Stuart Attwell - a man on the Christmas card list of every Ipswich fan

IT is a common footballing adage that the best refereeing performance is one where you don’t notice the man in the middle.

But from the moment he pulled into Portman Road on Saturday afternoon, that was never going to be the case for Stuart Attwell – a man who seems to attract controversy like a magnet.

This is the same referee after all who gave the notorious ‘ghost goal’ for Reading against Watford and allowed Dirk Kuyt to run clear and score why the Sunderland defence stood like statues earlier this year.

Fantastic work from the Ipswich Town ground staff encouraged Attwell to start the televised game as the snow started to fall in Suffolk.

Should it have been played in the first place? No, said Sven Goran Eriksson rather predictably given Leicester City’s woeful performance and 3-0 defeat.

But as proved by the Sky Sports team, the ball was running relatively smooth and there was no frost surfacing under the snow and therefore no danger to either team.

So far, so good for Mr Attwell. But life as a professional referee rarely runs smooth for the 28-year-old from Nuneaton.

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After yet more Herculean work at half time ensured that large parts of the snow were cleared and the blue lines restored, Attwell again deemed that the match was playable.

Or so we thought. Just 14 minutes into the half and with the pitch seemingly looking better than during parts of the first half, the referee stopped the game and ordered everyone back into the dressing room.

Most thought that was the cue for a total abandonment and a cruel twist in Roy Keane and Ipswich Town’s fortunes following six defeats on the trot.

But Attwell had other ideas and decided that the match would be played out to the end after a 15-minute break in second half play.

Attwell doesn’t just court controversy, he unwittingly gives it a kiss under the mistletoe. And this is someone from who so much is promised.

Fast-tracked through the system, Attwell became the youngest man to ever officiate a Premiership game, when he took charge of Blackburn against Hull at the tender age of 25 years old.

It was ironic that many on social networking sites, watching in the warmth of their living room or heroically braving the elements at Portman Road were ready to verbally lynch Attwell when he temporarily abandoned the game.

Whereas now, our man in the middle could become the saviour of Town’s season and, of course, their under-fire manager.

Attwell in the spotlight

- Stuart Attwell is probably most famous for his decision to award a ‘ghost goal’ as it has become known. In September 2008, he allowed a goal for Reading to stand when the ball had actually gone four yards wide of the post and out for a corner – much to the anger of their opponents Watford and most inside Vicarage Road.

- Attwell again came to the nation’s attention in September when he waved away protests from Sunderland and gave a controversial goal for Liverpool at Anfield. Michael Turner nudged the ball back to Simon Mignolet, but the Wearsiders claimed it was only for the keeper to take a free kick. But Fernando Torres raced through to tee up Dirk Kuyt to score. The decision was branded “a joke” by Sunderland boss Steve Bruce but the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMO) defended Attwell.

- Liverpool and Attwell do have history. In March, a national newspaper described the official as a “blunder referee” after he failed to take action against Steven Gerrard during an incident with Portsmouth’s Michael Brown. The England skipper was immediately substituted by his manager Rafael Benitez.

- The then-Derby boss Paul Jewell accused Attwell of “losing control” during a Midlands derby with Nottingham Forest in November 2008. The referee disallowed two Derby goals in the final few minutes, booked eight players and sent off Forest’s Lewis McGugan. Attwell was subsequently axed from the following week’s fixture list.

- The referee also incurred the wrath of Wigan boss Steve Bruce who questioned whether Attwell was ready to “step up to the plate” after sending off two players and booking seven during a heated match with West Ham.

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