Refereeing has been annihilated in the press, by media and by managers in recent seasons and has led to players demonstrating eye-opening examples of on-pitch dissent, sickening chants from the stands and even cases of death threats. With the pressure, expectancy and a controversy loving audience all in the back of a refs mind, a decision whether given correctly or not will still provoke a negative response from thousands of people and could therefore be seen as a lose-lose situation no matter what.
To me, there are three issues that seem apparent when it comes to refereeing concerns:
1. The lack of time taken for evaluation before making big decisions such red cards or penalties - This leads to erratic, impulsive or decisions given based from poor sight or guesswork, this can also be due to occasion or the pressure from the 'big teams' to award them.
2.The basic lack of communication between referees and their linesman, it is very rare to see a ref confer (handballs aside) these days, it's tricky to do so without stopping the game but I think at the moment referees are too scared of the potential backlash, surely that's better than ruining a game with a poor decision, e.g. the penalty awarded to Everton against Sunderland last season when Osman pretty much fell over his own feet trying to get a shot away, this led to a 1-1 result and stifled Sunderland's good run they were on.
3. The lack of basic respect towards referees, players who promote 'Respect the Ref' campaigns are seen week in, week out becoming belligerent, argumentative and ultimately come across as hypocritical undoing the FA's work to establish a good relationship between players and officials. This adds more negative publicity on top of arguments against high wages, players out of the town and the use of social media sites.
So, what can be done? I am proposing a few things that may not instantly alter the behaviour on the pitch, but can help to put the ball back into the referee's court:
- Bring back post match interviews with referees, no more than a 60-second statement with little in the way of follow up questions. This would clear up any confusion over decisions, or lack of, and allow the public to see a side to the referee outside of the game, and build up a better rapport with them.
- Little things around the pitch to cement the referees authority; in CFC's pre-season tour I saw refs using temporary spray paint to mark out free kick and wall positioning's to eliminate any encroachment, this would most definitely help I feel, just to demonstrate he can't be messed around.
- Strengthening the 'surround the ref' policy the FA charge clubs with on occasion, by making the fine astronomical or by imposing a 1-game ban on any player the ref deems, in his post-match report, to have 'crossed the line' (foul language/abusive behaviour/physical contact with the ref) which would I hope make players think twice before overreacting on the pitch, and to put their qualms to one side. If 6 or 7 players surround the ref at a penalty decision then by banning 3 of them, if only even 1, on top of a fine would be seen as harsh at first, but would then act as a very strong and effective deterrent in my opinion, as no-one wants to be banned over a decision they ultimately cannot change, and on paper, it would therefore seem illogical to do so.
- This idea will be quite controversial as it involves the use of technology, but in the case of a penalty being given/not given, there could be a 3-man team of special referees watching the game on monitors who would then have between 5 and 10 seconds to have a second look and then advice the ref on their unanimous findings through the earpieces (all three agree - panel's decision, all three don't - go's with the refs call or something like that). I know football is a sport where two fans from opposing teams could watch an incident 15 times over and still vehemently disagree over the outcome, but with unbiased professionals in this role it could be worth a trial run. As Goal-line tech hasn't been implemented yet then I am aware that this is unlikely to be done in the near future, but it was give referees a bit more support and that's what there woefully missing at present.
Often the nature of a decision can ultimately come down to the whether the ref or linesman was in the perfect position to observe the incident, and controversy and criticism erupts out of cases where he is found not to be; it can be a lonely and intimidating place not giving a penalty decision at a title run-in match at Old Traffold on a cold Tuesday evening, and to me it's weak of the FA to expect so much and offer very little back in the way of protection and support.
No referee will get 100% of decisions correct each game, let alone over the course of an entire season, but by giving them more media power, stronger FA policies with resulting punishments as well as potential technological help down the line, this will all go towards getting players to show referees the respect they deserve. Mark Clattenburg to me is a very positive example at this time, he's very vocal, frequently speaks to captains and appears to be undaunted by the occasion, this is not to say he makes the right calls all the time but when fans hear that he is the one officiating their game, they know he'll more respected and likelier to control the game better.
What do you think? Preposterous nonsense or potentially viable?