When deciding which official ought to referee what has historically been the most explosive fixture on the football calendar, what better way to ensure impartiality than selecting someone born, raised and currently living only a few miles from one of the two side’s stadiums? This is the unerring logic of the FA, who have tapped referee Anthony Taylor to officiate the upcoming clash between Liverpool and Manchester United next Monday. And yes, Taylor was in fact born Wythenshawe in Greater Manchester and currently resides in the shadow of Old Trafford, a mere six miles away in nearby Altrincham.
In theory, the FA accounts for this by keeping track of their referees’ various allegiances to protect the easy targets from accusations of bias.
“At the beginning of every season the referees’ background information is audited,” says Keith Hackett, the former head of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) that makes referee appointments.
“They complete a form that includes who they support, the history of if they’ve played the game and with the addresses where they are residing. That gives you a picture that comes into use when you’re appointing.”
Sounds good on paper, but some recent assignments such as Bolton referee, Lee Mason officiating a 2-1 Liverpool defeat to Manchester City in January 2014 or Newcastle supporter, Michael Oliver presiding over a fixture between Norwich City and Crystal Palace—then fellow relegation battlers of his Magpies towards the end of last season—don’t always seem to follow these guidelines.
The 37-year old currently ranks fifth in the cautions table with 23 yellow cards shown in the seven matches he has officiated thus far this season, and with captain Jordan Henderson already walking a fine line on the disciplinary front, one can only hope the referee doesn’t become the story in what should otherwise be a cracking affair.