The Impossible Job??

The Impossible Job…

Refereeing in football must be one of the most thankless jobs in sport. Every decision made simply cannot please everybody. Undoubtedly, they will always be open to criticism, either fairly or unfairly by some quarters, be it from players, managers, spectators or pundits. In the modern game of football, where the blame mentality flourishes, is such focus and criticism on an individual justifiable and indeed, how can it be curtailed?

Referees, believe it or not, are human, therefore are prone to human error just like the rest of us. They have decisions to make in a split second and on one viewing without the luxury of video replays so is there any surprise that mistakes are made? I guess what angers players, managers and fans alike is the lack of consistency amongst refereeing decisions and this is merely a grievance dependent on the individuality and character of the referee. Some referees might see one tackle as a yellow card, some a red card and some might even wave play on and see no foul. It really is an individual decision and revolves around personal interpretation so what possible solutions is there to achieve a desired level of consistency?

Unrealistically and in an ideal world, one referee could referee every game which would unquestionably lead to an improvement in the consistency of decision making but on a serious note and robotic refereeing aside, the fact is referees need help. Football, as we all know, is a results based industry and there is an undoubted relationship between decision making and the determining of results, success and more importantly defining people’s careers. Goal line technology, I think we all agree, is a necessity, but where do we draw the line? Do we want the speed and excitement of association football to be stripped, and instead follow the example set by rugby and introduce a video referee where managers can contest the award of every decision such as throw ins, corners, offsides, goal kicks and free kicks. It is, indeed, a very fine line we must walk when trying to improve the game we all love and not transform it into a stop-start contest like that of American football, but when so much is decided by the blow of a whistle what other viable options are there?  

Perhaps the feasibility of this technology in the football league is far stretched as obvious cost would prove a decisive factor, but in the money dominated world of elite and international football, and the Premiership in particular, there really is no excuse for its continued absence. I, for one, believe there to be a simpler, more cost effective way to achieve an improvement in refereeing consistency. I believe it to be a solution for minimising the bugbears that get players, managers and spectators shaking in frustration. What I’m championing, is the promotion of a more attractive avenue in the recruitment of former players as referees. Now, I’m not for one minute saying that this would solve every failing of the current refereeing system and lead to harmony on the pitch and in the stands, but who better to a referee a game of football than a person that has played at a professional level all his or her life? Being engulfed in the world of football from an early age, like most players are, undeniably trains a players mind, both consciously and unconsciously, to see the things that a non-player might unknowingly overlook.

Players, better than anyone, know the tricks of the trade either through use or experience. Professional footballers see refereeing instances day in and day out in training and, throughout a career, there is a strong probability that a player will see every type of tackle, tussle, foul and dive at least once, therefore it stands to reason they are surely better equipped to differentiate between what is a dive and what is a genuine foul. Likewise, they can quickly categorise a genuine attempt to win the ball and one that purposely endangers safety, who requires immediate on-field attention and who is simply staying down to time waste.

In a specialised industry such as football, why are the participation rates of former footballers in refereeing programmes so low? If you look at the statistics of managers, both past and present, then there is a huge mountain of evidence to suggest that former players make the most competent managers. Obviously, there will always be outstanding exceptions to this such as the Wengers’ and Mourinhos’ , but overall, the vast majority of managers in employment in the football league and Premiership have played the game at some point at a professional level. The reason for this, I presume, is that chairmen and owners of clubs believe the best people to work with and organise a group of footballers is a footballer. This makes sense doesn’t it? On a similar note, the best goalkeeping coaches are usually former goalkeepers, and if you’re going to employ a striker coach then it makes sense to employ someone with an offensive background as oppose to a defensive one, so why, therefore, are we not encouraging and fast tracking former professionals with an inside knowledge of the game to train as referees?

Admittedly, refereeing might not be everyone’s cup of tea and I’m sure there are plenty of arguments for and against, but I’d imagine the strongest opposition from a fans perspective to an ex-professional becoming a referee is the claim that one might have unfair allegiances to certain clubs. However, this could also be said of any current referee so in my opinion is a weak line of reasoning. I believe the true reason for a lack of  participation by former players in the refereeing industry centres around the time it takes to reach a somewhat professional level. From my point of view, I think refereeing would be a great way of staying within the game upon retirement but what puts me off is the fact that I would have to start at the bottom rung of the ladder and referee at a Sunday league level, then work my way up which could take up to four years. Factor in the inconvenience that, whilst still playing, it would be impossible to referee a game on a saturday due to playing commitments and you can see the dilemma in all its glory. You may say that this statement is arrogant on my part to expect a certain special treatment and be fast tracked through the grassroots stages but my argument is, if ex players can jump straight into the rigours of management without the pre requisite of starting at a Sunday league level then why shouldn’t they in the quest to become a referee? After all, who could possibly be better equipped to know the rules of football than that of a former footballer?

The task of a referee is undeniably made harder by media scrutiny. Referees are, along with their assistants, easy targets for the blame culture which exists within the industry of professional football but it is this human error, however frustrating, which adds to the excitement and uncertainty of football. Without it, the game would be somewhat predicable and without controversy. Errors of judgement, both in the performances of players and referees, heighten the excitement of the game we all love, and seeing that every goal can ultimately be traced back to a mistake or error of judgement, regardless how small, then it’s imperative we don’t tinker too much with the formula already in place. Referees, like players and everyone else, have their off days but with the right assistance and guidance from their superiors, they can expectantly limit their involvement in negative sporting headlines and go about their job efficiently and unnoticed like the majority would prefer.

