'You're not fit to referee', a chant which rings around football grounds across the country on a regular basis. Yet, never has it been heard so loudly, or frequently, as in the past week. Flying in the face of the FA’s Respect campaign, match officials have been bombarded by fans, players and managers alike, with a surge of recent attacks.
I’ve never officiated a game of football at any standard, and I vehemently back the FA’s stance to support referees. Everybody realises that we all have an off day, sure. Everybody knows that we all make mistakes, of course. However, it is becoming increasingly hard to defend some of the performances put in by Premier League officials of late.
The standard of refereeing in this country is believed to be up there with the best. After all, Howard Webb oversaw both the Champions League final and World Cup final last season, four years on from Graham Poll tarnishing the reputation of the nation’s referees by infamously awarding three yellow cards to Croatia’s Josip Simunic.
Last week, the spotlight shone on Mark Clattenburg. Taking charge of Wigan’s game with Manchester United, Clattenburg awarded a free-kick to the Latics after he apparently saw Wayne Rooney ‘obstruct’ James McCarthy. Rooney didn’t block McCarthy off; he caught him with a brutal elbow.
Presented with the chance to throw the book at Rooney, the FA didn’t deem the incident to be serious enough. This saga seems to have begun a snowball effect, in which one controversial decision is being followed by another.
On Tuesday, Martin Atkinson had a tough time when United lost 2-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Sir Alex Ferguson felt his side were hard-done by when David Luiz was allowed to stay on the pitch despite upending Rooney off the ball, an obvious foul which deemed a second yellow card. Having seen Atkinson wave play-on, Frank Lampard dispatched a contentious penalty within the next two minutes.
Then, for the second game running, Clattenburg was involved in a match riddled with highly-debatable refereeing decisions on Saturday. After failing to award two clear spot-kicks in Fulham’s favour, the official then gave a soft penalty to the Whites, penalising Blackburn Rovers defender Grant Hanley for impeding Aaron Hughes.
On the same day, Arsene Wenger claimed he was ‘too disgusted’ to talk about decisions made by referee Anthony Taylor and assistant Andy Garratt following Arsenal’s goalless draw at home to Sunderland. With 10 minutes remaining, Andrey Arshavin was denied what appeared to be a nailed-on penalty, before having a goal disallowed for offside when he was in an onside position.
Yesterday was the turn of Phil Dowd and Mark Halsey to be scrutinised.
Taking control of Liverpool’s 3-1 thrashing of Manchester United, Dowd made a rod for his own back when he decided against sending Jamie Carragher off for a potentially leg-breaking tackle on Nani. Shortly afterwards, he had no option but to book Rafael for what was undoubtedly a red-card offence.
In the later kick-off between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux, Halsey only produced a yellow card when Spurs defender Alan Hutton pulled Nenad Milijas down with the goal at his mercy. As time ran out for Wolves to grab an equaliser, the referee blew for a foul against Richard Stearman as he challenged fairly for an aerial ball with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. With a relatively decent view, Halsey shouldn’t have made the error. Thankfully for the home side, they did eventually claim their well-deserved point.
I understand how hard a job being a referee or linesmen is, although I believe it to be one of those things where you can only appreciate it to its full extent once you’ve done it. I do not in any way condone the reactions of certain managers. There is no favouritism at any level. I have never bought into the whole idea that particular clubs are given preferential treatment. The game is faster than ever, officials only get one angle, and one chance, to make up their minds.
However, a large amount of the aforementioned calls seemed blatantly obvious to make, leaving referees susceptible to criticism. And as we approach the business end of the season, an agenda against officials is bound to follow, as key decisions could lead to club’s losing their Premier League status, missing out on that precious place in Europe, or falling just short in the title race.