Referee spray just shooting the breeze

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Who’d be a referee?  Seriously, every week there is something contentious written in the media over the adjudication of football matches.  Last week in the A-League, a two-footed tackle from Melbourne Victory defender, Rodrigo Vargas, had Queensland Roar Coach, Frank Farina, incensed.  Farina has accused A-League referees of double standards suggesting, “If that was Danny Tiatto, as long as my backside points to the ground he would have got a red card.”

Well, Frank, you’re backside does and from what I’ve seen of Tiatto since his return from overseas, he’s got away with plenty.  Tiatto’s stomp on Richie Alagich springs to mind.  Farina is suggesting there is a cognitive decision-making process going on which is selective and biased.  The problem is officiating is perceived to be black and white.  There are rules and if you break them, the referee blows the whistle, right?  Well, it’s not that simple.  There are 17 Laws of the Game as outlined by FIFA.  However, there are also additional instructions and guidelines for referees on how to interpret each Law.

Here’s the paradox.  A black and white rulebook turns many shades of grey becoming subjective instead of its intended objective value.  Add people’s negative perceptions of referees, the party poopers who police the entertainment, and you get an impossible working environment for the poor old ref.  It’s time to bring in HR.  They’ll sort it out, if only.  The court of public opinion holds referees and their assistants’ to blame far too often.

Maybe referees need to be a bit more flamboyant.  If they lighten-up a bit, maybe people will cut them some slack.  Although, with the stakes so high I doubt it, the business of winning has become ruthlessly contrived in modern football.  Refs are an easy target.  Hit a bull’s-eye often enough and eventually the wounded will no longer return.  We don’t want to regress to the old NSL days where a red card given by a referee would spark an on-field riot.

Australia’s top referee, Mark Shield, recently retired citing family and business commitments as the primary reasons for his decision.  The truth is, he’d had enough and the Danny Vukovic incident in last season’s A-League Grand Final took its toll.  The football fraternity has to reflect on why the most successful Australian referee, at his peak, has retired.  Is Matthew Breeze now going to fall victim to the same fate?  Let’s hope not.  There needs to be more support from the media and positive discussion about the standard of refereeing in the A-League.

Much of the focus is on referees but their assistants’ are not safe from scorn either.  Joel Griffiths’ infamous jab to the family jewels of assistant referee, Alex Glasgow, was nothing short of disgraceful.  What’s worse is that he amazingly escaped sanction, other than a soft yellow card.  Another assistant making headlines is Sarah Ho, the A-League’s pioneering female official is nothing short of awe-inspiring – breaking cultural and gender phobic barriers – with some very courageous decision-making.

For all the conjecture about the role of referees’ one fact can’t be overlooked, that being, they’re a necessary part of the game.  A recent project commissioned by The FA in England boldly states the obvious: No respect.  No referee.  No game.  The issue of “respect” has stirred-up debate, some popular pundits arguing that respect works both ways, yet another cop-out to heap the blame back on the refs.

I was watching a programme on Setanta Sports the other day called, Football for All, in which the topic of respect was highlighted at the grassroots in English football.  I was shocked to hear that over 800 matches were abandoned at association level last year across the country due to refereeing incidents, many of which were instigated by troublesome parents.  There’s no wonder the drop-out rate is so high, approximately 7,000 referees walk-away from the game in England each season due to abuse from players and spectators.

In Australia, the NSW Government, Department of the Arts, Sport and Recreation has issued “Sport rage” kits to all grassroots Clubs and Associations to kick the bad habits of inappropriate and abusive behaviour by players, coaches and spectators (mainly parents).  An initiative that will surely bear fruit in the years to come, we can only hope.

But no matter how hard administrators try to covey the message of respect, people still love to hate the referee, most of whom have never played the game at any decent level, let alone donned the black and white to take charge of a match.  Humans make mistakes, referees are human.  It seems perfectly alright for a player to miss a shot on goal but it’s an outrage if a referee misses a penalty kick decision.

Coaches tend to overuse the word “consistency” when complaining about a referee’s performance.  If you ask a referee they’ll say they want the same – consistency – easier said than done.  I can hear the “video technology” campaigners saying, it’s time to bring in the video referee.  Just look at how the video has slowed-down other codes, Rugby League in particular.  I think technology will only act to compound the problem and put more pressure on referees and assistants.

It’s time to show some respect, enjoy the game and remember it’s not life-threatening.  Debate should be encouraged, as long as it’s constructive.  Next time you look to blame a referee for a “bad decision” which cost your team the game, consider the game without one.  If football fans work together to change this “negative” hate-culture towards referees, maybe, just maybe, the standard will improve.  Isn’t that what we all want?

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