Week after week in the Premier League there seems to be one controversy after another when it comes to referees and their decisions. Only on Monday we saw Manchester City denied a penalty that would have levelled the game with Chelsea, a game City ended up losing and with it losing their unbeaten Premier League run. Just the day before Spurs had been the victims of what was more questionable refereeing which also put an end to their impressive league run. It’s not just in the Premier League either; only yesterday, Ballymena United (N.Ireland league) manager Roy Walker quit his job, as his former chairman revealed “One of the main reasons (he left) is the refereeing. It’s just not right”.
The question is what can be done about it? Harry Redknapp has come out in the wake of another refereeing nightmare and suggested that having two referees that officiate half of the pitch each could help cut down on errors – it could also double the amount of errors Harry! But he could have a point and it is good that someone in the public eye has spoken out with a suggestion about what could change and more importantly that something has to change, rather than just criticism.
The man on all our Christmas card lists, Sepp Blatter, came out and said goal-line technology could be introduced next season, which will go some way to eradicating errors in matches, but the opportunity will still be there for mistakes to be made. As players become quicker in the dribble and more technically skillful, referees have an even tougher job in making big decisions and it is easy to make mistakes. By no means am I saying referees should be expected to get it right all the time, in the words of Harry Redknapp “Referees are human and can make errors and bad calls”, you cannot really blame them. I have refereed an under 15’s game and felt the pressure, it is bad enough just being a linesman in Sunday football!
Referee’s need help and they should also be campaigning for change – so what can be done? Well let’s start off with Harry Redknapp’s suggestion of a referee in each half. Harry based this passing suggestion on his experiences with referees behind each goal in the Europa League, but even that was not full-proof as Spurs were denied stonewall penalties when this scenario was in force. Just because there are more eyes, doesn’t mean decision making becomes any easier, but the more angles that can be seen by officials can only help decision making. One of the problems that arise from this is the ongoing issue around interpretation; the rules need to be clearer around this.
The most accurate way of decision making is by the help of video technology. We have already seen cricket and tennis use video technology to great effect, in a process that may take a minute to complete, but has actually added to the excitement of the game, plus no one feels hard-done by, but bad umpire calls do still exist. In football, video technology could easily be introduced when it comes to decisions over penalty claims and contact in the box and also red cards, even though many have reservations about stopping and starting the game.
If a referee makes a penalty shout or shows a player a red card, the referee is always surrounded by players opposing the decision and sometimes he will consult the linesman to get help with that decision. This is a long process in itself that can easily take over a minute to resolve, the same amount of time it would take to review video footage, so technically no momentum would be lost. It is when decisions are not given and play continues that is the problem. However, if there is a disputed penalty claim which the ref does not give, then it must be a dive from the player involved, ( unless the players accidently collide) which therefore should result in a free-kick and a booking for the offending player, so play will stop regardless.
At the very least referees should explain decisions post-match so frustrated players, managers and fans can at least understand why certain decisions were made. Referees are protected from having to be accountable for their actions and it seems that bad calls go unpunished. If they do become accountable, they will then feel the pressure and it could even provoke them to ask for help. Referees have an impossible task and they need to be the first to admit they need help, instead of exuding a Gordan Brittas mentality of thinking they are right whilst looking incompetent.
The introduction of goal-line technology will be a significant leap of faith by the powers that be. Some progress has been made in trialling extra assistant referees behind the goals and this can only help. Mistakes will never be eradicated, as like Harry Redknapp said, referees are only human and we all make mistakes. They cannot be expect to be right all the time, so let’s get them the help they need and with video technology we can get clarity on big decisions without jeopardising the momentum of the game. In any other industry such levels of compliant would be acted on, football needs to realise it is no different.