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October 2016
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If a game that involves men sticking their heads up each other’s bottoms can have open refereeing why can’t football?

What can football learn from rugby? *

By Blacksheep

I watched the second half of the England/Wales rugby match on Saturday and apart from wondering at the Welsh comeback and the high attrition rate in terms of injury, I was mainly struck by the marked difference in officiating.

This weekend we have again seen some really poor decisions being made by football referees and linemen at the highest level. How Carl Walker was not deemed offside in the attack that led to Sp*rs’ first goal or Kane not ruled off for his beggars belief. Even De Bruyne’s opener for Citeh was questionable.

By contrast when Wales turned over the ball in the last quarter of the game at Twickenham and Gareth Davies carried the ball over the line to score a try, the ref immediately called for TV confirmation that it had not been a forward pass. In seconds we had the verdict and the try stood.

Earlier I noted two incidents where the ball went dead and the clock was stopped. No need here for arbitrary ‘stoppage time’ at the end of the game, they simply stopped the clock until play restarted. No need for referee discretion, and an obvious way to prevent teams from timewasting.

There were also a couple of occasions when the referee audibly (because he was miked up) explained his decision making to the captains. Not only that but we could hear Chris Robshaw’s acceptance of the decision. By setting out clearly the reason behind the award of penalty or whatever, the referee let the team and the audience know what was going on. By doing it publically he also acted transparently, and so was accountable for his actions.

I think football could take all these points and apply them to the round ball game. If the referee at WHL had listened to Caballero’s complain that Walker was offside a quick look at the video would have confirmed it – goal chalked off, still 0-1. It would not have caused much delay either.

If the same video technology had been applied to the Gabriel/Costa incident the right decision would have been made and Chavski would have played on with 10 men, not us. Mike Dean would have had to explain what he was doing and demonstrated that he had not seen (or had) seen the supposed kick from the Brazilian.

Rugby refs (at international level) are drawn from the elite officials and only the best are selected for by the World Rugby International Referees Panel. The AVIVA Premiership refs are appointed by the RFU’s Professional Referee Unit (PRU) which would appear to be the equivalent of the PGMO in football. As their site notes

‘The PRU consists of 15 referees and 13 assistant referee and represents the cream of English officials. For each match, four officials (1 referee, 2 assistant referees and a reserve official) are selected by the PRU management team of Ed Morrison, Brian Campsall and Tony Spreadbury. They are joined by a timekeeper and for televised matches a Television Match Official.’

They appear to be a lot more transparent than their football equivalent and while they do make mistakes, this seems to be much less contentious than it does in football. More importantly perhaps rugby seems to have recognized the limitations of the official and have taken certain responsibilities away (time-keeping) or added technology to aid their decision-making.

Whatever you might think of their decisions at times it is hard to point the finger at Rugby officials as being secretive, incompetent or corrupt. It works for rugby and it could easily work for football: a failure to implement real change in how football officials operate suggests to me at least that either: a) the FA and PL are happy to have games decided on the lottery of an incompetent ref’s decision-making or b) an acceptance that there are elements of the modern game where opportunities for corruption are rife, and this is ok.

Mike the refs, make them accountable, introduce separate timekeepers and allow video technology to assist referee’s in making the correct decision.

This is 2015 after all.

*Walter, Rugby is a curious English invention derived from Football that involves men chasing an egg-shaped ball and sticking their heads up each other’s bottoms; I’m sure the more civilized Belgians would eschew such barbarity.


The long list: how Mike Dean’s activity has cost Arsenal points and players


A day of record breaking anniversaries

28 September 2002:  Arsenal 4 Leeds 1.   Arsenal beat Nottm F’s record of 22 away games without defeat.  Arsenal also beat Chesterfield’s 72 year old record of scoring in 47 consecutive league games set between December 1929 and December 1930 in the Third Division north. Arsenal player Jack Lee, who was transferred to Chesterfield in 1928, was very much part of Chesterfield’s run at that time.

