Many will agree the 2014-15 season was not a complete success for referees in the top flight. Their detractors include some surprising ones. All the usual suspects of course, Jose Mourinho with his regular discredited conspiracy theory. TV pundits whom for the most part are ignorant of the Laws of the Game, but because they are ex-players, supporters believe them. Incidentally, how much longer is the BBC going to allow Alan Shearer to incite players to foul?
This season there has been the added pressure from former Premier League referees, Keith Hackett and Mark Halsey. I know both of them slightly. Keith Hackett was very good to me at the time he was manager of the PGMOL, controlling Premier League referees.
When I was writing my column for the Reading Post, he always passed on information, sometimes exclusive facts about games, even e-mailing me from a conference in Geneva. My wife and I have actually had a dinner with Mark Halsey and his wife but I first met him when he was taking a presentation around referees’ associations showing videos of his mistakes. Now I think it was very brave of him, rather than just when he got decisions right but it only goes to show that he was not immune to making mistakes.
It’s therefore ironic that he is now pilloring other referees for doing just that. Keith Hackett is an ebullient character with whom I for one could listen to talking about refereeing all night but I think it sad that he has chosen to attack his successor and the current Premier referees, I say sad because one of the things we try and impress on referees when they start, is never to criticise other referees.
His successor, Mike Riley, more reserved but an excellent speaker as I can witness, is an ex-Premier League referee himself, Mike says the critics have got it wrong and refereeing standards have never been higher. Research has shown that Premier referees get 95% of their decisions correct, 98% when it comes to penalties and assistant referees give 99% of offside decisions correctly. It is of course that 5% that they get wrong that is highlighted with slow motion and from innumerable angles. The commentators tend to forget that the referee only has one look at it, at speed and has to make an instant decision. Imagine if players had to go through the same scrutiny, the number of passes made correctly, opportunities taken, tackles that stop an opponent and the other things that make a good player. How many I wonder would reach a 95% rating.
Something needs to be done. Managers need to stop blaming referees when they get beat, it’s hardly ever the referee’s fault and in any case they have the chance to report on the referee after every game. An old hobby horse of mine, when managers/coaches abuse referees, they need to be banned, not from the touchline but from the stadium. Managers need to stop their players cheating. On Premier League manager recently told Burnley boss Sean Dyche, ‘If you want to stay up, get your players to dive’. As Howard Webb once said, ‘stop the diving and you’ll get better decisions’. Television companies need to stop focusing on ‘controversial’ decisions and get their pundits and commentators properly trained on the Laws or get other views.
When referees are maligned in this way it reflects throughout football. Referee numbers are declining rapidly. Players locally when they finish playing no longer become referees because they see what they have to put up with.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said, ‘Fans and professionals should realise how difficult a job the referee has, Ask themselves, “Would I like to do it”. The answer is “no” so let’s give referees the help and respect they need’.