Would two referees be better than one?

A few weeks ago when this column still appeared in the getreading edition of the Post, I received a telephone call one Friday evening. ‘I’ve just read your article,’ the caller said, ‘about how assistant referees don’t make decisions but only give signals to the referee’. My caller said he had been watching ice hockey earlier in the day, where he noticed they have two referees. ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea,’ he asked me, ‘if they did that in football?’ I had to tell him of course, it’s not an original idea. In fact when football first started as an organised sport back in the 1800s that’s exactly how is was. There were two umpires, as they were known, whose duty, according to the rules of the time, ‘shall be to decide on all disputed points when appealed to’. So like cricket, the umpires did not make a decision unless the players made an appeal. These umpires patrolled the touchline and held up a stick if they considered the appeal required a stoppage. The difficulty arose however, when the two umpires disagreed, which led to a third person to be introduced to whom the umpires could refer the incident, hence the name – referee. This referee, who seemed to stand or sit outside the field of play, only got involved if the umpires couldn’t agree. The new referee however, was given the additional duties of time keeper and keeping a record of the match, duties he retains to this day. In 1891 there was a revolutionary change when the referee took his place on the field and there was a brand new Law12 which said, ‘A referee should be appointed, whose duties shall be to enforce the rules and decide on all disputed points’. It also said two linesmen shall be appointed whose duty (subject to the decision of the referee) is to indicate when the ball is out of play and which side is entitled to the corner-flag kick, goal kick, or throw-in corner kick. The referee’s power was extended to giving a free kick without an appeal. That is pretty much how things have remained to this day although there have been attempts to revert to having two referees. In 1935 there was an experiment with some end of the season friendlies, England v The Rest and The Football League v WBA but a proposal to extend this to pre-season friendlies was not supported. I also recall a later trial that led nowhere. So it is not a new idea but how likely is it that the idea may be resurrected and if it was, would it be doomed for the same reason as it was originally abandoned, the referees disagreeing amongst themselves? Futsal, which is FIFAs and the FAs preferred form of small aside indoor football, has two referees. They patrol the whole of the touchlines on opposite sides and both make decisions on fouls if they are nearest to play. One of them is appointed as senior referee and he gives the final decision on any disputed points. As far as I know this doesn’t create any problems. However, eleven-a-sides games would still need assistant referees to run the line for out of play and offside situations, as the referee needs to be on the field and closer to the action. This would mean a heavy presence of officials. Although no one could have predicted there would be six officials at games like the Champions League, where they have two additional assistant referees to patrol the goal line, nationally there is a shortage of referees. If two had to be appointed to each match it would only make this much worse. This, if nothing else, as I mentioned to my caller, would in my opinion, doom any thoughts of following ice-hockey.

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