28 September 2013: Arsenal made it a record breaking 12 consecutive away wins beating Swansea 2-1, as they also equal all time record of 8 consecutive away PL wins, set by Arsenal on 11 May 2002.

34 comments to If a game that involves men sticking their heads up each other’s bottoms can have open refereeing why can’t football?

  • The_Don_Wolf

    Totally agree this article, I have been watching Rugby (Sharks fan) and Football (Arsenal Fan) for all my life, and the ethics in rugby is far superior to football’s. I feel football is getting worse every year with the play acting, time wasting, disrespect. Having the ref miked up will prevent this.

  • Per Arne Flø

    If someone made a poll to get these things introdused to football I would sign it at once!

  • andy bishop

    Agree tech adds to the experience for fans in the day and removes bias and any corruption practised by refs and players. I cannot see any acceptable reason for ignoring its intro.

  • nicky

    The reason why the system has not been adopted for football is quite clear….it’s too simple.
    It doesn’t hold up play unduly, it aids fair play and the fans get their money’s worth in watching time.
    If it WAS adopted it might even stop the incessant pestering of referees by players like Rooney, (which would be a blessing). 😉

  • Mandy Dodd

    Hopefully things will change when forces for corruption at the very top, Blatter, Platini and co depart. There is only one reason why we don’t have open refereeing in football.

  • Sammy The Snake

    Instead of making a petition to ask for removal of one bad egg – errr… bad ref – from the game, why don’t you make one to ask for an enquiry into the way refreeing is managed in EPL?

  • serge

    I could see some aspects of video tech as beneficial to football, but not the stopped clock. Far too much time is lost ( something close to 30 minutes in England’s first match) which could cause serious problems for fans making public transport connections. Having said that much of the stoppage is caused by the more numerous injuries in rugby, so a study is called for.
    I do like the idea of an off field official working with the on field team, but with no input from either teams or benches in the form of challenges to decisions. Just a completely independent and non PGMO crew using high tech monitors refereeing the game in parallel and with equal status as the on field team.

  • Gf60

    The greatest problem with video is that it would stop biased refereeing and/or, who knows, brown envelopes that supplement ref/linemen match fees. Thus totally unacceptable!

  • Apo Armani

    Blacksheep, excellent extended analysis on this topic.

    I made similar comments in previous threads here on UA (Rugby is way ahead in changing with the times, applying the rules of the game fairly, transperancy and fair play all combined to give the fans a pleasant sporting experience even if they are the ones of the losing side).

    Video technology is a complete no brainer and only forces motivated with corruption or bias will fight this aspect of sporting FairPlay !!

    Without VT it’s not only the governing but corrupt bodies have their best opportunities to influence results of games/league places, but so do cheating managers and players!

    This injustice to football must stop.

  • nicky

    I take your point about the length of play affecting the transport of fans, if a stopped clock was introduced.
    However, anything to improve the game’s integrity is worth considering. Time wasting by players would be eliminated. Fairer decisions by referees.
    And I daresay the transport people would soon cater for the changes. After all, they need the fans as much as the other way round.
    And of course, there is nothing to prevent k/o times being altered to suit longer matches. 😉

  • serge


    Yeah, like I say ” a study is called for”
    I’m definitely not in favour of teams/benches challenging decisions however incorrect they are perceived to be otherwise you’ll have more stops than the Northern Line.

  • Gooner S

    This all seems like good common sense. Why The FA cant act on these suggestions is beyond me. Try them out. If they dont work then fair enough ut at least try them. After all the law makers have been mucking around with the offside rule for years.

