Forget Messi, all Hail Martin Atkinson and his team

The Champions League first legs were good weren’t they? Juventus overcame Real Madrid in a wonderfully tactical and relentless game before Barcelona, and chiefly Lionel Messi, laid waste to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munch.

The games had everything the neutral could wish for: four brilliant teams slugging it out in front of huge crowds in spectacular stadiums.

There was narrative. You know, subtext – everyone loves some subtext. Alvaro Morata scored against his old club and performed an understated celebration designed to wind up Roy Keane. Pep was defeated at his old home by his previously most-prized asset.

There was everything. Every single one of Alan Hansen’s extensive positive adjective collection was applicable.

And yet despite the likes of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Manuel Neuer and Carlos Tevez being on display, one man stood out from the crowd. And that man was an English man.

The scout watches a specific player, not the ball. The tactics guru notices the systems and the minute details. But in this case the discerning, patriotic fan should have followed the referee.

The view, here displayed by football tweet algorithm 'Gary Lineker'
The view, here displayed by generic football tweet algorithm ‘Gary Lineker’

With England’s football sides being uniformly outclassed in European competition this season we have been left with a different kind of interest. We must find reference points. We must manufacture stories.

Martin Atkinson is a professional referee. As a professional referee he referees football matches. On Tuesday he refereed Juventus vs. Real Madrid.

While there is a perpetual debate raging about the quality and consistency of Premier League refereeing, any time ‘one of our own’ appears on our screens from mainland Europe we take a wholly different approach. The referee is no longer ‘the wanker in the black’ with a specific bias against your club – now they are ambassadors of English football sent to extol the virtues of our sport to Europe’s elite.

Just look at that career progression!
Just look at that career progression!

The broadcasters must notify viewers of the official’s nationality. We must point out otherwise minor incidents as if they were of interest. Social media must comment (obviously). We must give praise where praise is not required.

The Daily Mail must write an article detailing his performance:

“Martin Atkinson is last Englishman in the Champions League and he got penalty decision correct in an excellent display during Juventus’ win over Real Madrid”


That advantage? Yeah it was played by a man from Bradford don’t you know.

Did you see Mike Mullarkey’s offside call? Pinpoint. What about Anthony Taylor and Andre Marriner standing by the goals with their batons in hand? Studious.

Our football teams may not be up to scratch but our forty-something-year-olds know the laws, run the lines, blow the whistles and dish out the cards with the best of them. They are undoubtedly making the country proud. Keep it up fellas!

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