Are you an error-prone individual? Do you make basic mistakes on a regular basis? Looking for a position in which you are immune to meaningful critcism for those mistakes? Football has just the job for you – it’s time to become a referee.
Don’t be fooled by the age-old claim that refereeing is the hardest job in the game. Make no mistake – criticism directed at officials via fans is incredibly harsh (even if it’s deserved). But referees do not answer to fans. They aren’t like government officials, for example, who will simply be voted out if they lose in the court of public opinion.
Instead, referees answer to respected governing bodies of their own (the FA, SFA, etc). What goes on behind closed doors is a relatively secretive process, but we know one thing for sure – they are almost never punished for inadequacies. When was the last time a referee of note was banned for a game?
A lack of punishment makes for the easiest job in football. It is one of the most cut-throat industries in the world, with huge pressures on almost everyone involved. If managers go on a five-game losing streak, they are sacked. If a striker goes more than three weeks without a goal, they are deemed a laughing stock. A slip from a defender can see them benched.
Referees, on the other hand, make mistake after mistake without consequence. The trade has never been lower in reputation; it’s a miracle if we go a single Premier League weekend without at least two major talking points. On a bad day, we don’t go a single game without one.
Problems aren’t limited to specific leagues, either. English officials are horrific even with the help of VAR, while their Scottish counterparts appear to lack the basic common sense required to officiate at the top level. The Spanish guard is at an all-time low, and watching certain Champions League games makes you wonder if the boneheads in charge have even undergone basic training.
They make bafflingly bad decisions; they are swayed by crowd reaction on an all-too-regular basis; they allow their pride to get the better of them; their mistakes can quite literally cost people their jobs. And what happens if anyone dares to criticise them? Their football associations dive in to the rescue, shielding them from further harm and dishing out fines to anyone who dares label a referee as below par.
We don’t have to look too far back to find the most recent high-profile examples. Just two minutes after his side took the lead on Saturday, Manchester City’s Rodri performed one of the most blatant (and needless) handballs you will ever see. From the main camera angle, it looked obvious. From referee Paul Tierney’s viewpoint, it would have been even more so. After a VAR check, a penalty simply had to be given. There was no justification whatsoever for Rodri using his arm to control the ball in that situation.
Just look at Rodri’s handball and the clear view Tierney had of it below.
Predictably, he was let off the hook. Manager Frank Lampard voiced his frustrations after the full-time whistle, and the club have since backed him by lodging an official complaint with the Premier League.
Lampard summed up the issue perfectly when he said: “We’ve lost a point because of a professional who cannot do his job right.” Tierney should have given the penalty, but can perhaps be forgiven for not doing so if we’re feeling lenient. VAR official Chris Kavanagh, on the other hand, had the opportunity to review the incident several times and yet still came to the wrong conclusion.
Everton have called for, at the very least, an apology. They’ll be lucky to get that. Referees and those protecting them quite simply do not admit when they are wrong, and there are no repercussions for their woes.
VAR, rather than helping them out, is actually making things worse. The technology was brought in to eradicate refereeing errors from the game, but is doing the opposite. At least when referees make errors, they are human ones. When a fully trained grown man is sitting in a room with a range of screens and the benefit of slow-motion video, they quite simply cannot be allowed to make the same mistakes. And yet they do.
Take Romelu Lukaku’s disallowed goal in yesterday’s Caraboa Cup final defeat to Liverpool, for instance. At first glance, the Belgian looks onside. Then the lines are drawn and it looks tight. Then you realise the line being used is drawn from Lukaku’s elbow. This is absolutely baffling at best and unforgiveably inept at worst.
If you score a goal with your elbow, it is rightly rule out for being a handball. Lukaku’s elbow therefore cannot be offside, and yet is still incorrectly ruled as being so. Chelsea were denied a perfectly good goal in a cup final because of a combined refereeing and technological error, and yet not a single person behind the decision will face consequences.
It’s difficult to highlight the magnitude of this. Yes, refereeing mistakes are part of the game – aside from when they are made on an ever-increasingly regular basis. But when you have technology in place to reduce them actually contributing to more errors, you have a big problem. Liverpool may have gone on to find an equaliser and won anyway, but on the face of it Thomas Tuchel was denied a second Chelsea trophy because of an incorrectly-placed offside line.
The two above examples took place over the most recent weekend. They weren’t even the only mistakes in their respective games, never mind across the footballing community as a whole.
So what can be done? Quite simply, referees must be held to higher account.
If an official is deemed to be on a bit of an error hot-streak, then they should either be made to undergo a stretch of extra training, dropped for a week, or docked wages. That’s how real life works. That’s how football works. Jobs are at stake here, and idiotic referees cannot be allowed to get away with these performances.
If a club questions a major decision (like Everton at the moment), then the official behind the decision should be made to either release a statement or attend a press conference to explain their decision. If a manager makes a bad tactical tweak, they are grilled on their reasoning. If a player decides to shoot instead of making an easy pass, the outcome is the same. Referees must answer for their sins.
That way, they will learn from their mistakes. To repeat myself, that’s how life works. How can you ever get better at something if you shy away from your shortcomings and make the same failures time after time? Albert Einstein’s claim that ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’ is applicable here.
If referees know they will face consequences for their wrongdoings, there won’t be as many. If they face being dropped down a league if their performances are bad, they’ll do more to be at their best. Clearly, they’ve slipped into a position that’s all too comfortable. Someone has to give them a stark warning – or maybe a yellow card would suffice.
A few years ago, Jarred Gillett (who now referees in the Premier League) was mic’d up for his final A-League match in Australia. Viewers were provided with unique insight into the mental workings of an official, listening in as he explained his decisions and conversed with fellow staff. Something like this, if implemented on a wide-scale basis, would also help to hold referees to account.
It wouldn’t cost much to do, as referees already wear microphones. The audio would simply have to be recorded, and clubs could have the right to request specific sections of it should they have any queries regarding decisions. It could then be used to help investigations into continual errors and build evidence against serial offenders in the refereeing department.
On a more basic level, managers and players should be allowed to speak out if they believe referees have made mistakes. Unless their language goes too far, there shouldn’t be an issue with this. People in all walks of life face criticism if they do their jobs badly, and football officials shouldn’t be exempt. The fact they are contributes to their shocking present-day ability.
Bad decision after bad decision is ruining football. Human errors are part of the game, but refereeing has never been worse off than it is now. Everything from miniscule mistakes in the middle of the park that go largely unnoticed to game, job and trophy-defining errors are plaguing our pitches – and until referees are held to higher account, that won’t change.
Everton will struggle to get an apology out of the Premier League. Paul Tierney and Chris Kavanagh will still be in the hot-seat this weekend, their mistakes left unpunished. Frank Lampard will no doubt be disciplined for his comments, and the cycle of appalling refereeing will be allowed to flow on.
Feature Image Credit: Sky Sports