  • Sally Pally

    People have mentioned the lacklustre level of support at the Emirates. There were efforts to address this 3 years ago, most should remember. That did have a positive effect. When thinking about some of the home fans wanting entertainment and not really giving enough vocal support, a change to Rugby type televised replays and live Referee commentary on why a decision is made, would add to the excitement and entertainment value, probably making the more reserved home fans more vocal. Stopping the clock while incidents are being resolved would be fine and its hard to see an argument against it, it is simply progress that can come from the advances in technology. Matches might last a bit longer but that would be fun anyway.

    The positives to come from this adoption of Rugby style refereeing would be an atmosphere where referees are not under so much pressure, where players and supporters would not be able to alienate them and where everyone could trust that justice was being done. It would be amazing.

    The press today has been very encouraging. Having read about 30 articles, I have only read one which is mildly sour grapes, with an angle to create more Mourinho style questioning of whether Wenger is the best manager to take the club forward. So that’s nice to see, more like last season and the beginning of this one, where people got behind Wenger and saw Arsenal as genuine title contenders, which clearly we are. The lack of signings and loss to West Ham naturally generated some doubts. So many times, Sir Alex kept his core team and didn’t make rash signings for the sake of appeasing the fans. Wenger has been doing this, it is better than throwing money at a gamble, which often does not pay off. Look at Liverpool to see how that approach would probably only backfire on us.

    Now we are in the excellent situation where we have very potent team, capable of counter-attack and possession football, with a good mixture of tall, strong players and short, more agile ones. We have excellent strength in depth, our strikers are banging in goals and we are playing exciting football again. We also have the transfer window opening again quite soon, by which time it will be obvious what, if anything, needs to be done transfer-wise. The 200 Million in the bank can be put to better use than it would have been had we forked out loads of money on dubious strikers. The ones Wenger thought might benefit the club (Lewandowski, Benzema, Higuain…) where simply not available. It is hard to fault his approach, it is one which brought so much success to United. United have gone the other way. It was clear that United needed a complete revamp and it is by no means finished. When you compare every are of the pitch, I would say that we have better players right now.

    I am looking forward to the Olympiakos match but not too worried. What concerns me, as it does most people on here, is the level of refereeing against United on Sunday. I don’t think that they will be able to get away with parking the bus and nor would they want to, hopefully. They have some new young, fast players and will probably want to play expansively, like us. Their defence is not all that solid. so p[arking the bus would be a bad move. It could and should be another entertaining game. I think that they find themselves at the top of the table as much from luck as skill. If the refereeing is decent, why would we be worried? We are worried simply because refereeing against them has been so poor and favourable to them for the last decade, as it has been recently with Chelsea, whose own defence is now suspect.

    Onwards and upwards!

  • Andy Mack

    Although it would definitely be a major step forward, it isn’t the prefect cure, although I’m not sure there is such a thing. RU refs make bad decisions, so do their ‘TMO’ refs, but they are much less frequent on the major incidents. Different ref have different interpretations of the RU laws and they also have slight bias as well. As a long time occasional quins follower (supporter would be too strong a phrase) I have seen plenty of games where they do or don’t get ‘the rub of the green’. Refs that think they should be able to magically disappear after a tackle but have a different stopwatch when it comes to the opposition not rolling away. Refs rarely have any clue what went wrong with a scrum, but usually make a ruling.
    A few years back our opening game was against the villians and the ref let them kick us for the full 90 minutes (plus injury time). Not many bad fouls (but some), however it totally broke our rhythm as every player was half concentrating on where the next unpunished kick was going to come from, and video ref’ing wouldn’t stop that happening. So yes, it would be a step in the right direction but it wouldn’t be the ultimate answer, which we all know is “42”!

  • gouresh

    Video tech? U guys mad or what! Sometime back I read on “football is fixed” that the world wide betting on weekend EPL games is a few billion £’s or something that obscene. Every match that’s televised has all the adds by betting companies. They are targeting youth around the 22 to 30 yr bracket and its shown how great it is to bet and how easy it is to win. So many betting companies, cartel, mafia…call them what you want, are now sponsoring the EPL teams. Do you think that they are going to let go the hen that lays golden eggs? A few yrs ago someone from the FA said in the media that if there is no controversies the next day would be dull. Fans wont have anything to shout about and all that. The only way the system can be cleansed if there is a proper investigation into the running of the FA, EPL the PGMO and the links between all these and the betting mafia. Untill then…….

