In recent weeks refereeing decisions have once again been in the media spotlight. From controversial offside calls, to penalties not given, to Brendan Rodgers questioning why a Greater Manchester referee was in charge of a Manchester City home game against Liverpool.
Being a referee must surely be one of the worst jobs in Britain, whatever decision you make it is going to annoy at least one group of people. Every split second call gets analysed and dissected by millions, in an instant on social media, and then shared for everyone to see before you blow the full time whistle.
What everyone needs to understand is we all make mistakes, the smaller clubs will get the dubious calls against them and referees will have stinkers. None of this is done on purpose (well I hope not at anyway). Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about this. The referee obviously needs help in game and thanks to the FA finally bringing in video technology to goal line decisions, the tide is turning in the modern game. However, there is more that can be done.
Below are three simple improvements that can be made to cover all levels of the football pyramid.
1) Scrap and re-build the “retrospective punishment” rule. For years this has been a joke. The cameras pick up on a challenge, spit, slap, punch or bite in some instances. However, the referee sees the challenge, acknowledges and might even book the player. After the game nothing can be done. The only time there can be further punishment is if none of the four officials has spotted the incident and doesn’t report this in his notes after the game. In my opinion this needs to be totally overhauled and made it known that if you do something, that is deemed outside of what is allowed on a football pitch, you are going to be punished after the game. This would stretch from a punch, kick or slap all the way to diving. This is something that to start off with would see a lot of fines and bans which would stretch even a squad the size of Manchester City and Chelsea. However over time you would see a massive improvement with the in-game behaviour of players in the English Premier League.
2) Make every referee wear a microphone. I will quickly draw your attention to rugby. The referee in that game is only approachable by one man, (the captain). Decisions are explained on national TV, every conversation is recorded and from an outsiders point of view a rugby referee is held in higher esteem than any football ref up and down the country. Obviously the technology has aided the referees in rugby, something that Wayne Barnes (Top English rugby union ref) spoke to the BBC about in March 2013 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21701286)
By bringing this into football, it would be able to highlight exactly how the referee is spoken to and how the referee speaks to players. One of the worst sights in football is when players surround the referee after a decision is made on the football field; it is borderline bullying of one man to get the referee to change his mind. By following rugby’s lead and only allowing the team captain to approach the referee, this will mean teams will not be able to take advantage of situations anymore to try and sway a referee from future decisions to be made. If they do, then we can draw upon the new retrospective punishment rules from point 1.
3.) Finally I would like to see either referees coming out and explaining their decisions after games, or a spokesperson for them coming out and speaking to the media. At present, after a game, everyone under the sun gets asked for his or her opinion on “what the official was thinking giving/not giving that decision”. Pundits, managers, players and even fans, but the one man who isn’t given a chance to have their say is the officials. Like I said in the title for this blog, every week the competence and integrity of referees gets called into question, nearly every week at the moment. Let’s give them a voice, let them come out after the final whistle and speak to the media and explain why they made that call. I know that personally speaking if that were to happen, it would be a big improvement on what is currently happening now. (Which is nothing). What does happen is managers get annoyed, get interviewed directly after a game and say something that then gets picked up on by the media and before you know it the referee or officials name is in the papers or websites with their performance being called into question.
At the moment, there are massive shortages of people training to be referees in this country. Why would any teenager wanting to get into football want to be a referee when they see – at the highest level – the amount of abuse the men in black get week in week out?
These three improvements may not fully boost the recruitment levels of referees, but it will surely help improve our game that we enjoy so much.