Who would be a referee? A snarling cauldron of hate and abuse from the stands, the same torrent of swearing and bile from the players that you’re trying to officiate and a post match scrutiny of every decision you have made, replayed frame by frame. Your own mistakes slow motioned in front of millions, a cinema of your own worst bits to be derided by men, women and children up and down the country. Yes, you have to be an extraordinary person to decide that you want that as your profession and all of the consequences that undoubtedly spill into your personal life.
Mark Clattenburg this week experienced the very worst of it. But are we doing enough to protect and help the officials, without whom our glorious game would end up reduced to grown men wrestling over a football and threatening to go home for their tea every time the ball went out for a contentious throw in.
Over the last 50 years as football moved into a modern professional era, the game has quickened beyond recognition. Players are fitter, they’re trained better, and they have access to pills, potions and machinery that would look like a NASA space program to a player of old. On top of that the rules such as offside have been subtly changed to keep the game free-flowing and provide more goals. Millions of pounds wash through the game, and the difference between a win and a loss can be huge financial gain, or the despair of an entire city. Within that swirling hurricane flies the referee, armed with a whistle and a couple of assistants, with no more help than his colleagues from the 50’s and 60’s would have had.
The time has clearly come to offer more assistance to the officials for the good of the game. They’re human beings trying to witness a match at intense speeds and as such they’ll make mistakes. Step one has to be the implementation of video assistance for incidents relating directly to goals. Goal line technology is a must, and potentially even offside decisions that result in the ball hitting the back of the net. All of these things can be reviewed and decided within 30 seconds and do not interrupt the flow of the game. Certainly no more than a crowd of remonstrating spittle-expelling players do.
In fact, watching a referee backtrack as several players shout and jab fingers at him is one of the least edifying footballing scenes to be played out each week on our screens. It’s time for the authorities to take a genuine look at Rugby Union and think about whether we should take their example and only allow the captain to speak with the referee.
Whilst doing that, it’s easy to follow the Rugby Union example even further and allow the conversations to be heard by the fans. The Clattenburg case doesn’t occur in a game where the players’ and referees’ conversations are laid out in front of the public. As formerEnglandhooker Brian Moore stated, there would be chaos for six weeks, and then the players would realise that swearing and intimidation give themselves and the club such a terrible reputation that it would end.
Not that the referees should have it all their own way. They’re not demi-gods overseeing football with a flick of a wrist and a dash of red or yellow. They’re accountable as any other professional should be, and the rules on retrospective decisions need to be altered. It’s not undermining their authority, but helping them further. If a referee sees a stamp or an elbow but doesn’t deem it worthy of a sending off, then currently retrospective action cannot be applied if the video evidence actually shows it to be worse than it first appeared. The power to overrule the referees and add more definitive justice is also much needed at the highest level of our game.
Football has changed for the players beyond recognition. They’ve been jumpstarted into the modern professional era with huge advances in every aspect of their working lives. Let’s do the same for the officials to allow them the same level playing surface.
More from Nick Bell @tracking_back