  • Menace

    The Football referee is miked up but the radio is not ‘open’. It is another part of the closed, secretive, open to corrupt practice. There are those players that openly swear at the officials & those that get an instant card for making the slightest audible sound. The City player who dared at half time to question the referee got a yellow.

  • Ralph77


    Yep, controversy creates content and attracts clicks. People love to be outraged and I’m inclined to believe the calculation was made long ago it attracts more eyeballs, and thus more money, than it turns away. What saddens me the most is how much I was looking forward to heading to my local for United this weekend. As often happens with big matches like these I get excited to get a group together and go, but as we get closer I eventually start worrying about the ref and decide maybe it’s best to just stay home. I’d rather be pissed off on my couch over whatever “controversial” decisions ruin the match for Arsenal, than out inebriated with a large tab and looking at a sullen trip home. Just such a damn shame. Last season in the cup when we were actually getting decisions at OT, it blew me away; “this doesn’t happen!” Two weekends ago at Chelsea the idea we were starting to get a fair shake completely shattered. It’s ridiculous we have to put up with this.

  • @Swales1968

    Using a very simple guide

    fouls 10 seconds
    offsides 5 seconds
    goal kicks 15 seconds
    corners 20 seconds
    substitutions 15 seconds
    goals 20 seconds

    I think at the Chelsea v Arsenal game the ball was not in play for nearly 20 minutes. That is 22% of the game with no football, the cost of a ticket for the chelsea game for Arsenal fans was £58 I think, so £12.76 of that went on watching no football. Once teams got used to the clock stopping then games would not over run by much look at rugby there does not seem to be much of a problem of games lasting that long over the 80 official minutes.

  • Samrat Jha

    would the TV companies pay insane amounts if Newcastle were to play in the champions league at the expense of Man utd?
    That’s why Chelsea had to beat us, Man City had to lose couple on the bounce. It’s for the financial betterment of the game. Otherwise how could we tell our grandchildren that once upon a time there was a time when £55m could be thrown on anything that moved.

  • Sally Pally


    Most of us share your apprehension about the United game but we have had a very active week in sticking up for the club and exposing Dean’s incongruous decisions last week. Last year’s fixture was ok, as you say. If it goes tits up and the referee is crap again, we’ll take further steps, along, hopefully with some of the media. Maybe the pundits will join in and talk some sense. The way some of the pundits are ‘turned’ is very suspicious. But I reckon that all we can do is take each game as it comes. In knowledgeable posters here predicting what we expect from various referees, along with their stats, we get an idea of how things are likely to go. If we get a decent referee, then going to the pub with your mates is a good idea. If we get Dean or Atkinson, then maybe you are best to stay home.. Isn’t it sad that we even have to think about such warped things?
    One thing is certain, on a level playing field, we will be big favourites to beat them you shouldn’t doubt that. The old days of United getting every decision may well be behind us, anyway.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I have often wondered how it would be like to put my head in between some botttoms (probably very hairy…) or have someones head near my bottom. 😉 Oh, human fantasy 🙂 🙂 I don’t think I am really very keen on the ideo to be honest.

    But I must correct you as in my little town we do have a rugby team. A womens rugby team FFS!!! No mans team, only the girls do rugby. But if they are any good I really cannot tell….

    Come to think of it… I maybe have (wild) dreams about sticking my head between the womens rugby teams Bottoms … 🙂

  • Pete

    Yes – that increasingly familiar Monday afternoon feeling waiting for the next weekend’s appointments to be announced. With some trepidation.

    I remember the days when I didn’t know nor care who the referee was prior to kick off in the ground. Innocent times.

