Referee Stuart Attwell endures the kind of evening he (and Wolves) really didn’t need

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Referee Stuart Attwell endures the kind of evening he (and Wolves) really didn’t need

Stuart Attwell seemed in no rush to make the walk of the condemned man.

As he made his way from the centre of the Molineux pitch to the replay screen in front of the Billy Wright Stand 65 minutes into a previously controversy-free game between Wolves and Bournemouth, he would have had a clear idea of what he was being asked to do and what it would mean.

Sent to the screen, and into a no-win situation, by a colleague a hundred miles away, Attwell knew as he made the long trudge to the touchline that he would probably have to disallow a Wolverhampton Wanderers goal. And he knew what that meant.

Thanks Darren England, mate. Thanks a bunch. With friends like these…

Sure enough, the abuse came quickly and loudly from an angry home crowd; Attwell the obvious but fairly undeserving lightning rod for a season and a half of pent-up frustration with the refereeing fraternity.

“Premier League, corrupt as f***.” “Stuart Attwell, you’re a w****r.” “Nuno’s right, Attwell’s s***e”.

Ah, Nuno and Nottingham Forest. If Attwell thought an evening out in the West Midlands would bring respite from the tumult of the previous few days, he could think again.

Attwell disallows Wolves’ equaliser after consulting VAR (David Rogers/Getty Images)

The growing divide of antipathy between Wolves and Nottingham Forest fans had finally been bridged by a mutual hatred of VAR and officialdom in general.

Wolves fans might well disagree — and after the litany of injustices, both real and perceived, they have suffered in their recent history, who can blame them for a lack of sympathy — but it was hard not to feel for Attwell on a human level.

Wolves boss Gary O’Neil certainly did when asked afterwards whether he had any objections to Attwell taking charge of last night’s game after 72 hours in the crosshairs of Forest’s own VAR fury.

“No qualms at all,” said O’Neil, who refused to be drawn on the rights or wrongs of the decision. “It’s been a tough few days for him. I hope he is doing OK.”

For Attwell, the chance to get out onto the Molineux pitch might have felt like a chance to escape the furore created by Forest’s cynical, implied questioning of his impartiality and get back to the day job — namely being jostled and sworn at by 22 multi-millionaires and verbally abused by 25,000 emotional punters with an axe to grind.

Instead, he found himself caught up in another storm.

Having already fought his way back to the top level after his part in the infamous Readng ‘ghost goal’ against Watford in 2008, Attwell has proven he is not a man to crumble under the weight of scrutiny.

But after days of unwanted attention following Forest’s accusation of an allegiance to relegation rivals Luton, he could really have done with a quiet night.

There was a strong Luton presence at Molineux but that came in the form of former Wolves defender and current Kenilworth Road boss Rob Edwards, who joked with former colleagues in the directors’ box as he scouted his side’s next opponents — they face Wolves on Saturday.

Attwell, meanwhile, proudly displayed his own colours in the form of the badge on his chest, reading ‘FIFA Referee 2024’. And for more than an hour, it seemed like he might have the uneventful evening he needed.

He exchanged a few words with a disgruntled Wolves forward Pablo Sarabia after refusing to award the Spaniard a free-kick when he felt he was pulled to the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He gave Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa a free-kick for a shove at a corner. No real complaints there.

He ignored the annoyance of Rayan Ait-Nouri when he waved play-off after the Algerian claimed a free-kick, gave Nelson Semedo a straightforward booking for a trip and dismissed a couple of ambitious penalty appeals with a dramatic extension of his arms.

He was quick to check on Milos Kerkez when he took a blow to the face and kept his cool amid buffeting from Bournemouth players when Rayan Ait-Nouri kicked out at Illia Zabarnyi.

He was booed off at half-time and back on again for the second half but such treatment has become standard at Molineux after a string of controversial calls. For Attwell at the break, it was so far, so good.

It was not destined to last, and when he did not spot Matheus Cunha’s arm in the face of Justin Kluivert in the build-up to Hwang Hee-chan’s ‘equaliser’ for Wolves, who trailed to Antoine Semenyo’s first-half goal, England stepped in.

The VAR then watched on from the comfort of the Stockley Park hub as Attwell was shown the footage and completed the grim formality of chalking off the goal, declining to go against the view of his colleague behind the screen.

For the officials, it was a case of applying the letter of the law. For the viewing public, it was a case of officials getting involved unnecessarily to overturn what seemed not to constitute a “clear and obvious error”.

For Attwell, it was a case of ‘Not now, Darren, please, not now.’

Even Cunha conceded in a post-match interview that he might have committed a foul. But it did not feel like an intervention that football required. It was certainly not one that Attwell needed.

A calm, reasoned decision to send off Kerkez for a dangerous challenge on Matt Doherty could not redeem him as the Molineux crowd reminded Attwell “you’re still a f***ing w****r”, with a lengthy VAR check for offside on another disallowed Wolves goal late on providing an ample window for abuse to rain down.

“It’s not football anymore,” declared Wolves fans in one of the saddest songs to emerge from a Premier League ground in recent years. Indeed, VAR has changed the face of the game in ways that its proponents never foresaw.

And for Stuart Attwell, it has given him one hell of a week.

(Top photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)