Refereeing standards must improve for the sake of football

Many of you know by now that referees generally grind my gears. Since I can remember, fans and viewers have been subject to normally at least one reprehensible decision a game, some minor like an incorrectly awarded throw-in, and some major, like what Mark Clattenburg did in the awesome spectacle that was Leicester City vs Manchester United.


That match finished 5-3 to The Crisps and left United fans and staff scratching their heads as to how a 3-1 lead was thrown away in such a spectacular manner. Twitter erupted, fans and neutrals alike criticising the decision of the referee to award a penalty for Rafael’s challenge on Jamie Vardy, amongst a host of other decisions, including but not limited to Ritchie de Laet remaining on the pitch for a host of hard challenges on Angel di Maria.

If you haven’t seen it, take a quick look here.

There’s three fundamental things wrong with this decision. One: it isn’t a penalty. There is barely any contact and Vardy has moved his body in front of Rafael before going down in a rather flimsy manner. Two: there is a foul about 6 seconds before the penalty is given. Vardy has shoulder tackled Rafael to the floor. It’s debatable whether it is a foul (I think Rafael needs to be stronger), but it’s worse than the penalty. Three: it’s the same kind of foul. Take a look again, and you’ll see the two incidents are very similar, both are shoulder to shoulder until Vardy twists his body for the penalty, except Vardy’s is much more forceful. As a referee, if you can’t recognise that those two incidents require at least identical punishment then you should perhaps identify a new vocation and focus on that.

He had a terrible game, but, as an intriguing segue, he is not a biased referee. A lot of United fans have been claiming that Clattenburg has biased against them, reciting recent red card/penalty statistics as their evidence. If he hates you then he must really deteste Tottenham Hotspur, because in games between the two sides in 2005 and 2010, it’s not like he was totally “biased” against Spurs or anything. Remember the Nani-Gomes free kick drama? Remember Roy Carroll dropping Pedro Mendes’ shot over the line only for it not to be given? Clearly you’ve all conveniently forgotten the decisions that have been given your way by Clattenburg that were wrong. In my eyes, he’s just an awful official who let’s occasions and personal grudges get to him far too often.

He has been embroiled in sagas relating to the racial abuse of Chelsea players, the critique he gave Adam Lallana with regards to his supposed new diving mannerisms, and he is a man who let his personal vices get in his way when sending off Craig Bellamy back in 2009. Who could forget the his deplorable performance in a 2007 Merseyside derby; a performance so bad he wasn’t appointed to officiate an Everton game for five years. And yet, he will walk out at St. Mary’s this weekend to referee Southampton vs QPR like he’s actually trusted to do his job properly.

It’s unfair just to pick out him though. Incidents involving beach balls, dives, and more have all marred games and it’s something referees can easily avoid by just making the right decision.

What can we do about this? Video technology is the primary solution. Quite obviously, some referee’s cannot be trusted to get all the major decisions right, and may also not be able to make a decision due to poor visibility, etc. Most premier league and Championship grounds have big screens in their ground for all the fans to see, so why not replay decisions on there? An even better solution would be to utilise a review system, much like the three challenges in tennis and DRS in cricket. That way, managers have to be careful with what they protest about. I would argue rather than three challenges to decisions, one would be sufficient, as to stop constant challenges and keep the game flowing. I also believe that a referees job can be made easier if players were booked for getting in their faces. Players influencing decisions is just as bad and ruin the outcome of matches. This goes as far as certain players quadruple barrel rolling after a challenge, legitimate or not, to try and get them booked/sent off. In my eyes, if you’ve rolled over screaming, you are unable to continue as a result of a serious injury, so any player doing it should be substituted or booked.

Perhaps most of all, referees need to be trained to do the right thing… as obvious as it sounds. By this I mean, instead of looking at a match as being Leicester vs Manchester United, it’s Team A vs Team B, and you are not to show any sort of bias towards a bigger/smaller club, or towards the home team, etc. This should form a big part of training. You can be the most technically gifted fireman in the world, but if you’re afraid of fire, you’re useless. Similarly, you can be the greatest referee in history based purely on attention to detail, but if you can’t pull off the big decision in a big match because the crowd and players get to you, you aren’t a good referee. They need to be made of steel mentally. You can always get better at spotting fouls, but the right mentality is something that you’re more often than not born with, and takes a long time to acquire otherwise.

Football should be about football. Replacing referees with technology eliminates all possibility of an error, but would ruin the ebb and flow of a game, so isn’t viable. Referees as a result need to get better at making key decisions. At the moment, football is a bit like professional wrestling: it’s all about the story and the drama. It shouldn’t be this way. It isn’t entertainment. It’s competitive sport. I should be writing about a brilliant performance by Leicester to overcome great odds, but instead a referee is the centre of attention.

Less drama, less controversy, more football please.


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