  • Goéland

    When it comes to clock stopping, rugby employs a very sensible approach that, I think, could also be applied to football and alleviate some of the possible concerns. Things like lineouts, penalties and celebrations after scoring don´t stop the clock; that is reserved for things which aren´t part of the “normal” game, like injuries, altercations, and video reviews. So I don´t believe the length of play would rise that much.

    As for video technology (which will require clock stopping anyway), beyond the immediate beneficial effects which most everyone agrees about, its impact would be profound when it comes to how people behave on the pitch, be it players, referees or managers. Cutting down the opportunities for the endless simulations, complaints and cynical play that now mar the game is a worthy objective indeed. It´s true that refereeing isn´t perfect in rugby, like Andy Mack wrote, but the way it´s handled has prevented many of the worst offences from taking hold of the sport, so there´s a chance the introduction of video technology in football could have a snowballing effect and drastically reduce the toxicity of its culture.

  • Ralph77

    I’m with you Sally Pally- it’s all about who’s in charge. My confidence in this season’s 25+ is high.

    Looks like we’ve got Taylor:

  • ColG

    One of the strongest complaints made about the RWC (apart from England’s uselessness under Lancaster) is about the amount of time the referees spend reviewing incidents on video. I think there should be video technology for certain scenarios in football but it will kill the game to use it all the time. Rugby is much more dependent on set plays followed by very instense, short passages of play which usually end with another set play (and a consequent break). Football has a much more fluid feel to it – unsurprising give that it is arguably less physically demanding than rugby, but more creative – which would be completely disrupted with too many video replays.

  • Sally Pally

    So going by Andrews ‘Table of Shame’ article:
    Against United we have Taylor exactly bang in the middle on competence. Does that mean we’re going to have a fair game? Who will dig out the stats for Taylor refereeing our games, United’s games and us v United games?

  • ColG

    Another point (made by several others) is video replays would kill diving. Give the referee the option of slow motion replays after the event and the incentive reduces. Stay on your feet, and try and score anyway, with the option of the referee reviewing afterwards and come back for a penalty if it actually was a foul (and no scoer) gives a strong incentive. Equally, dives are much easier to spot in slow motion, so a dive not only wastes a goalscoring opportunity but is much more likely to result in a booking. The fact that the likes of Robben would have no career is just an added bonus.

  • Goéland

    I do agree that how to implement video technology in football requires careful consideration, for the reasons you cited. Off the top of my head, I think it would be reasonable to use a video official off the field to simultaneously review all the major decisions as established by Usama and Walter´s ref reviews (yellow and red cards, goals, fouls in the penalty area). Offsides is tricky, but maybe the best way would be to let all doubtful situations develop naturally, and after the play is over review them? So if a goal is scored, disallow it, if a corner kick was obtained, also disallow it, etc, etc… Err on the side of attack, if you will (which is actually the more cautious of the sides in this case). Anyway, there would be some tinkering about this, trial runs in the lower leagues or the preseason or things of that nature, so the most efficient set-up could be found.

  • Al

    I’ve heard that argument of delays causing transportation issues before but I’m afraid that argument doesn’t wash. At most this could increase the gametime by say 10 to 15 minutes, which is nothing really. How come we never have logistical problems when it comes to sports with stoppages that are notoriously difficult to predict finishing time such as Tennis, Cricket, Basketball and even Rugby itself.

    Watching the RWC is a very refreshing change from the usual bore we are put through every weekend with football. I recall seeing a ref call the captain of one team, explain what the issue was, then calling over the player who had committed the offence and sin-binning him (showing him a yellow). The player immediately started jogging to the touchline to take his position in the bin, no arguments, no asking the ref anything, between him and the captain; just nodding of heads in agreement (whether they agreed with the ref or not is another matter), the respect shown to the official was amazing. Contrast that with the way the cheatski players surrounded a more than willing dean to send Gabriel off. The two sports are polar opposites.

