Graham Poll: Why is that *!@?#% in the black?

In the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat to Spurs, it feels as though the fallout from the game is likely to go on for as long as Chelsea’s spell of dominance over the boys from No Point Lane (a temporary name, of course).

Sunday’s London derbies provided enough drama and incident to keep the hacks in business until, well, next weekend at least. Over at Upton Park, Arsene Wenger put up his dukes and a solid defence of his “Sorest Loser” crown after Alan Pardew’s Hammers added their name to the growing list of teams who refuse to be dazzled by the Gunners.

Pardew’s astute tactical brain eventually found a crucial flaw in the smoke and mirrors that cloaked the East End: the visiting team hadn’t actually scored. It was a certainly a breathtaking display of beautiful, flowing football, exquisite passing and near-telepathic movement, which allowed Marlon Harewood to bundle the winner home from six yards. Foiled again, Arsene.

As for events at Tottenham, we really should have seen it coming. When Claude Makelele buries a twenty-yard screamer, you know that the world has flipped on it axis. Makelele scoring. Spurs beating Chelsea. Graham Poll having a decent game. Somewhere in a parallel universe, maybe.

But it was, in football terms, just a blip and nothing to get too excited about. Sir David Beckham will probably be resident at 10 Downing Street and the unholy offspring of Lily Allen and Pete Doherty perched at number one in the singles chart before it happens again. There are some great memories to ponder in the meantime; the Bridge on April 7 gives a perfect opportunity for West London to remind North London just what it is full of.

Quite what Graham Poll is full of, however, has been the subject of fierce debate ever since. His own self-importance seems to be the most common (and least libellous) suggestion thus far. The traditional ‘just because you lost’ cat-calling is inevitable, but the result, and any accusations of sour grapes, must be separated from the referee’s performance and Chelsea have every right to complain about Poll’s handling of the game.

Following his inability to count yellow cards against the points on his cloven hoof in Germany this summer (former referee Jeff Winter suggested that “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy”), it is, without question, nothing short of a disgrace that Poll is still regarded as one of the top officials in English football.

John Terry’s confusion over his dismissal has been echoed by most, with neither reason reportedly given by the man from Tring seeming sufficient to warrant a second booking. The suggestion that Chelsea players were told their discipline was “out of order” is not quite as dramatic as it first sounds, but Poll’s alleged remark that they “needed to be taught a lesson” potentially calls into question whether his actions were entirely rational and balanced thereafter. The news that the FA has dismissed the suggestion in his report that he was harassed by Chelsea players after booking Michael Ballack would seem to further undermine Poll’s position.

Referees’ chief Keith Hackett has suggested that he has “serious doubts” about Chelsea’s claims over the integrity of “one of our most experienced and world-class (would FIFA agree?) refs”, but that they will be investigated. Hackett’s language neither damns Chelsea nor blindly backs Poll, but it does indicate that his mind has already been made up.

The immediate reaction is to look for an agenda. We heard cries from Arsenal, United and Liverpool during their periods of dominance that officials were harsher on football’s ruling aristocracy. Others, including ourselves on occasion, were convinced that it was they who suffered when meeting the bigger sides; having been on both sides of the fence in the last decade, Chelsea fans are probably better placed than most to appreciate both arguments. But I’m not convinced there is an agenda; it’s far more simple than that, far less Machiavellian and underhand.

Graham Poll is just a bloody awful referee. Google his name and words like ‘controversy’, ‘blighted’, ‘incensed’ and ‘completely bollocksed up’ appear, and in connection with more clubs than just Chelsea. All too often, it is his name that makes the news; a man seemingly desperate to bask in football’s reflected glow while assuming greater importance than the players, stealing the headlines from them and feeding his ego into the bargain. The Heather Mills-McCartney of football?

Beyond the Spurs defeat and Pollgate, there are a number of things for the Blues to remember and focus upon. Converting chances against Aston Villa, Watford, West Ham and beyond that, far from the capital’s madding crowd, a meeting with a wily old Scotsman, himself fond of a tear-up with officialdom on occasion, who’d love it, just love it if recent events were to distract Chelsea enough to make them falter before he’d stuck the fairy on his tree.

And so to Aston Villa; the man taking charge of the game is Mark Halsey. Oh lord…