeing of this weekends’s match with Liverpool. Michael Oliver‘s performance may not have affected the result, but there was a list of incidents where you could argue that big club bias was once again on show.

Thomas Frank’s post-match insistence that he had no issue with referee Michael Oliver’s handling of the Liverpool game was a masterclass in diplomacy.

“He’s the best ref in the Premier League,” insisted the Dane as he deftly dead-batted commentator Sam Matterface’s leading ‘open goal’ questions.

Perhaps Thomas truly believes that, and maybe Oliver is the best ref we have in this country. But if that’s the case it raises an urgent question – how bad must the others be?

The answer, as we’ve seen repeatedly this season, is ‘incredibly’ bad. So bad in fact that the old adage of ‘it’ll even itself out over the course of a season’ no longer hold water.

I could stop there for fear of offending those Brentford fans who believe blaming referees is merely a deflection tactic. “Oh yeah, blame the ref Jim, it’s always his fault”.

But I won’t stop until there’s equity in the game. Fans placing their trust in a group of match officials who now genuinely believe themselves to be bigger than the game itself are plain naive. These peacocks genuinely believe they’re a star attraction that people pay to watch.

I’m fascinated by body language and watched Oliver strut arrogantly onto the pitch, ball in hand like a catwalk accessory. “Look at me, I’m on TV being watched by millions”.

What unfolded was definitely not something even his most ardent fan would celebrate. An unconsciously – or maybe consciously – biased and myopic performance that ruined the game. Even more.

Of course it didn’t affect the outcome of the game – this time – and that’s why there’ll be no scrutiny from the infatuated assessors at PGMOL who regard Oliver as English football’s yellow card pin up boy.

No scrutiny because the main complainants were ‘only Brentford’ and in any case their own manager didn’t have any issues. Well I did.

Oliver gets away with it because he’s not your usual rotund out of condition ref. He looks lean and athletic, he’s good looking (I’m told) and keeps up with the game rarely hitting the headlines.

He makes mistakes. Every ref does and that’s not what this is about. It’s the consistent bias that he and his colleagues show towards the ‘Big 6’ that brings the game into disrepute week in, week out.

Let’s be brutally honest. It’s indisputable that it’s better for the Premier League if Liverpool, City and Arsenal are in a three-way tussle for the title.

The subconscious bias of a ref – and subconscious bias is something we ALL have – translates to ‘if it’s better for the Premier League then it’s better for me to be onside with that’. They make their split-second decisions with that in the back of their mind.

Corruption? No.

Incompetence? Sometimes, yes.

Self preservation and bias? Most definitely.

Imagine for a second if Reguilon had smashed into Salah the way Robertson did on Toney. It would be everywhere, Lineker and Co would be all over it and a media as sycophantic as the referees would be bemoaning Liverpool’s bad luck.

Instead Robertson took out Toney American Football-style and it didn’t even merit a mention – let alone inclusion in the highlights – on MotD’s now weekly Big 6 love-in. In fact, the only time they show any interest in the smaller clubs is when there’s a plucky, courageous back story.

That challenge – and three gifted goals, one an ‘after you Claud’ affair the like of which I can’t ever recall seeing a Brentford side concede – was the final straw for many Brentford fans as they streamed out. Wrong in any circumstances, but especially with this side that always gives 100% to the end… imho.

If you’ve got this far and think I’m paranoid, then let the statistics speak. A foul count of 18 by the visitors yielded one yellow card. Brentford committed four and picked up two.

It’s nothing new either. Endo, a talented but spiteful midfielder, nailed Norgaard at Anfield and yes, you’ve guessed it, nothing given. Norgaard’s weeks out injured suggested a card was the least we might have expected.

Reguilon’s yellow was the first sign that Oliver was unhappy with how the game was going with Brentford in the ascendency. A far from malicious but full-blooded tackle which won the ball, saw him pick up a caution which he debated with the swaggering, disinterested official as they walked off at the break.

Connor Bradley’s studs up lunge on Toney’s calf, Diaz constantly chipping away with ‘not quite yellow’ fouls and then the coup de grace. Onyeka gets his toe to a ball on the edge of the reds’ box, Oliver blows.

A free kick opportunity for us to get back in the game? Not a bit of it. Oliver gives the free kick the other way, waves a yellow and as an indicator of where his head’s at, sprays foam to show where the kick should be taken from… more than 100 yards from an attacking position with no need for a wall! Bizarre.

Oliver gets away with mistakes because he’s clever. He rarely makes huge ones, but cumulatively his decision making is as bad as that of his closed shop of pals.

David Coote, a ref largely responsible for the scenes at the end of the Villa game, is another case in point. There was no punishment for his role in the Ollie Watkins-induced melee while the two clubs picked up fines of nearly £400k. A nice little windfall for the FA.

Whether refs are haunted by the undermining spectre of VAR or believe it’s a handy get out clause, it’s an inarguable fact that the standard of refereeing in the planet’s most revered league is abysmal.

More disturbingly, it means games are no longer taking place on a level playing field. And when you’re operating on a budget a fraction the size of the Big 6, it’s undermining the integrity of the competition to an extent we’ve never seen before.

Howard Webb has the power to change it. But he won’t.

Because upsetting the big boys is like taking on the bully in the playground. Far better just to let your officials ‘manage’ things in their own subtle way as the reasons we love the game diminish with each passing season, until one day the Big 6 play in a bubble in a league of their own.

Perhaps that might be better for us all. And make the lives of this new breed of biased or – as some have suggested – “borderline corrupt” match officials, just that little bit easier.

Jim Levack