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.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OFF YOU GO: Phil Parkin­son, then man­ager of Brad­ford, is sent to the stands by ref­eree James Ad­cock

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