Monday, October 20, 2014

Sorry Henry, but referees really don't want to face a one-sided grilling from ratings hungry broadcasters

Henry Winter is one of the football writers I turn to first after a weekend's football. Knowledgeable and witty, he's a pleasure to read and is also a very nice chap, if the couple of times I've met him are anything to go by. But I'm saddened that he's been persuaded to adopt the view that referees should be paraded post-match, to justify - or "provide clarification" as he so quantly puts it -- their decisions.

This all sounds fine in theory, but the practice is far from honourable. The rumbles that referees should be trotted out, fresh from the post-match shower, to be quizzed - presumably - by Sky's reporter at the match or, worse still, in a press conference, have been around for some years. In theory, referees could provide a simple one-liner saying, "so-and-so was penalised because he fouled the Blue Number 10."
But Sky won't be content with that. They'll be after blood. And every senior referee knows it could be professional suicide to grapple with someone whose business is words and confrontational journalism. These referees are highly trained referees. They're not there to be public speakers or debaters, they exist to referee.
Believe me Henry, every referee knows - usually a few seconds after blowing the whistle - that he's messed up. During the game a referee has to be able to put that mistake to the back of his mind and carry on reffing, but from the Premier League down to my humble level in the Kent County League, that mistake plays on your mind for several days.
Unlike me, where my wife is the only one to provide a sympathetic ear, Michael Oliver has a professional network in place to listen to him voice any doubts he may have and to help him overcome doubt. But talking to a frequently rabid media is not going to help anyone. And I'm part of that media so don't misunderstand where I'm coming from.
As Henry points out, the premier league is about the drama. The referees have to be allowed to remain above that tawdry emotion. They must give cold-blooded decisions, rightly or wrongly, and then slip off into the night to a lonely hotel room and a drink with colleagues or home to their families.  
The root of this problem seems to me to be the refusal to accept human fallibility and its place in football. Technology may replace some decisions and it's been a delight to see the way that goal-line technology has simply eliminated the chaos of whether or not the ball crossed the line. Well at a  top level maybe. In Gravesend two weeks ago I dared to give a goal while running the line when the goalie scooped the ball back into play from a yard inside the goal. My ears are still burning.
It seems to me that Henry is asking the impossible. Referees make decisions on instinct. Invariably these decisions are correct but sometimes they're wrong. Yes, wrong. Michael Oliver's decision to give Victor Moses a penalty on Sunday was most probably wrong. But he saw something that convinced him to blow for the penalty. It's as simple as that. Refs make mistakes. Why should Oliver be dragged up in front of a TV camera to admit that he messed up. It will help no-one apart from the broadcasters' ratings. I can see Sky and BT licking their lips at the prospect of more Saturday afternoon drama.
Mr. Winter's proposed solution of getting Howard Webb out in front of the cameras may have some more legs, but Webb will only be able to give a view on what he saw from the BBC studios in Salford. Oliver was 5 yards from the ball with one angle and enormous pressure bearing down on him. Webb will be sipping a cup of tea in the studio enjoying the benefit of a dozen camera angles, slo-mo replays and an academic calm inside his headphones. Basically Webb will see the TV viewer's point of view, that there was most probably a mistake.
Referees don't need reminding of their mistakes. they're the first to know.

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