Talking Sport: Ex-players could help reduce refereeing errors

Who'd be a ref? A few more ex-players, perhaps...
Who'd be a ref? A few more ex-players, perhaps...

Bear with me while I describe a few short tales which almost define incompetence.

Two weeks’ ago, I was aghast to see not one but two ludicrous refereeing decisions go against Tottenham at the Britannia Stadium as they lost to Stoke City. The defeat could prove vital at the end of the season as they mount a serious title challenge and a quest for another money-spinning year of Champions League football.

The first decision, as most of us have seen, was a clear elbow off the line by a Stoke defender which should have led to a Spurs penalty and a red card for the culprit. Given the speed at which this incident occurred you could possibly forgive the referee for getting this one wrong.

However, what followed was mediocre at best. Spurs forward Emmanuel Adebayor had a perfectly good goal disallowed for being offside. Replays showed he was clearly at least two yards onside – and the linesman had a clear view and was a matter of yards away from the last man.

This ‘goal’, coming so late in the game, would have been likely to earn Spurs a point and possibly more, given the balance of the game would have swung in their favour.

A week or so later, Manchester City midfielder David Silva was tripped in the box by a Chelsea defender. No penalty. Now you always look to give the referee the benefit of the doubt by replays showed that not only was there a clear trip, but ref Mark Clattenberg was four yards from the challenge with a direct line of sight. And if that’s not a penalty – why didn’t he book Silva for diving? By not doing so he set his own benchmark of what he perceives to be a yellow card.

Watching Brighton v Burnley at the Amex recently, I – among 19,000 others – watched a refereeing performance which left both sets of fans speechless and stunned as we witnessed two Brighton red cards in the first 12 minutes. Unprecedented stuff, surely.

The first was a mystery and it has since materialised that it was for foul and abusive language. Fair enough – but it was the fourth official who called it. Why didn’t the ref, who was again a matter of yards away, call it himself?

The second was a straight red for a dangerous tackle. Again, fair enough. But the victim of the tackle got up, grabbed the Brighton player by the throat and pinned him to the ground. He escaped punishment. Another benchmark was set.

And why aren’t the officials paraded in front of the cameras to explain their decisions after the game? Instead irate managers, whose jobs could be lost as a result of such decisions, are forced to run the risk of fines and touchline bans by describing their own thoughts on what just unfolded in front of them. Why don’t the officials receive harsher punishments for what are often unforgiveable and blatant errors?

Once again, the officials are in the limelight for the wrong reasons. And, despite my tone, I do feel for them. They are just human beings. However, very often they’re human beings who have never played the game, nor truly understand the pace and passion involved.

This needs to be addressed - from the very top. From grass-roots football to our professional game, we need to see more current and former players taking the plunge on refereeing/officiating courses. If you were to survey professional footballers in the top four divisions I would bet just a tiny handful would declare their interest in becoming an official after they hang up their boots.

And we know why: they have seen the flack officials get from fans, players, managers and, of course, the media. You can hardly blame them. It’s almost as if it’s the fault of the players that we are seeing more and more ‘dodgy refs’. Why would they put themselves in the position of someone they have raged at throughout their careers? It’s catch 22.

The FA must clamp down on dissent towards officials by players and managers – easier said than done – in order to improve the attractiveness of the job. The relationship between rugby players and officials is clearly the benchmark but there’s a lot of work to be done if we want to reach those standards.

But if we can start to improve this element of the game and the bond and mutual understanding between players and officials then improvements will be noticed, slowly but surely.

For the sake of our game, the FA and its local associations must encourage more players to start officiating. Having played the game they are already halfway there with their understanding of the rules. And they would have already have the respect which is clearly lacking between the two parties.

I would love to see this rolled out in the lower leagues. The fluidity of games would quickly improve; our game would change for the better.

If you want a job done, then just do it yourself.

by Craig Peters

Osprey PR, 0844 826 3136, craig@ospreypr.com, www.ospreypr.com

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