Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogathon: Referee!

7am. Get up, grab Sunday and don't let it go.

And spare a quid or two for the Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland.

You ask for suggestions for blogathon topics on Twitter you get inundated with chat about referees. So, for y'all, here goes.

Referees. What a shower of crooked bastards.

A fact: everyone thinks referees are out to disadvantage his or her team.

I've been reading a book about a couple of decades in the history of Hibs. It seems we went 20 years without committing a foul in Glasgow yet being penalised for almost every fair tackle.

That seems a blinkered nonsense.

I've seen bad decisions given against my team. And I've seen bad decisions given for my team.

I think last year certain episodes gave the issue of refereeing in Scotland an unhelpful camouflage.

Because talking about corruption, bias, a lack of neutrality - although it's massively tempting - obscures what are probably far more real and insidious problems with the standard of refereeing.

And that needs to be sorted out.

A few suggestions that I think are worth exploring.

Referees should be full time. I know it's expensive and some people might not be attracted to it as a full time job.

But football's a very different game now. It shouldn't be officiated by gentleman amateurs.

What would they do all day?

Well, they'd get better at refereeing for a start and they'd also be involved, seguing perfectly into my next point, with outreach programmes.

Every school should have a qualified referee. And every school and every youth football club should get regular visits from referees.

This has probably, I hope, changed now but I don't ever remember actually being taught the rules of the game.

It was as if we were expected to learn them by a process of osmosis or simply by learning not to do something after being penalised for doing it the first time.

That creates a knowledge gap that is the filled by peer groups, parents or television pundits.

There is no way that's a good thing. Because if we think referees often have a shaky grasp of the rules they look masterminds compared to Joe Public.

The number of times I hear at half time or full time:

"Player A did that and nothing happened, but then our Player B did that and he got booked. The ref's a f*cking nightmare, man."

No. He's not. Because invariably what's just been described are two similar but actually quite different things that the referee has called absolutely spot on.

Meeting referees from a young age would also help convince people that refs are normal blokes.

That means it's not nice to scream and shout at them when they've done something you don't like. And screaming and shouting at people, although a recognised footballing performance enhancement technique, doesn't always help people perform at their best.

So get the Respect agenda or the Football not Fiasco agenda or whatever the hell it is on track.

On track in this instance would mean zero tolerance and heavy, consistent punishments. Not a press release, a marketing slogan and an advertising board.

Ask referees what they want. What would make their job easier?

We might not be able to provide it through our own authorities but we might be able to lead the debate on things like TV replays or whatever the consensus of the refereeing fraternity suggests.

Finally, we should all simmer down. Football's an imperfect game and referees are not superhuman. Mistakes should be kept to a minimum but they will happen.

Let's try meeting them with a stiff upper lip not a hysterical rant. It would be healthier.

And one last thing. Start coming down hard, extremely hard, on cheats.

Too often when a player cheats, it's not diving or play acting it's cheating with the intent of gaining an unfair advantage, it's the referee who is painted as the villain of the piece.

Stop that. It's like treating the victim of a confidence trickster and the guilty party not the victim.

It's a hard enough job with conniving footballer muddying the waters.

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