Forest lose meekly on the pitch and sh*t the bed off it with bizarre Luton conspiracy

Dave Tickner
Nottingham Forest appeal in vain for a penalty at Everton
Nottingham Forest appeal in vain for a penalty at Everton

Nottingham Forest were rubbish at Everton, lost 2-0, and then decided to torch their reputation and dignity by blaming it all on a Luton-supporting VAR.


We don’t have a lot of time for referee-based conspiracy theories here.

It’s a tiresome thing, concocted by fans to explain away the inadequacies of their team’s performances and to avoid any introspection of any kind. The officials are not biased against your team.

Except there is one official-based conspiracy theory we are desperate to believe in and for which we will cheerfully don the tinfoil and pretend the world is run by lizards and that the world is flat and all the rest of it.

And that conspiracy theory is this: we would love it, love it, if all the referees have got together and decided to give Nottingham Forest absolutely f*** all for as long as gamekeeper turned Gladiators referee turned poacher Mark Clattenburg is on the payroll as Forest’s Lord High Decision-Criticiser and Deflector of Blame.

We really don’t think enough has been made of it, and if it did nothing else – and it really didn’t – a ropey El Deductico that didn’t even have the decency to be full of tension and stress to go with the largely expected lack of quality at least gives us the chance to correct that oversight. And that was before Forest decided to show their entire arse on Twitter.

Forest appointing Clattenburg is one of the most Barclays things that’s ever happened. It is, perhaps, an inevitable end point of two overriding Modern Football trends: Celebrity Refs, and Blaming Everything Bad That Happens To Your Team On Celebrity Refs.

Thinking about it for any time at all, and you can only conclude this was inevitable. Some club or other was always going to get a former referee to be their spokes-hole on these matters, to theoretically add some gravitas but in reality just making them and him look a bit mad.

And that former referee was always going to be Clatts, wasn’t it? Absolutely loves the attention, doesn’t he? Can’t even let a game of Gauntlet go by without making it all about him and giving Viper a bollocking.

We don’t know, of course, whether he is personally responsible for the utterly deranged tweet that emerged from Forest’s official account at full-time, but only a club that would appoint a former referee to the role of Complainer-In-Chief could come out with it. We’re going to put the whole text here, because a) it is absolutely wondrous and b) it will by the time you’re reading this almost certainly have been deleted.

‘Three extremely poor decisions – three penalties not given – which we simply cannot accept.

‘We warned the PGMOL that the VAR is a Luton fan before the game but they didn’t change him. Our patience has been tested multiple times.

‘NFFC will now consider its options.’

This would be an embarrassing post-match contribution to the discourse from a disgruntled fan. From an official account it might be the most mortifying post of all time. Even just trying to imagine how an official Premier League account could write something more small-time than “We warned the PGMOL that the VAR is a Luton fan” is making our head hurt.

It’s very, very funny, obviously. There is a serious side here, though. This is dangerous, pandering nonsense. We can understand Forest’s frustrations across the season as a whole and today, where they could easily have had at least two penalties. We’ll get to that.

But tweets aimed squarely at getting the most deranged elements of the fanbase onside really won’t end well for anyone. It won’t make it any more likely that Forest will get more decisions in their favour. Of course they didn’t change the officials because you moaned about it; why on earth should the officials’ organisation even consider an argument as offensive and pitiful as “But, but, but… he supports Luton”.

It would be an ill-judged tweet from an official account even without the truly mortifying Luton bit, but it would be just about justifiable. It’s the Luton bit that specifically takes it to truly extreme levels of delusion, embarrassment and danger.

Because the Luton bit implies not incompetence but corruption. That’s a terrible look. If Forest genuinely suspect there is something that serious going on, then there are ways and means to go about pursuing justice. Ludicrous Twitter grandstanding is not one of them.

And it is just grandstanding. Things like “simply cannot accept” and “NFFC will now consider its options” are wild things to be saying. What does refusing to accept the decisions actually mean? You can’t appeal a result. What ‘options’ are you considering? Might we suggest ‘be a bit less sh*t’? Don’t just rely on penalties, if the biased refs aren’t going to give you any, yeah?.

Still, though. They probably should have had some penalties. We’re not about to suggest that Luton-supporting is a factor, but this absolutely was another game that exposed the flaws and weaknesses of a VAR that remains too determined to find minuscule errors in some very specific circumstances (offside) and yet stubbornly determined to ignore far greater ones in all others.

‘Clear and obvious’ is itself a subjective hurdle for already subjective decisions to clear. Nobody is ever going to be satisfactorily able to point to a decision that lands one side of that line and one that falls the other in a way that makes everyone go ‘Ah, fair enough’. Because those decisions cannot exist.

But when the referee on the field responds to a penalty appeal by making the internationally recognised hand gesture for ‘got the ball’ and replays instantly reveal the defender did not in fact get the ball, and this still doesn’t constitute ‘clear and obvious’ then we must ask what, precisely, ever could meet that criteria?

And it wasn’t the only one. Had any of the three penalty appeals that Forest are so animated about been awarded, there would have been little outcry. That all three incidents involved the same player shouldn’t really matter, but does somehow make it funnier/more enraging for reasons we can’t quite pin down. Just something about the idea that a player who has committed three potentially penalty-conceding offences – all of which were due to either clumsiness or inattention on his part – walking off the field whistling contentedly without a blot on his copybook being very satisfying.

Everton for their part will quite rightly care not one bit about any of this. They won’t care that they didn’t play particularly well. They will care that they collected a huge three points, and have made the table look far, far better than it did this morning.

That Everton’s two goals both came from long-range shots that weren’t struck entirely cleanly and went in off the post was fitting. They were goals that reflected the performance; not exactly perfect, not necessarily entirely what was intended, but delivered the necessary result.

But while it was Everton who took a huge step towards safety and delivered some sort of response to Monday’s mauling at Chelsea, this is a game that will be remembered solely for Nottingham Forest’s bed-sh*tting response to it.