MARK Clattenburg’s presence has seldom meant good news for Wanderers.
Before Tuesday night, the Whites had won just once in 17 games while the Tyne and Wear official was wandering round with the whistle.
I feared the worst before kick-off. As I scrolled down the list of games he had presided over, and I could still smell the controversy.
I recall a shocker he had in a 4-1 defeat at Ewood Park, with an early penalty given against Gretar Steinsson for a perfectly good challenge on David Dunn.
It still irks me that Bibi Gardner’s last appearance for Wanderers will be forever tainted by the world’s softest red card at Swansea.
I remember Owen Coyle spitting fire after Gary Cahill got a yellow card against Spurs for diving... yep, 6ft 3ins strapping Yorkshireman, diving.
And I also remember Kevin Davies’s last-minute winner against Fulham a few years back, disallowed for a push that only Clattenburg seemed to see.
That led to some rather choice words from the then-Whites skipper, which we won’t print again for fear of more Football Association reprisals.
So, it was with trepidation that I watched the game, waiting for Clattenburg to do something at which I could vent my fury. And then wouldn’t you know it, he had a cracking game.
Sure, it wasn’t the most taxing local derby he will have ever worked. I can only think of a couple of challenges that were even worthy of the name, so it was no wonder he kept his cards in his pocket.
I wondered whether this was the first time. And to my surprise, I found that it was far from the truth. In fact, Mr Controversy had only issued one yellow card in the last four games he had refereed Bolton.
Talk about shattering my entire belief system. I’ve heard of heroes turning to villains but never the other way round. What next, the Gary Megson North Stand? Barry Knight’s image on the Spirit of Sport?
The next day it all started to become clear. I looked at the pictures from the previous night’s game and saw that prior to kick-off, Lofty the Lion, or rather someone dressed just like Lofty the Lion, had taken Clattenburg to one side and had a “quiet word” in his shell-like. He took it well, I mean, look at the smile, but whatever he said certainly put the ref in a good mood for the rest of the match.
The question is, who was in the suit? I noticed that Davo was on the “bench” for Preston, and that Gaz Cahil had a night off at Chelsea. And I haven’t seen Bibi Gardner since he was packing up his possessions at his house in Lostock and preparing to go to Jamaica.
They are my chief suspects, although enquiries are ongoing.