Referees: They're not that bad

Written by Daniel Bowers.

I HAVE been a critic of football referees ever since I started watching football. I used to say they were all terrible but in fact, they’re actually not all terrible. It’s no secret that referees come under regular scrutiny over big decisions and they should, because after all they receive large fees for their services and are graded at the top level for a reason, but maybe we shouldn’t be as harsh on them as we are.
 
I have been lucky enough to begin to get an insight into the world of being a football referee after beginning the Scottish FA’s referee course in Lanarkshire and it really has opened my eyes over the last few weeks.

Former Category 1 referee Brian Winter told the class that our perception of the way matches were refereed would change in weeks. He was right.
 
I have, to my own surprise, become incredibly sympathetic towards referees. Referees do get it wrong, sometimes through no fault of their own. They themselves would admit that. However, fans and journalists alike are quick to judge and criticise them. For example, the decision not to give Lee Wallace a goal against Celtic in December 2011 was heavily criticised. It is often the case that after a big decision such as that one, the referee or assistant referee involved is heavily criticised for not making the right decision, however, it is also regularly the case that we don’t think about the circumstances and just assume that they made a mistake.

I have to admit that I have vilified referees in the past for decisions that they appeared to get wrong, such as Craig Thomson failing to give at least two penalties for Celtic against Rangers at Ibrox in 2009. He later apologised for those mistakes, which took a lot of guts. One of my main problems with referees in recent times is the fact that they don’t make themselves more accountable to supporters about decisions they make, and I believe they should be more accountable.
 
After all, many of us pay good money to watch our teams both at stadiums and on television and feel that we should get an explanation of decisions made by referees. Players and managers are often asked about their opinions of the match they’ve just been a part of and often criticise referees if they get a big decision wrong.
 
I recall former English referee Paul Durkin once coming out after a match between Man United and Newcastle in 2004 and doing a television interview explaining two contentious decisions that he had appeared to get wrong. Why do referees not do that more often? I feel that if they did, maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to criticise and begin to understand their position better. More transparency is needed between fans and those governing the game in order for supporters to have a better understanding of why certain decisions are made at certain times, especially in bigger matches such as top of the table clashes, European and international matches, which are often watched by millions around the world.

What most fans are too quick to say is “that referee should be demoted” or “that referee should be sacked” for getting a decision wrong. The pressure that most of these top-level referees are under is almost unimaginable. Not only do they have thousands of supporters watching and 22 players to control, they also have match delegates scrutinising their every move, from their ability to keep up with play to their capacity to make a big decision in a high-pressure situation. I can understand what the referee was going through at Celtic Park a couple of weeks ago during the Juventus match, regardless of whether or not it he bowed to pressure in not giving at least one penalty for something that is quite contentious in modern football. Could you imagine what the Juventus players would have said to him? The criticism he would have received from the Italian press and supporters? While referees shouldn’t have to think about that kind of thing, the scrutiny they do come under is incredible and often they are maligned too quickly by all of us. We need to start understanding the job that a referee does much better than we do right now and we need to stop criticising referees as quickly as we do. In order to do this, there needs to be more co-operation between supporters and the football authorities in terms of making certain areas of the “Laws of the Game” clearer especially in terms of misconduct and the offside rule. While I mention it, how does the offside rule work again?

In all seriousness though, referees do get a hard time and maybe we should back off a bit. They probably have the toughest job in the game, and to be fair; most of them do a pretty decent job at controlling football matches. There are exceptions of course, such as the infamous Old Firm cup replay in 2011, but most of the time officials do a good job of keeping matches flowing and allowing the players that we paid to see, play football. I would highly recommend that if you really want to gain better knowledge of the “Laws” that you take up a referee course near you, even if you aren’t particularly interested in becoming a referee. It’s amazing just how quickly your perception of referees and the game can change.




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