By Walter Broeckx
Every football supporter will have a moment that after a game he is angry about the referee. And if you are a football supporter that never said a word about a ref I can only wonder if you are a true supporter of your team. Or maybe you are not passionate about it at all. Because I have not yet met a supporter who never has been felt hard done by a referee.
From the lowest possible youth team game up to the Champions League final. From the lowest possible local pub team game up to the World cup final. The ref is always under fire and has caused defeat of your favourite team. That is the way it goes. The ref gets all kinds and sorts of abuse thrown at him. Most of al verbal abuse, swearing, shouting, cursing, … you name it, it has been said to a ref before. And will be said again, and again and again.
Still we got to keep in mind how difficult it is for any ref to do his game. Be it the ref for the local pub team or the youth team. Or be it the ref in the PL or CL. It isn’t easy. I know. I know this all too well. I know this because I am a ref myself. I know how difficult it is to see all the fouls. To see every offside correct or not. I know how difficult it is to see if a ball was over the line or not. I know it all too well. As a ref I have made mistakes. In fact any ref makes mistakes. We are human. So we are open to making mistakes. I plead guilty: I made mistakes. And next season: I will make mistakes again. After all, I am human. I’m not a machine. And my fellow referees are also human and will make mistakes.
So why then did I start this referee review for our blog? Well I didn’t wake up one morning thinking to myself: I’m going to review the referees in the PL and put all the data in a database and will try to draw my conclusions. This referee review thing is one of those things in life where you slowly roll in to without even noticing it at first.
In fact it all started a few years ago when I saw the game Manchester United – Arsenal. There was a moment in the game that I as a ref felt : this is not a mistake. This is not an honest mistake. This is something completely wrong.
That moment was when a Manchester United player made a two footed tackle on Arshavin in the penalty area and catapulted Arshavin in the air. And as if that wasn’t enough the United player then controlled the ball with his arm, stood up and passed the ball to a team mate. Now you could say: maybe the ref was unsighted. Maybe he couldn’t see the incident properly. But I can assure you this was not the case. There were no players between the ref and the incident. He had a clear and unobstructed view. And he did nothing. I have seen bad calls from refs but this one was a kind of wake up call for me. This was some kind of : “this is not possible”-moment. I then wrote an article about this particular incident on this website Untold Arsenal. And from the moment I told the readers that I was a ref they started asking all kinds of questions about refereeing.
And from that moment on I started writing articles about refereeing in general. When incidents happened on the field of an Arsenal game involving the ref I wrote about it, explaining the laws. Citing from the laws of the games. Citing from the instructions to the referees. Telling them from my own experiences as a ref. And the people wanted more and more and more…
And at the start of the season 2010-2011 they (this is our readers) had gotten me that far to do a review of each Arsenal game about the ref. It was a very short review compared to what we have been doing this season. But at the time the readers liked the way we started this.
But from my other articles where I wrote in general about refereeing and the first reviews some people said that we were doing it wrong. In those days we just focussed on the decisions the ref made when he gave a foul or a goal was scored. Because people by then knew that if you want to judge a ref you have to take every decision and judge them.
And with every decision we mean not just the decisions that the ref made, but also the non decisions. There are incidents in a game that when you are the ref you see a player falling and you have to decide: did he fall because of a foul that was made on him or was it a slip on the wet pitch. So the ref can say: it was not a foul and do nothing at all (a non decision) but if you look at the replay it is possible that you see another player tripping the player that went down.
So in that case the ref has made a mistake. And that is something we had to take in account. It could also be the other way round of course. A nice dive from a player but the ref gives a foul. That was something we covered in our first reviews when it was an important call. But the first incident we didn’t cover.
As I am a ref myself I know that a ref can influence a game. When I step on my field I don’t care of the names of the teams. I just go out and do my best to make sure that on my field of play the laws are applied by and in the same way for both teams. I make mistakes but those mistakes are not based on the fact: I don’t like team A so I will not give a foul in their favour. No, I can say that if I don’t give the foul it is because I couldn’t see it properly or because I made a mistake.
And then we enter the difference between making honest mistakes and making deliberate mistakes. Because when you do it on purpose we are not talking about human mistakes but about tilting a game. And that is something that a ref should never do. Because from that moment you stop being a ref and start being a cheat. And nothing worse than a cheating ref. For whatever reason a ref will cheat (supporting a certain team, doing it for money, doing it for liking or hating the manager, doing because of liking or disliking a player on the field, doing it because the team is from you neighbourhood, or doing it because the team is coming for a certain neighbourhood,…the list can go on and on) it is inexcusable.
But any ref with a little bit of experience will tell you that he knows that he can tilt a game if he wants to. There are different ways of doing this in fact. You can blow penalties that are not even a foul. But that is a way that attracts a lot of attention and certainly when there are cameras around the field a ref who wants to tilt a game will try to avoid it if possible. If needed he will do it of course.
Now a clever ref knows that he can tilt the game much better by doing it in a different way. You go for little fouls in the middle of the field. When a striker makes a foul on a defender you have to blow that immediately. That is how it has been taught in the courses. Because a defender that is out of balance could miss kick his pass or clearance and so the other team that has made the foul could gain advantage from this. But if you are a ref who wants to tilt a game, you could let it go. Not giving a foul on a defender is absolutely not done and when you see a ref doing it (or better said not doing it) you can wonder if the ref is good enough….or if he is up to something.
Remember that if you want to judge the performance of a ref it is of course important to look at the good decisions. But making good decisions is what the ref is paid for. It is the thing he should do. But it is maybe even more important to look at the wrong decisions he made. Or the decisions he didn’t make. If you want to look for something you must look at those decisions in the first place. Please keep this in mind when we show you numbers later on in this series of articles.
Making mistakes is human. But from the moment that the mistakes are not as evenly spread as the correct decisions you can detect some kind of bias. It can be an innocent bias but it could be a not that innocent bias.
Next article in this series will follow shortly: …. to the current reviews