Referees – the bane of a football fan’s life.
Your hopes and dreams can be shattered by one shrill peep of the man-in-black’s (or red or green or whatever colour they choose to wear these days) shiny whistle.
They are also, of course, an easy target for fans, players and managers who divert the attention onto the ref rather than their own team’s inadequacies.
The one thing that annoys me though is the protection refs seem to get when they make a bad decision.
Referees are always going to make mistakes as all humans do. What frustrates the fans the most is the wall of silence – and the feeling that referees and officials close ranks, often refusing to even acknowledge that a mistake has been made.
With 24 hour saturation coverage of football nowadays players and managers cannot hide and are held accountable for their mistakes through TV, radio or Internet interviews.
But the situation is different with referees. They aren’t obliged to come out after a game, offer opinions on issues and are very rarely seen in the media.
This perhaps explains why, upon retirement, many of them become veritable media whores (Jeff Winter anyone??) offering their view on any topic going.
It is this apparent imbalance – protecting referees even when they continue to make errors – that infuriates me the most. Heck if they were a little more open we may even establish which team Mike Riley supports (Rotherham is the rumour I heard).
All this makes Howard Webb’s recent admission that he made a mistake in awarding Man United a penalty at the weekend so refreshing.
Webb was quoted as saying:
“I’ve looked at it again and I think it was a mistake but we make these decisions honestly. It’s not always easy to see the way the play pans out from pitch level.
“I could see the Manchester United player touch the ball and saw him get clattered by the goalkeeper but didn’t see the extra deviation from the goalkeeper’s fingers touching the ball.
“I’m disappointed as I always strive for perfection. I’ll look at the tape in detail later in the week and try to avoid it happening again in the future.
“I never want to have a negative impact on a game and I get no pleasure from not reaching the high standards we set ourselves. But show me a man who’s never made a mistake and I’ll show you a man who’s done nothing.”
Wise words indeed.
Plus you can’t really argue with him, he gave the incident as he saw, watched it again, realised he made a mistake and re-affirmed his determination not to do so again. Fair enough.
It doesn’t change the result but at least gives an explanation as to Webb’s thinking and gives them a human side, perhaps placating some of the fans in the process. Too often it feels like top flight refs are tucked away in a box after a match, hidden away for a week, only to be wheeled out again the next match day.
Webb’s admission has confirmed to me what many people are saying – that he is the best referee in the country and others should lead by his example (cough, cough, Mike Riley, cough).
I used to be a firm believer that refs should come out after the game and explain the decisions. But I now agree that incidents perhaps need to be looked at in the cold light of day (once everyone has calmed down) in order to preserve the referees authority.
But why not on a Monday, after the dust has settled, the ref speaks to the media about his performance at the weekend and the thinking behind his decisions? I think in Webb’s case it has worked (just don’t tell Jermaine Jenas).
It may not improve the standard of refereeing – that is a totally different issue. And we have to be careful not to turn them into celebrities by overfeeding their ego’s. But by giving refs a voice it could make fans and managers appreciate the difficult position they find themselves in every Saturday afternoon, and perhaps ease the pressure (and levels of abuse) imposed on them.
It’s worth giving it a go.