Friday, January 28, 2022

Is hating referees just an English tradition?

What is it that means whatever happens, we all have no time for the referee? I’m sure they are not bad people and they make it possible for all of us football lovers to play and watch the game. Without them, there would be no football.

They work hard all week and then take to the field in order to try to officiate in a game that is played and watched with a great deal of passion.

At the lower levels of grassroots football referees are subject to verbal and sometimes physical attacks from players, spectators and parents.

At the top level the possibility of physical assault is reduced but the verbal abuse is multiplied greatly. The fans and players are constantly moaning at the referee and accusing him of not knowing the rules or being biased towards the opposition. Often, that is both sets of fans and players at the same time saying he is biased to the other.

After the games, the managers accuse the referee of being anything from incompetent to being a cheat. They have invariably cost the team a point or three points and are almost always to blame more than any of the players or the manager himself.

In the days following a big game the referee is likely to receive death threats on his mobile phone and his children will be bullied at school. Just think about the children for a second. Can you imagine what it is like for a young child to hear 50,000 singing that your dad is a wanker?

When you look at what goes with being a referee it is hard to work out why on earth anyone would ever consider the possibility of doing the job. Unfortunately, that phrase begins to answer the question as to why we all dislike them.

I should make it clear that I am talking about English referees here and not those across Europe and beyond. I don’t see enough football from other countries to form an opinion on the standard of refereeing but I have to say that the quality of the men in the middle at Euro 2008 was exceptionally high. There was one exception. Oh yes, that was Howard Webb the only English referee. He was sent home after the first round.

So why do we dislike our referees so much in England? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, the standard of refereeing is actually pretty poor. I don’t mean the decision making. That is generally not too bad and I’m sure they get a lot more right than they get wrong. I am talking about the aloof, attention seeking manner in which most of England’s top referees go about their business.

The second reason is a little more complicated but is linked to the first. Someone once said that the desire to become a politician should preclude that person from doing so.

That phrase is absolutely spot on when it comes to referees. Look at the facts of what being a referee entails and then ask yourself why anyone would want to do it.

To be a player you need to have talent and ability as well as a desire to be something of a showman. To be a referee, the talent and ability does not matter. You just have to learn the rules and get fit. It is the desire to be a showman that becomes an important part of the process.

It has often been said, and that doesn’t make it any less true, that a good referee is someone who officiates the game without being noticed. The top referees in England seem to do all they can to get noticed, get on the television and get reported about in the newspapers. They make controversial decisions all the time. It can’t be coincidence. They apply the rules differently to different players because to an observer, it appears that they want to be ‘in with’ the big stars. Players get sent off for using foul and abusive language all the time at all levels of the game. Wayne Rooney anyone?

All in all, I applaud the job done by the referees and as I said at the start, I fully appreciate that without them there would be no game. My problem is that I am a football lover and I just don’t think it is possible for any footy fan to like referees.

It may just be an English problem. Let me know how you all feel about the referees wherever you are.


Graham Fisher



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