There’s more technology in refereeing than you might think

Appeared in the Reading Post, 17th December 2014


As all readers will know this is the last newspaper version of the Reading Post. For me this is certainly a sign of the times. This is the third publication with which I am involved, to change from paper to a digital version this year. At the beginning of this season the Reading Referees’ society decided to stop production of The Reading Referee, a modest magazine which I have edited in total for 30 years, in favour of news by e-mail. Also switching to online only is Refereeing, a joint magazine enterprise between the Football Association and the Referees Association for which I have written articles and previously for its predecessors, Refereeing Today and The Football Referee over many years.

Referees themselves have had to embrace the digital age. Almost all appointments at whatever level are made by e-mail today and referees submit their misconduct reports in the same way. Of course when it comes to actually refereeing in the lower rungs of the football pyramid, little else has changed but for those at the top level there are a whole lot of electronic gadgets involved to help their game.

The first introduction was the Powerflags as they are sometimes called. This is an added communication between the assistant referees and the man in the middle. The flagstick has a button which the assistant can press to alert the referee without waving his flag. The receiver worn by the referee can be set to vibrate, or to bleep or both. The signal pattern for each assistant is different, so the referee will know which assistant wants to contact him. I’ve only used one once but I’m told it switches itself off after two hours of non use.

On top of this, there is the two way radio, which is used not only here but in other top footballing countries around the world. It is an expensive piece of equipment, which has no push and speak button so it is always open, although the fourth officials’ does have this facility. This is because they spend most of their time placating managers and coaches or preparing substitutes and the referee wouldn’t want all that in his ear. As the ‘mike’ is open, it also has a facility which filters the whistle tone otherwise the assistants would have their ears blasted every time the referee blows his whistle. Also the headsets have to be guaranteed not to fall out of the ear when running. There have been calls for the officials’ conversation to be recorded or even made available to spectators (as in rugby) or anyone else who would like to listen in, but in fact the conversations are encrypted to prevent eavesdropping.

So the referee has the flag receiver under one arm and the radio receiver under the other and from this year a Premier League referee also has to carry two other pieces of equipment about his body. One is the canister of vanishing spray to be used at the taking of free kicks and the other is another piece of electronic gadgetry. As well as two watches, the referee now has to wear what is referred as the ‘goal watch’. This is bright red and part of the Hawkeye goal line technology, which tells him within a second that the ball has crossed the goal line between the goalpost and under the bar. It vibrates and displays in large letters the word ‘GOAL’.

My first paid job was as a paper boy delivering the Reading Standard, the fore runner of the Post, every Friday, so like many others, I feel sad at the end of the newspaper but I hope to see you in the digital future on the getreading website.



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