Heads We Win, Tails You Lose

Huddersfield Town story posted by Andy Dixon on 14/04/2003
Controversy surrounding refereeing decisions is not uncommon. But is the referee always wrong? Greenhead College students Rachel Worthington & Andrew Dixon investigate.Heads We Win, Tails You Lose

Even the coin toss at the start of every match cannot please everybody all of the time, so who gets the blame? The referee. Football referees are subject to lots of unfair criticism. That is a fact and television exposure must be making their job untenable.

The armchair experts, who not only understand the laws of football better than referees, also have the opportunity to tell millions of TV viewers exactly what the ref got wrong.

Sky television has made it easier to analyse a foul, dive or penalty by providing a dozen camera angles just to be sure that the referee was wrong - unfortunately we don't know a referee who has 24 eyes!

Of course the unrealistic slow motion - "slow mo" as the pundits sometimes call it, provides more opportunities to replay the incident two or three times, only at a slower speed. This gives us more time to make up our minds and eventually decide that the ref was wrong.

In some cases - those that the referee must have got wrong - there might be three replays on average, but five or six if two TV experts can't agree. Many of these would be from different angles.

On top of all this, the experts tell us things like for any incidents in the penalty area the ref should always give the defender the benefit of any doubt. Even if there was a 'foul' found through replays.

The poor observation skills of referees are also recognised at matches where the crowd constantly complain about the ref being blind - strange that - we always imagined there would be some sort of eye test before a referee could officiate a football match.

However the referee is not alone. Referee's assistants and the fourth official are also there to make sure nothing goes 'wrong'. But we don't need TV cameras to see that some referees prefer to go it alone.

Obviously referees have seen TV evidence of poor linesmen decisions and agree that their referee's assistants aren't much use. This view stems from most of the linesmens' decisions also being wrong.

The inconsistency between referees and referee's assistants is commonplace in contemporary football. Yet football fans agree with neither. It can be great to see fans behind a goal protesting against an offside decision from 80 to 100 yards away through chants like 'you don't know what you're doing'.

Another problem, judging by the amount of whistling near the end of a game, is the obvious inaccuracy of the ref's stopwatch. It is a shame that refs don't invest in the same quality of watch that the average football fan owns.

What, we wonder, do referees make of all this public and TV panel criticism?

On the outside, it would appear that they are totally un-phased by it - or perhaps they are too professional to react to other people's judgement.

If unprofessional a ref may one day join a TV panel, and wise up some of the experts, or better still run up to a football fan and ask, "which law did I misinterpret?"

Yet a referee's ability isn't just questioned during the game or on TV afterwards. He is often surrounded by a swarm of protesting players at the end of each match, or by a hot-tempered manager as he leaves the field.

The consequence of bad refereeing decisions is potentially very expensive - it can often be the difference between a win or draw (three points or one). Ultimately it could decide the future of a football club.

For example the referee for the final 2000-01 season fixture between Stockport County and Crystal Palace missed a handball in the build-up to the winning Palace goal. This resulted in Palace staying up and Huddersfield Town being relegated into division two.

What, we wonder, possesses someone to want to be a referee?

It seems to be a thankless job, where every decision cannot be accepted by everybody all of the time, with many of them being scrutinised endlessly.

Are we defending football referees because anyone we know is a ref?

No - every football fan we know has no time for referees - they know that the ref is always wrong.

This is the original article which is in The Examiner today (Monday 14th April 2003, on page 11).


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