Premier referees’ training days are no secret

John Motson once said to me that there was certain similarity between referees and television sports commentators. We both, he said, have to make instant decisions, which afterwards we sometimes regret. Referees of course, have to make their decisions about incidents on the field of play, which with the luxury of several camera angles might have been different. Sports commentators also don’t have time to think things through when they are commenting live on incidents as they occur and often it will prove wrong or even amusing. There are a number of books of course on the market that contain nothing else than clangers dropped by sports commentators. One of the first was Colemansballs from various commentaries by David Coleman but I have a couple more on my bookshelf. Sometimes in football at least, the errors are not amusing but due to a lack of understanding of the Laws of the Game and they seldom get picked up. A recent example happened when a BBC commentator screamed abuse at the referee because he said that there had not been any intent by the offender when fact intent for tackles had been removed from the laws fifteen years ago. Perhaps the most inane comment from a commentator this season was on ITV at a Champions League match. One of the additional assistant referees was for some inexplicable reason standing about a yard over the goal line inside the pitch. The commentator quite rightly pointed out that he would not be able to judge whether or not the ball had crossed the line from that position. His co-commentator, Andy Townsend, replied,’ but if he was on the line his view would be obscured by the goal post’. I suppose we can take John Motson’s point and forgive Townsend’s ludicrous statement as being in made in the heart of the moment. However, I recently read an article by Townsend in which he was complaining about Premier League referees. He demanded that Mike Riley, manager of the PMGO, must come out and tell us what they do on their fortnightly training sessions. I have a revolutionary idea for Andy Townsend, why doesn’t he just ask Mike Riley. It’s no secret what they get up to. It might come as a surprise to him to discover that the first thing they always face is a quiz on the Laws of the Game. I wonder when was the last time, if ever, some commentators have seen a copy of the laws let alone read it? They also watch videos together of their matches, particularly any with controversial incidents. Imagine that you have dropped a clanger and it is shown in front of all your colleagues for them to comment on. I’m sure a certain degree of ribaldry takes place but the idea is to look at why the mistake was made and how similar mistakes can be avoided in the future. Then there is the fitness training and tests overseen by sports scientists. Many other aspects are looked at to improve their performance with such specialists as sports psychologists and this year for instance, they have ophthalmologists trying to see if they can enlarge their periphery vision to enable them to spot incidents that go on off the ball. Then as a way of relaxing they have a game of football amongst themselves, referees are really footballers at heart. A couple of seasons ago, football club mangers at a meeting put forward suggestions what the referees should do to improve themselves. Almost every suggestion was already being carried out. I would say to Andy Townsend that while he may be forgiven some errors when commenting under pressure, surely when writing an article it would be worth making a few enquiries first.

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