I imagine most who visit here or read my rants on Twitter will know I have a pretty low opinion of the current crop of Premier League referees and assistants. To be fair they do come under the microscope far more than ever before so I have some sympathy for all but the most obviously incompetent. I am indebted to our very own Noosa Gooner for reminding us there is more than one side to the story, and shares with us some of the things he learned with a whistle at the ready. Thanks Noosa.
Holics – everybody thinks they can ref – right?
I was in New Zealand when I stopped playing football at the age of 35 – it was just taking longer and longer to get over the weekly knocks and bruises. However I was still pretty fit, I could still run around ok and was keen to stay involved in the game for a while longer.
I was reminded of an appearance before the disciplinary committee where I had commented upon the general ineptitude of referees. Their response was to suggest that I become a referee when I finished playing and to see if I could do better. So I did.
Work commitments stopped me from refereeing at a national level, although I became qualified to do so, but I enjoyed refereeing, mostly at a regional level for about 8 years before a job transfer meant I had to give it away. I learnt things that I never knew, despite having played the game since I was a kid. I don’t claim to be an expert but thought I could share some observations of the most popular topics from the dark side for your interest.
I was taught that the role of a referee is “to enforce the laws of the game”. I learnt that refereeing is all about correct decision making and good man management, underpinned by a decent level of fitness. Without all three things, you’ll never be a good referee.
Consequently, you must obviously have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the laws of the game. Indeed, you are tested on your knowledge in written, verbal and practical assessments as you work your way up the refereeing ladder and beyond. I was often amazed at how little many players (including myself), coaches and, to be fair, some referees actually knew about the laws – everything from acceptable pitch dimensions to the interpretation of violent conduct. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.
If the referee is there to enforce the laws, it is the players’ responsibility to stay within those laws. Contrary to what some TV commentators would have you believe, it is not the referee’s job to “make allowances” for poor conditions or heated atmospheres and let poor challenges go unpunished because of that. It is the players who must make those “allowances” and the referee, as always, simply enforces the laws. If a referee tries to alter his decision making because of conditions, then consistency of decision-making goes out the window which is when a ref often loses control and gets (rightly) slated for that.
Similarly, it is not the referee’s job to “try and keep 22 players on the pitch”. We were never coached to think like that. If a player commits a cautionable or dismissible offence then he should be dealt with accordingly, irrespective of playing conditions or the nature of the match. If not, this type of leniency is quickly seen by the players as a sign of weakness which is then played upon and leads to even more refereeing inconsistency. Unfortunately we see this week in and week out.
In a similar vein, how often do we see a player plead that “it’s my first foul” when about to be cautioned – as if everybody is allowed a free whack at somebody before the laws apply to them? Where did this idea come from? I am amazed that some referees seem to let players get away with not just this but also multiple infringements before sanction. Just how do they interpret “persistent misconduct”?
Oscar at the Chelsea game this season springs to mind. And all the usual suspects. Lucas at Liverpool. Henry at Wolves. Fernhandino at City. And so on. Again, it just seems like weak refereeing to me.
Dissent – Someone (politely) questioning a decision is ok but allowing players to swear at you, confront or surround you, chase you, walk away from you when administering a caution shows that your man management skills have failed and that you have lost the respect that players must afford you. Once that happens, you’ve effectively lost control of the game.
Playing advantage – simply having possession of the ball after an infringement does not automatically represent an advantage, particularly if an attacking player has been taken out of the game and the attack. Too many referees seem not to apply this very well.
In the English Premier League today, I reckon that about half of all throw-ins are illegal – from stealing way too many yards through to incorrect release of the ball. Read the law. I suspect that referees are told to let all but the most blatant go for the sake of continuity but the downside is that if one law (albeit minor) is allowed to be so blatantly ignored then is it really any wonder that so many other laws and decisions are then challenged or misunderstood by players and managers?
Hands on / hands off. It seems to be generally accepted that players should never lay hands on a referee, whatever the circumstances. The reasons are obvious. I am still surprised when I see referees laying hands on players whether moving back a defensive wall or stepping in between players who were squaring up to each other or, as I saw recently, actually pushing a player backwards to avoid a fight with another player. I was coached that respect is a two way street and never to touch a player. If there’s a confrontation or other incendiary incident then watch what happens and then take appropriate action – don’t get involved in that action itself.
That same requirement of respect demands that, during a game, players are not your friends. I am shocked to see so many referees using first name terms and trying to be “matey” with players during matches. There were occasions when I refereed games including my old club and guys I had played with but first names and familiarity quite obviously had to be off limits until after the game. Why do some referees now feel the need to be such an integral part of the show? Funnily enough, this seems to be an English thing – continental refs are much more detached and are usually better for it.
I wish that referees were allowed to explain, post-match, why certain decisions were given. They may not always be right and we may not always agree but I think it would benefit the game and our understanding of the role of the referee.
There are many other things about refs that drive us crazy but ask yourself – how well do you know the laws. Some might say that you need to be crazy to be a referee. The thing is, there wouldn’t be a game without them. Maybe you could be one?