    I also think the respect shown the officials on the pitch translates into the stands, the fans behave well too. They even sell and allow beer to be taken into the stands, would that happen on football? No way.

  • Jambug

    I was against the introduction of technology for a long time.

    I’ll qualify that, at least I was against the partial use of it.

    Either everything is up for review, or nothing.

    For example, how could you have a goal chalked off on review for offside one minute, then a goal scored by the hand, standing the next, because the ref missed it, and it wasn’t subject to the review system?

    Just imagine that scenario working against United !! There would be uproar, and rightly so.

    I’m still waiting something like that happening with the goal line technology.

    What do you think would happen this Sunday if we won and the following happened.

    United have a goal chalked off with the use of goal line technology and we had a goal stand that TV showed to be ‘Offside’?


    We’d never hear the end of it.

    So for me it has to be all or nothing, and given the obscene level of incompetence, and worse, bias, that we are seeing on such a regular basis, it is now surely time to move into the modern World.

    Alas for many of the reasons mentioned above, such as the power of the bookmakers and the need for the officials to be able to manipulate games for the favoured teams, to name but 2, it will NOT happen.

    At least not in my lifetime.

  • porter

    Sally at 6.06 arsenal station site has info on Taylor. So be afraid.

  • Sally Pally

    porter – thanks and duly noted. I presume that this will be going to the newer threads as we approach the game. Is there some kind of appeal that can be sent to the PGMO, FA and Taylor before the game, to explain that his previous performances are under scrutiny and that he has a strong bias in favour of United? The world will be watching and expecting no bias whatsoever, favouring either team.

    Here is the URL which porter has mentioned:

  • Menace

    Riley as head of PGMO is the root cause of all the cheating & corrupt process of referee appointments. Riley is a known cheat as are most of the PGMO. If FIFA has a corrupt leader why should the FA’s PGMO not be called the same? The whole game has been taken to the dark side by the lack of transparensy & democracy. PGMO has to be called out & replaced by an open transparent organisation of referees. Selection of officials to be made by ballot at the beginning of the season. There should be a random appoint system not by dictat as is employed currently.

    Taylor is a known cheat. He cheated us against Aston Villa two year ago. Riley is doing his thing. Dean has served his master well. The Premier League are complicit by not forcing a replay of the Chelsea match.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    There are lots of interesting points here. I can’t help feeling that the real reason why open-mics can’t be used is that players regularly swear at referees, and this is a problem on live TV.

    The use of video replays becomes ever more urgent in football. Lets think about the Chelsea game with video replays: Costa would have been sent off and the result would have been fair and just. Obviously this is of prime importance to us gooners, but the FA may not care, on the grounds that controversy is good TV and good publicity.

    However, the real consequence of having video replays is that Costa would not have behaved like that in the first place, and if he did behave like that, Chelsea would not have signed him (not wishing to be constantly reduced to 10 men). His tactic was to wind-up the opposition and assault the defenders when the referee was not looking. In doing so, he was seeking to gain an advantage by distracting them from the game or (best case scenario), getting one sent off. Walter did a good piece showing how Costa was looking at the ref the whole time that he had his hands in the boss’ face. Presumably if the ref had turned to look at him, he would have removed his hands.

    Costa’s success made him the man of the match, as Mourinho observed. This was true in the sense that his actions were the direct cause of Chelsea’s victory. The absence of video replays made Costa’s tactics possible. Be in no doubt that children up and down the land will be emulating Costa in the months to come (I coach boys football, and the extent of emulation is very surprising). If video replays were to be used, Costa’s tactics would be impossible, as he would keep getting sent off and even Mourinho would see the sense in dropping him. As a result, children would not grow up thinking that the ‘Costa way’ was one way to approach a football game. This sounds like better football and a better world to me. That’s the real reason that video replays need to come in.