The criticism directed at referees and their assistants these days is becoming more of a talking point than many games themselves. Howard Webb made an incorrect judgement and awarded Manchester United a penalty against Tottenham last week, a decision that Spurs manager Harry Redknapp clearly felt changed the game.
Now there is some truth in this, it got United back in the game, cut the deficit in half and therefore the momentum swung in favour of the current champions. However, Spurs still had the lead and proceeded to suffer a defensive collapse in the second half in the face of a breath-taking spell of football in twenty minutes from United.
I feel however, to blame the referee for shipping a further four goals is a deplorable thing to say. It is often pointed out by pundits, journalists, fans, managers and players alike that current standards of officiating are inadequate but I do not feel that the officials themselves are to blame for 95% of this. I feel that many fans erroneously jump to the conclusion that referees are either biased or that the man with the whistle wants to be bigger than the game he is overseeing. I simply cannot agree that this is the case the majority of time. Naturally like everyone else, I have briefly questioned the integrity of the referee when following my own team, namely Rob Styles and Graham Poll! But surely what a referee wants is for the game he is officiating to pass without receiving fervent criticism from 20-75,000 people in a stadium plus the millions more watching at home.
So why do I feel that the match officials are given a raw deal? Well considering that the fitness of the Refs, like the players they blow the whistle against has steadily improved over the years (I believe they train together at least once a week plus running in between) surely they should be closer to the play? I am also sure they could get around the park with more ease than the men with moustaches from yesteryear that often came with a belly grown by ale and roast dinners.
However, for a 30-50 year old man to try and keep up with the likes of Theo Walcott is an unrealistic task. We sometimes forget just how much faster the game really is in England at this time. The style of play, combined with the light modern ball, the fitness and physical strength of a professional footballer has increased the pace of the game dramatically not mention the firm, slick wet pitches.
Because of all these factors, passes on the ground are quicker, passes in the air go longer, shots fly harder, players run faster, tackle faster and are considerably more agile. How did we expect men normally at least in their 30’s to keep up with this?
Other factors have also made the job for the man in the middle even more difficult. The non-contact sport style laws not only mean more free kicks are given but because of the ease of obtaining a penalty or free-kick within the rules of football, incidents of play-acting, gamesmanship, cheating – call it what you will, have naturally increased. The money within the game and the ever increasing player/manager power against the decreasing authority of the officials make it hard for referees in some instances to give decisions. Would anyone genuinely fancy making a penalty call against the big four on their home ground that could give the likes of Fulham (no disrespect intended) a victory and cost someone three points in the title race. Imagine making a genuine mistake and having Alex Ferguson blasting you on national television, followed by fans and the media alike. If that happened you could referee at Old Trafford one week and Blackpool the next!
So maybe it’s time to not only tighten the laws about diving and blasting the ref but to make it a full time job for ALL referees. only a SELECT FEW referees at the top end of the game are full time proffesionals . This would then ensure a much higher base of fitness for the officials as they would train more frequently instead of spending the rest of the week working to support themselves. A higher base of fitness would ensure officials would not only be closer to more incidents, but the fatigue factor toward the end of game that can lead to poor judgement calls would be less apparent.
Pay these men accordingly; the pressure referees face in comparison to their salaries is not reasonable. Naturally we would expect the professional referees and their assistants to officiate more than one game a week to earn their keep but I’m sure it is a better idea than FIFA’s proposal of two referees, four assistants, and an official on the touchline.