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Prem referee debate - Holmes v Dennis

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09 Nov 2010 13:08:00

Prem referee debate - Holmes v Dennis

TEAMtalk's Mark Holmes clashes with Daily Express stalwart Mick Dennis in a head-to-head debate on the standard of Premier League refereeing. Referees are never out of the news for too long in this country and they've been firmly back in it this week after Stoke boss Tony Pulis hit out at some "abysmal" decisions he feels his side have been on the wrong end of recently. Pulis claims the Potters are "treated differently" to the bigger clubs in the league - something a number of managers have complained about in the past - but not everybody agrees. Our man Mark Holmes is a Stoke season ticket holder and believes referees absolutely do favour the bigger clubs but Mick Dennis, chief football correspondent of the Daily Express, is adamant all teams are treated with an even hand. Read their views and get involved in the debate yourselves. Mick Dennis, Daily Express ALL fans think that watching 90 minutes of their matches would show unfairness. Fans see every incident through the prism of their own desires and hopes. I'm a Norwich City fan and when a Norwich player goes into a tackle, I want it to be successful and I believe it is fair. When an opponent tackles a Norwich player, I think it is an unfair challenge. This subconscious lack of impartial scrutiny is much-more marked among supporters of teams who are stuggling, because every decision is critical to them. If they have a goal chalked off, have a player sent-off, or have a dodgy goal against them allowed it will have a profound effect on the result. They subconsciously forget all the marginal decisions that go their way during a game. This perception that "they're all against us" has been common for decades among the strugglers. When Gary Megson was managing West Brom in the Premier League he compiled a video, which he said proved the unfairness against his team, and sent it to the FA. They responded by listing a dozen borderline decisions that had gone his way. Stoke fans have been saying all weekend that their club are unfairly treated. Part of that belief is based on the fact that Gary Neville was not sent off against them yet Ryan Shawcross was against Sunderland in similar circumstances. But my point is that, although the decision not to send off Neville was wrong, it is irrelevant to the correct sending-off of Shawcross. Also, I simply do not agree that Neville would have been sent off, necessarily, if he had been playing for a "less glamorous club". Referees frequently bottle out of giving a player a second caution - I saw it happen at AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. It is wrong when it happens, and that is why it is illogical to criticise the ref who gets it right (as happened with Shawcross). When something like Neville staying on happens, folk say "that's favouritism towards United". When anyone else escapes a second yellow, someone will say the ref is using commonsense to keep it 11 v 11! The real test is for neutral folk to watch games and assess the fairness of the decision-making - and, of course, that is what happens with the assessment of referees by match delegates and retired referees. Believe me, they are very critical when necessary. That's also what I have been doing for 30 years - watching games as a neutral. I see plenty of decisions made wrongly in favour of unglamorous clubs, but those decisions don't help them much and so go largely unremarked upon. Referees train for years to avoid favouring clubs and players about whom they have a view, and are then scrutinised week in and week out by neutral assessors to make sure they are not showing any subliminal bias. Mark Holmes, TEAMtalk.com EVERY team suffers from a refereeing mistake at times and I hope no Stoke fan believes there is a conspiracy against us because of our recent cruel luck. As Mick points out, fans remember the injustices that go against them but forget most of the ones that work in their favour and even little old Stoke get the odd one - in fact our winner against Aston Villa in September was scored following a very debatable free-kick. However, these situations are said to "even themselves out" and I simply do not believe that to be the case. Nobody can prove that Neville would have been sent off last month had he be wearing a Stoke shirt, but the referee in that game was the same one, Andre Marriner, that sent off Lee Cattermole for a second bookable offence after just 22 minutes of Sunderland's game at Wigan in September. Is it a coincidence that Marriner stuck to the letter of the law when dealing with Cattermole but not with Neville, or do certain players and certain teams get treated more harshly than others? I'm sure no referee goes into a game with the intention of favouring one team over the other, but every one goes in with a perception of the two teams and 22 players and I firmly believe those perceptions affect the decisions referees make over 90 minutes. They are only human, after all. Mick argues that the training referees are given prevents them from showing any subliminal bias, but they are not allowed to officiate games involving a team from their local area so the powers that be clearly believe referees are capable of bias. If we accept that, can we rule out the possibility that referees are capable of allowing pre-conceived ideas of teams and players affect their decision making? And can we rule out the possibility that a Manchester United fan would find it harder to rule a 50-50 decision in Liverpool's favour than he would Bolton for example. I accept it's no more than conjecture that can't be proved but I watch enough football each weeked to know there is an inconsistency in the way teams are treated and I expect many readers (of smaller teams of course!) will feel the same way. Another problem with referees in the Premier League - and this is in no way their fault - is that they are under a different amount of pressure depending on the game they're taking charge of. A referee knows that any decision he makes at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge could affect where the title ends up. And he knows any wrong one he makes will be replayed time and time again. So how hard must it be to award a penalty to a Birmingham, Sunderland or Blackburn at either of those grounds? A lot harder than it would be to give one at St Andrew's, the Stadium of Light or Ewood Park, I would suggest. We can't take away that pressure and, until someone invents a robot official, we can't be certain referees won't be subconsiously affected by feeling and perception. It won't be long until another manager hits out at disparity in the league and there'll be two more big egos like myself and Mick claiming we know best. And the more often the debate is raised the more often people should realise there is no smoke without fire.


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