After the weekend’s fixtures, and particularly the game on Sunday at The Britannia Stadium where Stoke beat Swansea, referees again came in for criticism for their performance.
Swansea manager, Gary Monk, was extremely severe in his condemnation of Michael Oliver’s officiating in the game. Monk was incensed by Oliver’s decision to give Stoke a penalty after Victor Moses appeared to ‘go down a bit too easily’ in the area under challenge from Swansea defender Angel Rangel. Rangel definitely made contact but it seemed far too soft to be able to force the 11st 8lbs striker to the ground. Monk called Moses ‘a cheat’ and believed the decision was the sole reason Swansea lost the game. The incident occurred in the 43rd minute and given there were 6 minutes of injury time in both halves, there were a further 53 minutes of the game to go.
BBC pundit, Danny Mills, accused Oliver of ‘cheating’. He wasn’t silly enough to use the actual word, but he claimed Oliver had clearly given the penalty to ‘even things up from getting an earlier decision wrong when he gave Swansea a penalty’. He argued that ‘refs won’t admit it, but we all know they give decisions to make up for earlier errors’. He didn’t like the Swansea penalty decision, which was given against Ryan Shawcross for holding Bony at a corner, because if you’re going to give that then you’ll give about six or seven penalties each game. Personally, it’s still remains a mystery how so many referees will stop the game every time players bump into each other anywhere else on the pitch, yet go surprisingly blind when there’s pulling and holding at set pieces.
Consider the offence Crystal Palace’s Damian Delaney was sent-off for, when he grabbed Remy after the striker had turned and got past him. Delaney received a yellow card, his second and subsequently a red, yet one wonders if he’d made that challenge in the area at a corner he may have got away with it.
Anyway, this article is not to debate these decisions but to suggest referees are now so out in the cold when debates occur that this may be doing them more harm than good.
How about a referee’s press conference before a match where they can give their views on how they intend to officiate the game. As far as we understand, refs often go into dressing rooms before the match to let the players know what’s expected of them. Then after the game each referee has an opportunity to give their view on the game and why they made certain decisions.
At the moment every manager knows they can simply blame the referee for his team losing. Monk, for example, conveniently ignored the fact Peter Crouch had his shirt pulled in the area stopping him heading a cross. The incident was worthy of a penalty yet all officials missed it. Monk also conveniently ignored the chances his players missed.
We seem to have settled into a position of accepting a manager cannot, or should not, criticise a player after the match. Therefore, their only alternative to portioning blame is to single out the referee. This cannot be good for the profession and must make it difficult for him and his family for the coming week.
Of course, we may well find the referees’ defence is simply “that’s the way I saw it” as many clever journalists point to having seen the incident several times from different angles and deduce the official did, in fact, get it wrong. If you’ve read some of my stuff in the past you should find this a particular angst of mine in many sports as pundits can often wait until they’ve seen a replay before declaring the referee/umpire has got a decision wrong, despite the fact the pundit didn’t give us his decision before the replay.
If we are to accept no use of technology for checking decisions then we have to accept the ‘referee’s decision is final’, yet football, especially, seems to revel in the constant barracking of officials from players, managers and fans. Maybe this is an example of the breakdown of respect for authority in this country as nearly every profession is criticised these days for being self-serving, inept and/or biased.
Personally, I don’t buy this “the referee changed the game” as there are 11 players on each side who can change a game. If all 11 players are going to react to any decision with “there’s no way we can win now” then they really need to have a look at their attitude. That’s the sort of reaction people watching have. Most of us never made it as footballers due to our lack of desire to win no matter what, and so we have every right to believe those who have made it to the highest levels of their profession have an inner drive which spurs them to overcome anything put in front of them.
It Takes a Second to Score a Goal
Now I fully appreciate going a goal down gives your opponents the advantage of being able to close out the game, making it very difficult to break them down, but surely you have the belief a goal is not very far away. We see late goals all the time in the Premier League, especially if you’re watching Liverpool at the moment, and often when the 4th Official’s board goes up for time added on, there is a rejuvenated air around the ground that something could happen. So you’re rarely out of a game if you’re only a goal down. Which means to blame a large part of a match on a decision which didn’t go your way is just poor.
