by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

It seems that the barrage of abuse being faced by referees is increasing with every weekend that passes, and the post-match talk that follows in the TV and radio studios is increasingly spent on the performance of the referees, and not the players and managers.   (As an aside I wonder if a few refs should phone up 606 and ask Alan Green about the quality of commentary and punditry).  I am of the opinion that some of this is stage-managed by the managers and players themselves to detract from their own shortcomings, whether it be lack of skill or cheating, and maybe some of the more attention seeking refs bring the spotlight to bear on themselves.  However, this obsession of the referee’s performance is becoming tedious and drawing the spotlight away from the areas of the game we should be looking at.  Refereeing is a thankless task anyway, they are seemingly scrutinised for how many mistakes they make not what they do right.  In comparison it would be like analysing a game where Rooney, for example, had scored two and made three, and then focusing solely on the penalty miss he had made.  Of course when referees have a good game then there performance is not commented on because there is nothing controversial to talk about.

According to statistics by the referee’s monitoring body, Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), referees on average have to make a decision every 12 seconds, which adds up to an incredible 450 decisions a game.  They have one chance to see an event from one angle, unlike the people in the studio with 5 different angles and slow-motion, high definition replays, and being human, of course they’ll get it wrong occasionally.  All of this takes place in front of a crowd of several thousand people, a proportion of which will reckon you have made the wrong decision regardless of what you decide.  Add to this the fact that every decision you make there is a strong chance you will be surrounded by angry men, who have been trying to con you all game, calling you a wanker and worse.  I challenge anyone reading this to say that they would get every decision right all of the time.

So what can be done?  I’m not getting dragged into the video technology argument, as that’s an article in itself.  Anyway, many so-called mistakes are down to simple interpretation that repeated viewing does not solve.  For example, did Torres get a booking for overreacting?  On the chat shows I’ve heard some fans say that they agree there was contact but Torres didn’t have to fall over, and so he was booked for the simulation.  That’s a fair argument but one that is impossible to resolve totally, with or without video technology, as it is a matter of opinion.  If the referees were allowed to explain and justify their decisions to the media after the game we would have a better understanding of how the decision was reached.  At the moment a lot of people don’t know, or don’t understand, the rules referees work under.  I wonder how many of those angry callers to 606 would be able to pass their referee exams?

So can we not just accept that referees make mistakes, always have done, and always will, and its just one factor that adds to the unpredictability that makes football worth watching?  Top strikers miss easy chances, midfielders give the ball away, defenders fail to clear balls, and goalkeepers let the ball slip between their legs into the net.  None of these mistakes are met with the tirade of abuse that are aimed at a referee when he fails to give a penalty, wrongly disallows a goal for offside, or is hoodwinked by gamesmanship, and yet they are just as costly to a team’s fortunes.  It’s time to give more support to the referee, particularly in the clamp down on diving.  If the occasional innocent player gets punished, then too bad, it’s still better for the overall good of the game.  It is also time to stamp out the abuse from players on the pitch and from the managers off the pitch, who increasingly get their criticism in the week before a game.   The abuse is not necessary, one of England’s finest ever managers Brian Clough wouldn’t stand for it for a moment, even once fining Viv Anderson because he looked at a ref in the wrong way.

Don’t get me wrong this is not a call for us never to criticise referees.  They are sometimes unfit or inadequate, and I’ve done my fair share of abusing refs in the past.  However, PGMOL statistics suggest that they get over 90% of major decisions correct, (although admittedly what they define as a major decision is open to debate).  We need to have a bit more understanding, tolerance, and patience to ensure that the referees are allowed to work on improving their fitness, and awareness of the game without so much pressure.  Ultimately we need to accept that a bad refereeing decision is no worse than an own goal or missed penalty kick.