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Is It Time Refereeing Became A Full-Time Job For Every Official?


 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.

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  1. hal

    April 30, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Why not add one more field referee? Then each one only has to run half the distance and you have another set of eyes. You have one referee in the middle of the pitch and one on the goal line and vice versa on the other end. The ARs can then focus more on line and offside calls.

    If you’re not going to add video replay at least do this. The current fourth official is just a punching bag for the managers and stoppage time board holder.

  2. Chris Walker

    April 30, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I beleive only 6 officals are actually full-time from an interview i listened to while researching this. I agree there is always the scope for video technology but in what circumstances would it be permissable to use? Surely if we use it for penalties and goal-line incidents some managers may want it used for other phases of play which is why FIFA are so reluctant?

  3. Dave

    April 30, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Well all Premiership refs are full time but here’s an idea that would make things a lot better. Instead of employing failed wanna be footballers why not seek people from other professions in sport. If refs have little interest in football other then it being their job they are less likely to be influanced by the big stars and far less likely to go on their own personal ego trip like most of them do.

    The must be hundreds of fit people who might at the moment be reffing or playing rugby, tennis, boxing anything really. They are far more suited to following the rules without geting carried away with the game too.


  4. David Nathaniel

    April 30, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Good article, i agree with you.

  5. Pedro

    April 30, 2009 at 2:54 am

    We have Pro refs already. but what they need are the right tools. For example in Cricket and Rugby Union (for example) the referee has the choice of using a video replay/referee to help on what could be a crucial decision.

    Now don’t tell me it will break up the flow of the game because the players seem to do a pretty good job of that already by surrounding and haranguing the referee on controversial decisions right now anyway.

    And if a clear decision still cannot be made in a few seconds then no foul/penalty/goal should be awarded etc.

    Unfortunately in their divine wisdom FIFA (maybe UEFA too, not sure though) have currently ruled against video technology because it “undermines the referee’s authority”.

    What a joke. The Referee in Rugby is completely respected with this tool in his arsenal. the game needs this now. Referees make a mistake because they are human but it can cost millions in revenue for clubs.

    And the old adage of the decisions balance out over a season is utter rubbish.

  6. MM

    April 29, 2009 at 9:54 pm


  7. Sean Atkinson

    April 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    You could make refereeing a full-time profession but, I do not think it would make much of a difference fitness wise.

    Firstly, most officials are not world class athletes, thus, expecting them to keep up with world class athletes (who have the luxury of being substituted when they are tired) is always going to be a bit of an ask.

    Secondly, for the most part, since referees are like bottles of wine, the top officials are always going to be in their mid 30’s. If many world class footballers struggle with the pace of the EPL at that age, what chance does an average person have with keeping up with them?

    Thirdly, as of August 2008, top English officials got paid a £33,000 retainer plus £300 per match in wages. In order to make this a full-time thing, would not only that have to be substantially increased, but, would you not have to increase the wages across the refereeing pyramid, since, ideally, you would like the referees in their 20’s to become accustomed to that sort of fitness fitness regimen throughout their careers so they could adapt to it and make officiating at a higher level easier for them?

    That sounds like a lot more money than an organization that is struggling to pay off the albatross that is the new Wembley is willing to spend.

  8. Liam Wasden

    April 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    At least the top 2 divisions should have PRO refs.

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