It’s become too easy to blame the referee as he never has a right of reply. He has become inanimate and therefore you are blaming the title rather than the man. But if that man had a presence and was due to give his view after the managers’ maybe they wouldn’t be quite so quick to pass the buck. Perhaps we would hear a referee question a manager’s tactics or suggest he look at his own players before criticising the performance of others. It’s debatable whether that gets us further than where we are, and I feel many fans calling for the referee to “explain himself” are hoping for a bit of a bun fight where they can ‘grill’ the guy and hope he someone caves in and demands the authorities reverse his decision. You could argue without having the referees point of view there is simply debate about what he was, or wasn’t thinking. Whereas having the actual version allows people the opportunity to ridicule and rip apart his words. In today’s social media world with a record of who said what, it is perfectly possible for a referee’s words to be used against him when he claims to have given a decision one way for one reason and then another way for a different one.
What we do have with all the talk following matches is an increasing lack of understanding of the official’s job. So many pundits are ex-players and often they are as exasperated with a game as they were when they were playing. For example, both Danny Mills and John Hartson accused Oliver of being “influenced into making a decision by the crowd”. Now he wouldn’t be the first referee to have been affected by the vociferous support at The Britannia, yet whether this influenced him into making a decision he might not have made otherwise is not certain and only he will know. The irony of both Mills and Hartson complaining of a referee being influenced by outside intervention is certainly not lost on this author. Both were players always in the ear of the referee and the only reason they were doing that was to influence him to give things their way. It goes on, no one should be under any illusion it doesn’t, as it goes on in every other sport. To then accuse the referee to the extent you’re saying he’s soft, is crass. He’s human and has one view of an incident which is often happening at a furious pace.
Umpire Strikes Back
One other factor around giving the referee more of a profile is they become more human and therefore easier to understand why and how they make certain decisions. Some people may worry about referees becoming celebrities but they’re more recognised than they have ever been so this is probably inevitable. But maybe it’s time for the “umpire strikes back” and perhaps we can get a fairer view of a match from managers than simply to blame one man. If I had my way we would get rid of the post-match interview. It delivers nothing other than an adrenalin-fuelled view of something you have just watched.
How often have you come away from a match fuming at what’s gone on, and then with the benefit of calming down and thinking things through you have been able to see things in a better light? Better still, next morning you are certainly able to view things on a more even keel. But the TV companies will not sanction this. The move is for more immediate reaction throughout sport as athletes are interviewed almost as soon as they cross the finish line, and even tennis players are asked for their opinions when they have barely finished signing the balls.
In my view this change would alter the direction we have been going in with regards managers and pundits opinions and would certainly give referees more of an opportunity to back up their decisions. You never know, some players and fans may get to understand the rules of the game better too.
Whatever else happens, you should never call an official a cheat unless you have very good reason and evidence to back it up. These guys train for years and years and are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny each and every day. This trickles down the leagues to grassroots level where every touchline ‘Shearer’ thinks they can question every decision made by “the man in black” purely on the basis he’s heard plenty of others doing it.
FA Won’t Allow
Despite the fact referees are harangued more than ever before, The FA appear unconcerned. Their stance is to allow referees to give their reasons for decisions they’ve given could prejudice any appeal against dismissals. Perhaps the concern is if a referee admits he may have got things slightly wrong this could result in clubs demanding cards are rescinded. Which brings us back to ‘what does this add?’ Well it probably doesn’t add anything but neither does the post-match interview, other than TV companies praying for another Keegan/Atkinson/Dalglish moment. Yesterday, Gary Monk gave the TV companies another moment for their festive ‘when managers lose it’ DVD. I just feel a little sorry the referee isn’t able to put his side across and defend himself.