By Dan Machin,
In recent years football officials have come under increasing scrutiny following a number of controversial, high profile decisions, none more so than in the past couple of weeks. The role of the football referee is a particularly thankless one. They are often criticised, rarely praised.
It is undoubtedly a difficult and stressful job but there needs to be more vigilance and transparency to alleviate the bitter post match outbursts that we see too frequently.
Immediately, one thinks back to the match between Stoke City and Tottenham last weekend. Chris Foy came in for some fierce criticism following his performance during that game which saw the Potters win 2-1 and thus end Spurs’ fine winning streak in the league. Afterwards aggrieved fans on Twitter vented their frustration at Mr. Foy. Unfortunately, it was a famous Scottish cyclist who bore the brunt of this criticism. Amusing as it is, there is a current malaise surrounding refereeing incidents.
Harry Redknapp felt frustrated by a number of decisions that went against his team, and he has every right to. Watching the highlights on Match of the Day it was clear for everyone to see that Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal was wrongly ruled out for offside by the assistant referee.
The incident involving Ryan Shawcross using his arm to clear Younes Kaboul’s goalbound header also went unnoticed by the officials.
As spectators watching the game on TV we get the advantage of replays to help us come to a decision. The referee gets just a matter of seconds to decide. I know this is used as an excuse every time something like this happens but it is a fact, no matter how tiresome it is to hear.
Once again it highlights the need for technology to help referees get such decisions correct; however the question remains, what kind of technology? Letting the fourth official watch the incident again on a television monitor in the dugout area seems the most obvious solution but unfortunately it is a debate that appears set to rumble on without a conclusion anytime soon. Other high profile sports like Cricket, Rugby and Tennis have adopted similar techniques successfully.
The increasing importance placed on the modern game means the role of an official is probably the most pressurised it has ever been. On top of this, the pace at which the game is now played also means the job is probably the hardest is has ever been.
I heard someone suggest that referees should do post match interviews with the media in order to explain their decisions; a good idea? I think so. It would at least be a step in the right direction.
Pundits are constantly telling us that controversial decisions are part and parcel of our beautiful game. They often exclaim that such incidents provide us with talking points. Yes, they do provide us with talking points but I’m sure any fan would argue that getting the decision correct in first place is of more importance than having something to discuss down the local.
The FA has tried to bridge the gap between referees and players in recent seasons by sending officials to visit clubs in order to establish a mutual respect for each other. This is all well and good but it does nothing to address game changing decisions on the pitch that could prove very costly for some teams at the end of the season.
I know that not everyone is in favour of video technology; some see football as old school and that it should remain this way. However, the game is not what it once was. It has evolved into something we live and breathe. Today the stakes are a lot higher than they used to be – the amount of money involved has seen to this.
To their credit, the FA has actively attempted to improve the game by persisting with the notion of goal line technology. This movement has at least prompted FIFA to experiment with the idea. The only problem here is how often do we see an incident like Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany in the 2010 World Cup? Not very, is the answer.
Conversely, an incident like Gary Cahill’s sending off against Tottenham a couple of weeks ago is far more common place. In cases like this video technology could be used to good effect. The fact that the red card was overturned on appeal will be of no comfort to Owen Coyle. His side were only one nil down when it happened and will believe they perhaps could have taken something from the game with eleven players on the pitch. The old cliché that decisions even themselves out in time is becoming an excuse for incompetence.
Obviously, you wouldn’t want to use video replays to aid every decision during a game – this would be farcical. In principle it would just be for key incidents such as dismissals and disallowed goals. I don’t like the idea of teams been able to able to review every decision, like tennis players can. What makes football so great is the way the game flows. You don’t want to take this away and replace it with a stop-start pattern.
Breaks in play should be kept to a minimum. Allowing teams to have a certain number of reviews per game also doesn’t appeal to me because it would be too restrictive. This happens in Cricket and on a number of occasions you see the umpire’s role undermined and this is the opposite of what you want to achieve. Rugby is a good example whereby they only use video technology replays to ascertain if tries have been legally scored. Football could adopt a similar system.
However, such change seems a long way off at present. In the meantime, something else needs to be done to establish a better relationship between referees and clubs. Officials are not seen to be accessible and this has created an ‘us and them’ mentality. Allowing referees to come out after games and explain their decisions would go a long way to achieving this.
Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_machin