Everything We Already Knew About Referees (But Refused To Admit)
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
Today on the blog Football Cliches offers his unique perspective on the place of referees in our collective football psychology.
It's reared its ugly head again, everyone. The largely football-less skirmish between Arsenal and Manchester City resulted in the usual Sunday afternoon talking point of referees. The game (or, to be accurate here, the "spectacle") was effectively ended by Laurent Koscielny's early red card, after which it congealed into one big, 80-minute ironic cheer.
It's absolutely fine to be biased when these debates begin to rage - the vast majority of fans certainly are. However, behind our bluster, there's still an opportunity to absorb the facts. Referees, everyone concedes, have a difficult job. Unfortunately, those who are employed to analyse their games seem to make their own jobs look even harder.
Every week, the discussion is the same. A red card, a penalty or the lack of either is instantly earmarked as the "turning point" of the match, and Sky train the focus of the pundits and gadgets squarely on to the incidents in question. Before the dissection begins, the pundits offer a disclaimer: the referees "don't have the luxury" of being able to slow it down and view it from different angles. At which point, the presenter really ought to step in and stop this nonsense right there. Football coverage undoubtedly (and perhaps justifiably) feels entitled to establishing the facts around a supposedly two-footed tackle or a handball, but it is the further need to rubber-stamp the referee's decision as right or wrong that defies logic.
Right or wrong, analysed in this context, becomes utterly irrelevant. By rejecting their own point about the referee's relatively limited opportunity to view an incident, they invalidate an already futile discussion. But, since football is nothing without debate, they must go through these motions until the Barcelona or Real Madrid game finally kicks off an hour or so later.
These presentations of 360-degree evidence are so tedious, mainly because they fail to move on from the thousands of identical segments from Super Sundays of yore. "Consistency", they say, "is all that we ask." What does this mean? Applying the letter of the law, presumably, is the only way referees can make a decent stab at this dreamworld demand. At which point, they are questioned for not displaying "common sense" and judging each incident on its individual merits.
Usually, this is because "they haven't played the game" - a particularly abysmal sneer at arguably the most football-literate people on the pitch. After an hour of zooming in, the pundits satisfy themselves that they've "seen them given". But not before someone has the bright idea of swinging round to the referee's approximate line of sight, in the most brazen act of hindsight abuse possible. Great stuff everyone, cheers.
Referees are urged to "come out and explain decisions", a terrifying prospect if only because it leaves them glaringly open to accusations of seeking the limelight. If they did take up this invitation, we could hardly blame referees for turning the tables on the players who deliberately deceive officials to make their jobs even harder. Not to mention the players whose own human errors may well have affected the outcome of the match to an even greater extent. These arguments are obvious, of course, but the continued refusal to acknowledge them in case it undermines the "debate" is unforgivable.
The officials are already at great pains to demonstrate just how seriously they are taking their jobs, from the Top Gun-esque handshakes in the centre-circle at kick-off time to the exaggerated crouch-and-squint whenever a striker tumbles in the penalty area. Emphatic gestures of arms swept across chests ("nothing doing") leave us in no doubt about the referee's thoughts and we still witness their old favourite of pointing out various areas of the pitch before repeat offenders go into the book and on to the disciplinary tightrope.
The fear is that the introduction of vague-sounding "technology" will deprive the game of healthy debate. Let's hope that day arrives soon, as this festering collection of empty caveats and mindlessly-repeated truisms are far from healthy.
If the best referees are the ones you don't see, then just leave them all alone.
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Excellent read as ever. The thing that amazes me still about some refs is that some of them still seem to be carrying a bit of overweight and clearly are not fully fit. Last night's match between Man Utd and West Ham was a good example...it must be very hard to keep up with a fast flowing match if you are middle aged and not in the best of shape! Sense the future of refs will be young 20 year olds who get a "degree" in refereeing and see it as a full time career (the money would presumably be excellent and encourage the best to rise to the top).
Good Article, It's hard these day to do the job right and when you are a premier league ref. They have a split second to make a choice and that is going to be seen as black or white, also depending what fans you are in front of. It's not an easy job but a job that needs to be done on the basis on what you see and everyone's interpretation will be different. So to say that they will not say what they mean, then that's ok as they are also people we need to protect in the name of football. Sometimes, the quiet one are the ones that you respect so let's hope more will come through.