Like Sir Alex Ferguson, referee Mark Halsey retired at the end of last season. Also like Ferguson, Halsey has a new autobiography coming out. And in that book, Halsey reveals that his relationship with Ferguson was in violation of protocol barring direct contact with managers and players and involved asking for favors that blurred the lines between personal and professional.
In a passage from Halsey's book (entitled Added Time and currently being serialized in The Sun) about Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel's accusation that referee Mark Clattenburg called him "a monkey" during a 3-2 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford last season, Halsey wrote:
"I took matters in my own hands and rang Sir Alex asking him to speak out.
"He agreed and used his Friday press conference to say he could not conceive of Mark saying such things. It helped the situation a great deal.
"It took time to gain Sir Alex Ferguson's respect but in the end we had a very good relationship.
"One thing should be made clear about my relationship with Sir Alex.
"I may have spoken to him a lot and shared texts but he knew when I crossed that white line there were no favours.
"Players and managers would not respect you if you gave decisions based on friendship."
It's unclear how Ferguson would know that when Halsey "crossed that white line there were no favors" when he felt comfortable enough to ask Ferguson for a favor himself, which Ferguson carried out in a professional capacity during a Manchester United press conference.
Regardless of that, a referee obviously should not care about gaining a particular manager's respect or fostering a "very good relationship" with him through text messages, but the fact that Halsey explicitly states that he did with Ferguson and even asked him for a professional favor will be seen as confirmation of long-held conspiracy theories about Ferguson having a beneficial edge with match officials.
For years there have been jokes and bitter accusations from rival fans and clubs about "Fergie Time" — the added time at the end of matches that seems to go just long enough for Man United to get the goal they need — and referees like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg "playing" for the club. These benefits have been said to encompass many things that aren't necessarily match-fixing, but benefits of the doubt that allowed Ferguson and his Man United teams to get the close calls to go their way far more often than not.
According to The Mirror, Halsey's book has already prompted Professional Game and Match Officials Limited, the group that oversees match officials for the Premier League, Football League and FA competitions, to remind referees that this kind of contact isn't allowed.
A [PGMOL] spokesman said: "At the beginning of the season all our referees were reminded of the importance of adhering to the PGMOL protocols.
"This covers a number of issues, including making direct contact with managers and players, which for integrity reasons is prohibited.
"Any new publicity will only heighten awareness of adhering to these important PGMOL guidelines."
Somewhere in Naples, Rafa Benitez just threw his list of facts in the air and shouted, "I knew it!"