Referees are easy targets in the world of football – their decisions decide matches, title races and the financial health of clubs (to the tune of 30m, according to Neil Warnock).
Their jobs are unbelievably difficult – whereas Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas can get away with a couple of mistakes during a game if they get in a good assist or score a goal, the Dowds and Wileys of this world don’t get that chance.
If Phil Dowd was to give a couple of yellow cards where warnings would have been sufficient, will the correct penalty decision gain him plaudits? In other words, does a good refereeing performance (which amounts to minimizing errors) get the same rave reviews as brace scored by Didier Drogba (who can miss 10 chances before putting 2 away and come away with the man of the match award)?
The criteria for judging referees is different – we look at their mistakes, we concentrate on them. These get magnified and blown out of proportion, and the media, ever the propaganda machine, feeds on these errors and conducts media trials.
Since the 2006 World Cup I’ve been saying this – the referees need more help from the footballing authorities. Their job is an impossible one – to minimize mistakes, and as such they need every little bit of help they can get.
That means technological assistance, more manpower, protection from abuse from players and managers, flexible rules that allow referees to play the situation instead of the rulebook, and most of all, respect.
They say that respect has to be earned, but I believe that in the English Premier League, the FA can start by showing respect to its referees and asking them what sort of help they need.
We don’t need yesmen in the FA or the Referees’ Association telling the public that the state of the game is top notch – it’s not.
The case of Graham Poll is a useful reminder in what has gone wrong in football.
Let me say this first – I don’t like Poll’s refereeing style. He plays it too much by the book whereas I would personally prefer to see some challenges go unpunished as long as the game’s flow was maintained. In my view he also gets decisions wrong (although according to some reports [link to rightresult post] he’s not as bad as we think).
In fact, Poll’s refereeing has pissed me off more than once. Enough to make me want to hurt him.
However, we have to stop and ask ourselves these questions:
1) Should a genuine mistake like the 3-card trick in Germany (you can see a video of Poll’s comments on that incident on BBC) lead to a public media trial and force FIFA into sending him back home, when he’s still one of the better referees in the tournament?
2) Should the FA stand by and do nothing while a referee is hounded by the press, players and fans for sending off a player (Terry, Chelsea vs Tottenham)? If the FA is convinced that Poll did nothing wrong (and that he did not say anything that amounted to ‘teaching them a lesson’), then why not talk to the media and the clubs and try to defuse the situation? The FA let it rot, and as a result the McFadden incident happened 5 days later, which brings me to the next question:
3) When will players start getting bookings for pushing, grabbing and verbally abusing the referee? How is it that the practice of swearing at the referee and blaming him for all the team’s problems has become part of our footballing culture?
4) Why is it that the FA acts only when the reputation of the footballing authorities is threatened and not when the reputation of the referee is under attack? Refs by default are expected to fuck up, everyone seems to be waiting for it, to pounce on the ref, to call him a wanker and to humiliate him.
I don’t live in England. I don’t go to matches every weekend and get caught up in the glorious atmosphere that the lucky few experience.
But thankfully, I’m also not part of a culture that belts out ‘the ref is a wanker’ and heaps abuse on opposing fans and players.
I’m not willing to accept that as part of football.
And before you tell me that the refs are paid enough to withstand that sort of abuse, let me clear out one thing – when you’re desperate for money, you think you’ll do anything for it. But once you have it, honestly, a lot of things aren’t worth it.
Graham Poll is not a perfect referee – but it’s his decisions we must target, not the man himself. As a referee, he needed the respect of the players and managers around him. Every referee needs it; they deserve it.
We see managers criticising referees before, during and after every game. We see players swearing at referees during games and complaining about them after games.
This has to stop – the referees are part of the game, not a problem or threat to it.
However, when reasonably intelligent people like Paul Wilson of the Guardian (I’d call him a cunt, but I’m sure he’s not that bad) do such character assasinations, you wonder if football authorities will ever see reason, will ever be strong enough to resist media and club influence and do the right thing.
I doubt it.