Panto villain Lee Probert played the part too well between Norwich City and Wigan

Referee Lee Probert reprimands Bradley Johnson during City's 2-1 win against Wigan. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Referee Lee Probert reprimands Bradley Johnson during City's 2-1 win against Wigan. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

Chris Goreham
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
11:06 AM

There are hundreds of people up and down the country who dream of getting the sort of reaction afforded to referee Lee Probert by the Carrow Road crowd on Saturday at this time of the year.

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They spend their Decembers treading the boards in village halls dressed as Captain Hook.

Mr Probert seemed to be enjoying his role as the pantomime villain a little too much as he headed for the dressing room at half-time to a chorus of boos and jeers.

From our privileged commentary position just above the tunnel it was interesting to see the ref responding to his audience by mouthing ‘calm down’ and waving his hands towards the ground in similar fashion.

It did not serve to stop the less than festive greetings he was getting, if anything it rather fanned the flames, but it was the first time I can ever remember seeing a referee acknowledging his critics in such public fashion.

Like traffic wardens and tax inspectors, football referees must know they are taking on a job which brings with it unpopularity and the requirement of a thicker skin than your average rhinoceros.

They are tough professions which, even when done well, have the capacity to make people cross. That brings with it the occupational hazard of being on the wrong end of some fruity language at times but they are expected just to take it all on the chin.

Given those circumstances it is unsurprising that someone in Lee Probert’s position might now and again feel like telling his critics where to get off but it did not make for comfortable viewing.

Probert was not in any way abusive but it would have been interesting to see what sort of action he might have taken had a player reacted so blatantly to a section of the crowd, especially at a time when some are calling for a return to the dark ages in the shape of netting being put up to protect players from fans in the wake of the unpleasantness at the recent Manchester derby.

Like all good pantos the goodies triumphed in the end and most fans left Carrow Road talking about the players rather than the officials. Just the way it should be.

Wes Hoolahan underlined his value to the Canary cause by setting up Norwich City’s first goal, scoring their second and marking the announcement that he had signed a new contract in style.

This is Hoolahan’s fifth season with Norwich. With so much skill and trickery in that time he has bamboozled many into forgetting that it was the much maligned Glenn Roeder who brought him to Carrow Road from Blackpool.

Even Roeder’s harshest critic, and he has more than Lee Probert in these parts, would have to accept that he got that one right.

Anyone who doubted Hoolahan’s value to the team needed only to see how City did without him in the League Cup defeat to Aston Villa.

Sometimes it is easier to see a player’s true value when he is not there and the Canaries certainly missed that imaginative link between midfield and attack.

Of Hoolahan’s five Premier League goals, three have now come against Wigan.

He will be looking forward to Norwich’s next match against the Latics almost as much as Lee Probert will be relishing hanging up his whistle, finding that inflatable parrot and auditioning for the role he was born to play once his refereeing days are over.

Oh yes he will.

• MCVEIGH GETS IN THE CHARITY SPIRIT

It was surreal to hear the Carrow Road crowd belting out some of their old favourites during the Wigan game on Saturday.

Leon McKenzie, Youssef Safri and Darren Huckerby were all remembered in song as the Barclay choir did what all self respecting super groups do at this time of the year; bring out a greatest hits album.

The one that stood out was the ode to the man who now usually sits alongside me during BBC Radio Norfolk’s commentaries.

It had been some years since the ‘We Love You Paul McVeigh’ song had lifted the Carrow Road roof to the tune of Andy Williams ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ but it floated through the air on Saturday afternoon like it had never been away.

Two days earlier, Paul had shown that those sporting instincts never really leave an ex-professional by stepping into the boxing ring to go a round with former pro ‘Action’ Jackson Williams.

He manfully survived the three minute challenge set up when Grant Holt won a bet about reaching a given number of Twitter followers. Children in Need is benefiting from his bravery.

It certainly seemed to have caught the imagination of a good section of the City faithful. They were queuing up to greet Paul on Saturday, some to press their donations into his palm but many more to ask if he had any bruises they could look at.

Having commentated on the fight and been close enough to hear the exact noise made when the glove of a boxer who knows what he is doing meets the nose of an opponent who perhaps doesn’t I can honestly say it was no mean feat to come through three minutes relatively unscathed.

The psychological scars might take a little longer to heal though. Paul is unable to join us for the commentary on Norwich City’s next home game against Chelsea. He’s not said so but I have a feeling it might be because it is on Boxing Day.

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