By Matthew Bird.
I’ll preface this by saying that in 1991 I passed my referees exam with the Cheshire FA, I was 15 and I reffed initially in the Timperley Junior League, then progressed to the Altrincham Saturday and Sunday leagues, occasionally I would run the line in the Mid Cheshire Saturday league. I quit due to the abuse I received, so I’ll never criticise a referee, not after walking in their shoes.
I thought, damn, they’ve scored. The ball hit the goalie, pinged around, hit the bar, ricocheted off players and finally someone stabbed it home from around 2 yards out. They’ve stolen a win right there. Arsenal have been woeful and after Mbia was an idiot to get sent off they’ve bumbled in a winner and snagged three points. Those were my thoughts as Arteta ran off celebrating. So it was really only after watching the replay twice and seeing a few online comments about it possibly being offside do you think wow, Arsenal have been lucky.
Fast forward 24 hours and almost the exact same thing happens to us. We score a winner in similar fashion but this time, Alan Green is up in arms, sections of football fans are calling it a conspiracy, Val from Blackburn is frothing at the mouth saying Sir Alex has gotten away with murder.
I’ve been on the line, you can only look at one thing, and when the ball is that close to the goal, you’re just making sure to see if it’s crossed the line or not. If you’re doing that, you can’t watch to see if people are offside. You can’t do both. I didn’t criticise the assistant linesman for his decision with the Arteta goal and I won’t for the Hernandez goal either against Chelsea. You can argue for technology all you want, but in real time and live, without the benefit of instant replays, most of us would have given them as goals too.
So, then comes the tumult of seething disgust on the BBC. Apparently Premier League referees are not good enough. That’s what I kept hearing last night, and that Clattenburg ruined the game with 3 contentious issues. So in the cold light of day, and as a pragmatic response to the critical, but also as a former referee I’d like the right to reply on a few issues.
Premier League Referees are not good enough
First of all, just because you perpetuate a myth it doesn’t make it so. We all know Howard Webb’s record on the international scene; he’s up there with the best of them. You can dress him up in a Manchester United kit for a laugh all you want. But the facts remain; he’s been there and done it at all levels of the game now. However the Premier League has 7 other FIFA and UEFA sanctions referees. So really, are ours not good enough or are we looking through our bias tint glasses? I think we need to remember how far refereeing has come, does anyone remember how bad George Courtney or David Elleray was? I certainly do.
Bring in European Referees
This was more than one Chelsea fans responses yesterday to Alan Green. Just how short are their memories? Do they not remember Tom Henning Ovrebo? You can’t on one hand say that referees from Europe don’t have the big match experience and then on the flip side want those to referee your games when you don’t like what the native referees are doing. This of course is a flippant answer to the question to bring in foreign referees. The longer more succinct answer is this. If you’re a class 3 referee, newly examined and you officiate in your local leagues. You earn your stripes so to speak and endure the hard knocks of Sunday mornings. You keep your head down while dealing with the rough and tumble of pub football while negotiating local FA politics not to upset anyone. You come home from work or school every day and hit the gym or go for a run wind, rain and shine. You are promoted to class 2 and eventually class 1. Then you reach the pinnacle, you get the call one day and are told you’ll be refereeing Yeovil v Carlisle. This is the pinnacle for you because a referee from outside the UK is doing the Liverpool v Wigan game as you’re just not good enough to referee in your own domestic league. There are already an estimated 7000 referees whom leave the game at grass roots level every year in the UK. If you then tell them there is no incentive to train and work hard to reach the heights of the game, you may as well nail the coffin lid on Sunday morning football as no-one will care enough to dress in black and take the torrents of abuse from the Dog and Duck.
Referees making bad decisions
Yes they do. Often in fact. But saying that, when some footballers try to con and cheat their way to victory game-in and game-out then what do you expect? Taking off my United hat for a minute. Ashley Young, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez all have or had a reputation for the elaborate. Just last week Torres did a flop so good that even Fosbury would have been jealous. It doesn’t matter if there was or wasn’t contact. I don’t care if Jonny Evans brushed his leg ever so slightly. It’s irrelevant in my opinion, the bigger picture is thus; When you cry wolf enough times, karma is going to bite you in the backside.
Also, when as a professional footballer, you’re clear though on goal with just the keeper to beat, you shoot and the ball slices off your foot and ends up in row Z, it’s a bit of a cheek to then turn around and complain the ref had a bad game no?
When all you watch is the Premier League, you’re blinkered by the light. You see what you want to see. In the USA, the MLS referees are absolutely shocking. So be careful what you wish for. And instead of calling up Alan Green to have a moanathon about Dowd/Atkinson/Clattenburg/Webb (delete as appropriate) if you think you can do it, go and sign up for the refereeing class at your local FA. Grass roots football needs it and you’ll at least learn something. I learned that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take it.
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