Referees and Football: A Reality Check

The whole situation in Scotland, where referees went on strike to protest the increasing amount of criticism they were receiving strikes me as some what of a watershed moment.

We’re hearing a lot about integrity. About the fundamentals about the game, about respect. About confidence in officiating.

We have to defend them, we’re hearing. Defend them from attack or else the game will be called into disrepute.

It’s time for a reality check.

Confidence in officiating, in its fairness, its reliability and its accountability has never been lower. It was low before this little spat in the SPL and it will continue to get lower.

Ever since television coverage of football moved beyond one camera in a stand going back and forth its been heading this way.

Take a football match on this weekend. Any incident of note, any incident, whether its a gaol, an offside, a missed chance, a bad tackle, a penalty shout or whatever can be seen back, from numerous angles, within around ten seconds.

That means that the last decade of football has been the most analyzed and watched decade of football in its history. And we, the fans, are not liking what we see. For the first time in the history of football, we can see clear and definitive proof, undeniable, unassailable proof, that a large portion of football officiating are bad at their jobs.

There are so many things I can say about poor officiating, about how it affects the game, about the millions of pounds/Euro/Dollars that are won and lost by fans, TV stations and countries every time a Referee blows a whistle. Let me focus on goals this time.

You watch a match today and a goal goes in. Maybe the player who scored it was offside. Maybe the ball was handled. Maybe it was handled deliberately. Maybe a foul was made in the build up.

Sometimes, and ever more frequently seen, these things are not seen by Refs. Not by Refs, not by linesmen, not by those two guys they out behind the goal line. They are human after all. Or just plain idiotic on occasion. (That said, the remit for their job is clear, and some of them are not fulfilling that remit).

When that goal is scored, we have a few seconds to see player celebrating, then a whole bunch of replays. All the top leagues, and yes many of the lower leagues have that system in place (Channel’s air highlights from matches all the way down to the Conference on occasion, cameras are at those games).

Somewhere between 10-15 seconds, millions of people around the world have access to numerous angles of the goal. It’s reasonable to say that people in the Sky Booth have access to them almost immediately.

In that time period, any mistake in officiating can be seen.

I say this because of one of the chief arguments against the introduction of video reviews: It’ll slow the game down.

Nonsense. Utter, incredibly stupid nonsense that betrays more of a fear of technology then actual knowledge of the game.

A goal goes in, and plays stops for around a minute anyway. One full minute.

One full minute where it is possible for every and all goals scored to be given a quick 20 second review by an official in a booth somewhere in the stadium, just to make sure.

To make sure. 99 time out of a hundred, he/she will come back and say “Good goal”. No harm done, and no time lost in the game itself – this can all be relayed directly to the Ref without any drama.

And in that 1% of the time you will have instantly improved the fairness and equality of the game to a huge degree. And it doesn’t slow the game down, it doesn’t detract from the viewing experience. It just improves the game. Makes it more accurate.

And that system is coming. This is partly why I never go heart and soul into this debate because I don’t need to: it is going to change. Of course it is. Every other major field sport has it. Most of the Football Associations have said that they would approve of it. The fans, of course, will welcome any system that will insure that their teams do not get screwed over by a single man wearing black.

You have the Luddites and the drama queens in the FIFA offices, the traditionalists and the idiots. The thing about them, is that they don’t last forever. A year, five, ten, eventually they will either be gone or be forced to relent.

Perhaps they can spend some of that TV rights cash they got off French TV for the 2010 World Cup on implementing such a system at every level? Such an act would by an appropriate embrace of the modern age, and an acknowledgement that in fact no, Referees are not omnipotent, no, they are not always right.

Reality check for the Refs. You are not the victims. Every fan of every team you treat unfairly because you do not see, fail to see or ignore incidents like those we see every damn week are the victims. Grow up and accept it like men. You are not paragons of virtue, you make mistakes and you should, like any worker who makes mistakes, be prepared to accept responsibility and face the music. There is little confidence left in you to defend.

I’ll have more on this topic at a later date.

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