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9 Responses to The Impossible Job??

  1. Terry says:

    Another good read Leon. I agree that ex-players should be fast tracked (Conference North / South level, perhaps?) after some preliminary training. Too much experience is lost to the game after retirement and this would see at least some of it reclaimed. Likewise, former pro’s should be involved with the PGMOB.

  2. Nathan Clarke says:

    A very well written blog, with all areas covered in the field of the modern day ref, and the difficulty of there thankless job. Really enjoyed reading it and can’t wait for the next one, please don’t stop!
    Thankyou x

  3. Matthew Scanlon says:

    Think fast tracking may work, using rugby as an example, the game between England and Fiji in November was reffed by an ex-pro who was fast tracked. If needs be why not make ref coaching part of the usual coaching at clubs at all levels, one afternoon a week for example a current ref could come to clubs and give them coaching.

  4. Kathy Scoltock @se16o says:

    Great blog again Leon, I’m fast becoming hooked! The standard of refereeing we’ve seen at Brisbane Road this season proves your point. I can’t stand to see the Ref conned time and again by the same player, if we can see it in the stand, why can’t he spot it in the pitch? Keep on with this, it gives the fan an insight into the mind of the players we watch every week.

  5. Ben Boatman says:

    This is my first comment on your blog Leon and won’t be my last. Tour blog is excellently written and gives a footballers view on a variety of different areas.

    I would love to read a blog on the psychology of footballers and how this effects and impacts high performance? Can you write this Leon? Reason I ask is that I work in sports development and have a keen intrest in the psychology of sportsmen and woman and how it affects their performances.

    I very much look forward to the next blog and more. Keep them coming Leon. Massive well done on this blog. I am hooked

  6. kevin ashwell says:

    Well done Leon,
    another good read.
    As an orient supporter and football fan inconsistency is one of the most frustrating things about watching people.We have had our fair share of this from the man in the middle in recent seasons with Andy Durso a major example.
    I think a fast track system for players to become officials would benefit the game immensely,although i dont think even they could explain how the defender blocking the forward off to allow the ball out for a goal kick is not obstruction.
    Do the players ever get a chance to be the ref in training?perhaps the ones who get booked for dissent the most should be.
    If you ever want the chance to have a go at refereeing or put your Uefa B to use with schoolkids let me know as i help with a school team in woodford and would be glad to have you along.
    keep the blogs coming.

  7. Freddie Nathan says:

    Nice one Leon,
    While referees have to disclose the team they support (eg: Howard Webb cannot referee Rotherham United as he is a season ticket holder), with footballers that would be so hard. Look at yourself: You wouldn’t be able to ref Leicester, Stockport, Hartlepool, Orient and whoever else. Let’s say Stockport are back in the league, that’s four fixtures on a Saturday that you cannot ref. While I agree players might see the game from a more enhanced perspective, logistically, it does not seem feasible.
    Another issue is when that ex-player turns to refereeing. If the average player retires mid to late 30s, they would only have a few years shelf life as a ref at the top level, assuming they have to work their way up as you said. Very few professional refs are over the age of 45-50, are they not? I cannot see a footballer giving up his career in its prime to take up refereeing. Which leaves players who never quite made it – would a failed footballer be in any better position to pass judgement on a game than a normal ref (many of whom played academy football)?

    Great blog, just thought I’d give you some thoughts!
    Freddie

  8. James says:

    There is such a stigma attached to refereeing that I’m not sure there would be many ex-footballers willing to give it a go. Yes, it would keep them in the game but even with ‘better’ refereeing ability, as you say, you simply cannot please everyone with your decisions. Therefore, it really is a thankless task and the scrutiny of referees appears greater year-on-year, so I don’t see how ex-pros would be willing to put up with the constant abuse – they receive enough of that as players! I am in complete agreement that any changes within the sport be kept to a minimum in an effort to retain a flowing game. I agree too that goalline technology should be implemented but for other refereeing instances, I am prepared to leave them alone. Sometimes it’s a case of better the devil you know.

  9. Kevin Carter says:

    Very well put Leon. Top players becoming Umpires works/ed well in cricket and the umpires always had the respect of the players. I don;t think high profile Premier & Championship players would be prepared to take the stick and agro that goes with being a Ref as they could earn a lot more money in the media as seems popular now. But for Lower League retired players it would be an obvious choice as they would as you mentioned know the tricks of the trade, know the difference between a miss timed tackle and a deliberate attempt to injure. Also they would have the respect of players and I think fans. I don’t think there would be so many inconsistancies , which as a fan really gets my goat. I don;t mind if the ref gives a free kick every time there are arms over shoulders but what annoys me is when sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Also when a yellow card is given for not taking a throw in from the right place , but nothing for a tackle that could end a career. Ex pros would be more aware of what needs to be dealt with , and also be aware when players are fustrated if having a bad game and be sympathetic and not just dish cards out.
    I agree totally that ex pros should be fast tracked they understand the game , can keep up with play , they know what positions they need to be in . What they probably need is classroom time to learn all the rules. Fast track is in operation in most industries why not Football?
    Looking forward to your next one.

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