Much as it grieves me, a lowly park ref, to say, but the journalist in me obliges me to report that Premier League referees do not know the laws of the game. I would love to be wrong. I'm a staunch defender of referees. So please tell me if I am and I'll remove this post forthwith.
My evidence? The PGMOL - Professional Match Officials Ltd - have their own website called Refworld (www.refworld.com). It's to this site that top refs turn every Monday morning to find out their fixtures for the next 10 days ahead. The site also includes some handy tips and hints for refs, and includes a copy of the Laws of Association Football, the LOAF, as it's known.
Problem is, it's last year's LOAF. And the laws have changed.
Go to www.fifa.com and have a look at the official version of the laws. While Ifab, which announces changes to the laws, said at the start of this season that there had only been one substantive change to the laws, (Law 2 concerning logos on the match ball), in fact there have been some major changes concealed by what Fifa says is a "tidying up" of different sections of the laws.
Law 12, the section on Fouls and Misconduct, used to say that it was a foul if a player "tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball." That's what you'll find on the premiership refs' site.
But check out Fifa's version of Law 12, updated at the start of this season: the wording has changed completely. "A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits
any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force: ... tackles an opponent"
All mention of getting the player before the ball has gone. Now it's a foul if the referee considers a tackle is careless or reckless. Hence Rob Styles' decision to penalise Newcastle's Hamid Bey. Styles would appear to be the only ref who knows the new rule.
The new copy of the laws of the game runs to 138 pages, many pages longer than the 2007/08 version.
Strikes me that the referees need to be told about these changes.