BOSSES BACK PRO REFS IN CHAMPIONSHIP
PROFESSIONAL referees are due to take charge in the Championship next season – and managers have given the move their vote of approval.
Thirty referees are competing for 18 places as Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) prepare to add a second division to their elite squad.
Decisions on who will make up the Championship refereeing pool are expected next month. The officials will land contracts believed to be worth at least £50,000 a year.
There are 12 full-time and six part-time positions up for grabs, as per a PGMOL announcement late last year which confirmed that “a dedicated group of 18 referees, Select Group 2, will be created to officiate primarily in Championship matches” from the start of next season.
The 30 hopefuls will undergo fitness testing on Wednesday. Then the referees will be split into groups of ten to undertake technical assessments over three days – March 29-31.
It’s expected that the successful applicants will be notified on or by April 8.
Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett believes the switch to full- time referees in the second tier is a positive step.
“Anything you can do to raise the standard of the officiating is a good thing,” he told The FLP. “It’s proactive from the referees’ board.
“As much as managers complain after games, it must be very difficult to do your job in the week and then have to get up to the speed of a Championship game and make critical decisions.
“Anything that gives them a better chance to be prepared and to do more work in the week is a plus. There is so much money and exposure in the Championship now that it’s the obvious thing to do.”
However, Rowett did one highlight one potential problem with the new plan.
“If you get one of the part-time officials on a Saturday, you might feel hard done by,” he said. “That may leave room for excuses.”
Hull City manager Steve Bruce is certain the switch to full-time referees in the second tier will be a big plus.
“In my opinion, it can only be a good thing,” he told The FLP. “The Football League is showing that it’s going towards how the Premier League do things, and it is just as important a league.
“If they can afford it, then great because we all want to see better refs. The more time they have and the more professional they can get, the better.
“It certainly worked in the Premier League and I’m sure it will work in the Championship – how can it not?
“If I was being picky, I would like to see as many professional referees in the Championship as in the Premier League, but this first step is a good one.”
Rotherham United manager Neil Warnock, a qualified referee, thinks the move has the potential to be a big success – if referees utilise well the time they have to work on their game.
“Anything that gives them more time for coaching has to be an advantage,” he told The FLP. “I have been a little bit disappointed with the standard of refereeing since I joined Rotherham.
“I still believe that the referees need to appoint someone who’s not a referee, someone who’s managed or played the game, to help them – someone who’s got experience of talking to players, has experience of professionalism and knows how the ball-game works.
“One of Bill Shankly’s famous quotes was that referees know the rules but they don’t know the game. Referees need outside help on the coaching side.We are all still learning and refs have to take it in the right way. It’s not a slur on them, it’s to help them improve the standard.
“I don’t think them going professional will do any harm. It will take a bit of pressure off them and fitness-wise it will help, though it won’t affect interpretations.”
Former referees’ chief Keith Hackett has also welcomed the initiative, albeit with some reservations about depth of quality.
He told the You Are The Ref website: “Certainly, something needed to be done – both to create a feeder group for the squad of Premier League officials and to improve standards in the Championship.
“My concern would be that, from what I’ve seen, officiating in the Football League is at such a low ebb that I am not sure there are 18 candidates of the right calibre.
“But the opportunity is there to be taken and this move also creates a greater incentive for young men and women to take up officiating at a time when there is a shortfall in numbers across the board.”
It is believed that some dispensation will be allowed for referees to maintain careers outside football, although this would be on a much more limited basis than before.
HAVING THEIR SAY: Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett in discussion with referee Graham Salisbury