I feel sorry for Premiership referees. Never before has their jobs been so scrutinized or have they felt a much pressure as they do now. The issues are compounded by the speed of the game and the advanced skills of some players where they’ve made diving in a penalty an art form, albeit a sickening form when you consider the harmful effects on the game.
What complicates matters is that even when players have the opportunity to stay up on their feet in the penalty area, they’re deciding to fall down in the penalty area (after being knocked) because they know the referee has to call a penalty. The perfect example of this was Kanu for Portsmouth in their 2-1 win against Watford when the Nigerian could have easily stayed up and shot at goal, but decided to fall down instead.
Worse still, I feel that the referees sometimes can’t win. A good example of this is the recent Blackburn versus Tottenham Hotspur match I attended at Ewood Park. The amount of controversy that rained down on Phil Dowd after this match was enormous, but Phil Dowd’s decisions on that night would have been more controversial if he didn’t make the calls he made.
This goes back to video technology and whether it should be used. I, unlike most others, am divided on the subject. For example, in that Blackburn match, Tugay seemed to foul Ghaly in the penalty area and Dowd pointed toward the spot. Later that night, Andy Gray replayed the incident over and over again approximately six times and even he couldn’t decide 100% whether there was contact or not.
When commentators and football insiders claim that a video call can be made in 30 seconds, I disagree. For such an important decision such as that penalty incident, it could take a couple of minutes — and even then, a wrong decision could be made because you’re still relying on the human factor to make the final decision after seeing the video.
The other aspect that complicates matter is the sheer pace of the match. Whether it’s in person or on television, I often find myself making rash decisions on whether a call should or should not be a penalty. But due to the speed of today’s game, it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s a foul or not. While in real-time, I may feel confident that a foul is a penalty or not, when I watch it on TV replay, I often find that my gut reaction decision was wrong. When TV replays slow the incident down to a fraction of a second, you can better make a decision. But again, not always, and what would a video judge decide in the Tugay-Ghaly case?
What needs to happen is that other options needs to be tested to see if it can work. Earlier this week, Udinese used goal line technology in Serie A as a test. There’s also been talk about testing two referees on a field or using four assistant referees instead of two. That may help.
But what I believe is that the level of refereeing in today’s Premiership is far better than it was 10 or 20 years ago. It just seems worse because of the amount of TV coverage where every incident is reviewed over and over again. Watching football in the late 70s and early 80s, I saw many horrendous refereeing decisions being made that were far worse than today. The offside problem also seemed to be far worse back then. These days, for the most part, most of the offside decisions are far more accurate presumably because of better training for assistant referees.
So spare a thought for people like Dowd, Rennie, Poll, Gallagher, Clattenberg, Webb and others. After all, without the aid of TV replays, could you do better than these blokes?