Foolish or blind – or maybe just human!
Maybe I’m foolish, Maybe I’m blind, But I’m only human after all.
Do you see it clearer, Or are you deceived in what you believe? I’m only human, I make mistakes, Don’t put your blame on me.
IF REFEREES ran out to backing music, like Orient’s Tijuana Taxi, Carlisle’s One Step Beyond or Charlton’s Red, Red Robin, the obvious track would be Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human.
I’ve cherry-picked some lines for the top of this piece, but those lyrics would have officials from Premier League to Sunday parks nodding in acknowledgement.
They are only human. They do make mistakes, but so do players and managers. It is, however, the referees who get the blame. Leafing through The Football League Paper each weekend, every fourth or fifth match report seems to contain a manager criticising a referee, linesman or fourth official.
The Football Association has strict rules about what can, and cannot, be said about officials, so none is ever accused of cheating or being directly biased, but their competence is routinely called into question.
It must be hugely frustrating when a week’s preparation and planning is rendered worthless by what appears a rogue decision.
Even as a youth team coach, sometimes I have to bite my tongue, put on a fixed grin, and accept a howler. When your job is on the line, the temptation to let rip must seem overwhelming.
It may well be that the centre-forward who missed an open goal, the full-back who left a back-pass short or the midfielder who failed to track back are more to blame for the dropped points, but you have to get a performance from them the following week.
Publicly castigating them will not enhance your chances. So the ref becomes the fall guy.
This, however, is dangerous. The culture of dissent is growing and already this season Arsene Wenger, Villa’s Leandro Bacuna and Hope Akpan of Blackburn have been banned for physically pushing officials.
John Sheridan stopped short of actual violence while Notts County boss, but threatened it in a extraordinary rant that drew another ban.
The impact is seen on the parks, where wannabee Mour- inhos abuse 16-year-old referees and players seek to intimidate them. Thousands of referees walk away from the game – a waste of training and talent.
Referees care about getting it right. Managers often suggest they do not, but I’ve had the privilege of spending a matchday with an official, and in the dressing room at halftime he was mortified at realising a key decision was probably wrong
They also work hard on their performance, and English refs are among the fittest and most assessed in the world. It is true that some have raging egos. But, given the abuse they receive, a strong personality is a pre-requisite. Occasionally managers will keep their counsel. Darren Ferguson, asked last month about rejected penalty appeals, said: “I can’t control the referee, so there’s no point going on about him. I’m going to focus on my own team.” This is not a view his father often took, but since Ferguson junior has previously been fined thousands of pounds and served touchline bans while managing each of Preston, Peterborough and now Doncaster, maybe he can’t afford not to.
Then there’s Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth, who said after last month’s home defeat to Crawley: “We weren’t talking about referees when we were 16 unbeaten and we’re not going to start now.”
Well done, but bear in mind a week earlier Ainsworth was fined £500 and given a onematch touchline ban for abusing an official after Wycombe lost to a late penalty at Crewe.
This suggests the punishments do work. But, like speeding fines, the effect wears off. A personal view is that the FA are too lenient and should impose stadium bans like UEFA does.
The sight of Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe raising himself from his sickbed to be in the dug-out at Old Trafford recently – having been too ill to even give the team-talk – underlined how much managers feel they need to be in close attendance to their players.
Banning them from the ground completely is a powerful deterrent.
The other area where the FA can help referees is by continuing to push for the use of video evidence. Referees have one view, without slow motion, and with players trying to con them. They will make mistakes.
Earlier this season, Karl Robinson used his press conference after Charlton’s draw with Millwall to show video of an incident in which a Charlton goal was disallowed. The video suggested the goal was good. A fourth official, with access to this information, could have ensured justice was done.
Robinson was on surer ground then than when complaining about the amount of injury time played when the Addicks hosted Fleetwood a few weeks later.
Charlton conceded in added time and Robinson suggested the high figure (ten minutes, caused by injuries to both a linesman and a player, and reasonable to this observer) was ‘psychologically damaging’ for his players.
The problem here would appear to lie with his team’s mental strength, rather than a referee. But then, his defenders are only human, too.
OFF YOU GO: Phil Parkinson, then manager of Bradford, is sent to the stands by referee James Adcock