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October 2016
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Recent events have convinced many football supporters that too many officials in the EPL are at the least, incompetent and at worse corrupt and manipulated by a cabal of PGMOL managers intent on preventing their Club from winning.

In this post I want to invite UA readers to delve into the complex universe of the referee and assistants on-field interactions to show what it really takes to be a successful official in Football:

IN THE LAND OF THE BLIND THE ONE-EYED REFEREE IS KING: Officiating successfully demands a few obvious but difficult skills.

The most important is a profound knowledge of the Laws, both in the letter and the spirit. It is crucial that the officials understand what the spirit of the Laws means. A truly blind referee applies the Laws regardless of the situation and circumstances and is so strict that players actually fear him or her as one fears an unsympathetic and cruel policeman.

The best referee applies the Laws with both firmness BUT fairness….which means he or she is concerned NOT just in strictly applying the rules but in looking after the players and the Game as well.

WE ARE ALWAYS SELLING OUR DECISIONS: A good official is mentally prepared for the stress and pressure of a large, semi-hostile crowd, managers and even players and is ready to disassociate himself as much as possible from their influence.

The best officials NEVER appear to be uncertain. They make the call but IF they find out that they made an error, they quickly and decisively correct it if at all possible. If not they acknowledge it to themselves and perhaps even to the players affected in an honest and dignified manner.

STYLE IS NICE BUT SUBSTANCE IS BETTER: The best referee is almost invisible and NEVER makes themselves the centre of attention or the centre of controversy.

The best referee I ever saw was a man who seemed to disappear into the field and suddenly pop up at the perfect moment to make a call or have a word with a wayward soul, all the while being both powerful but NOT the focus of attention.

FITNESS IS NOT JUST ABOUT STAMINA BUT ABOUT ANTICIPATION: Great referees read the Game like a chess match, anticipating almost unconsciously what might happen in the next few seconds.

The greatest skill we as spectators can see is when a referee plays advantage perfectly, giving the offended team a real opportunity to actually gain an advantage. The fit referee might run more than the average player and his or her running must put him or her in the best position, not only to see the action but also as often as possible, in line of sight with their assistants.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE PLAYED FOOTBALL TO BE A GREAT REFEREE: Some ex-players make great referees but many do not because the skill set and mental/psychological elements are different.

I was a pretty average player but an above average referee and while knowledge of the actual playing conditions and challenges helped a little, my character and personality were more suited to officiating than competing.

ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY: Many neophyte referees want to do big games and handle important matches very early in their careers.

This is normal and admirable but NOT very pragmatic or reasonable. My first game as a professional referee (after half a dozen linesman assignments) was a limited success because I wasn’t prepared for the pace and outright speed of a professional game. I wanted to be everywhere at once and was so afraid of missing a call that I made a few clangers. The assessor gave me an average grade and told me to “stay out of the play” which meant I had been far too close to the ball they were jousting after.

YOU ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR NEXT GAME:  Too many officials get a swollen ego after having a really good game and begin to assume they’ve mastered the complexities of officiating forever.

However hubris is a deadly weakness in officiating. I have seen FIFA referees screw up so totally that a beginning referee would not have made the same mistakes under similar circumstances. Each game is inevitably different from the previous or next match and while consistent preparation is important, a laissez-faire attitude can cause you trouble.

THE IMPORTANT THING IS THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION: If you don’t really enjoy the game, find players a pain in the posterior, hate having to keep in top shape, are uncomfortable with confrontation or making spot decisions and convincing others you know what you’re doing etc., then officiating is not for you.

However if you cannot have FUN when you step on the field and cannot enjoy the feeling of being in charge of a great sports event, of helping players have a good time and play safely…….then officiating is definitely NOT for you. The best referees feel that officiating is a calling, a vocation and are passionate about doing their best to aid the players, spectators and other stakeholders to play the best Football they can.

Finally there is NO SUCH THING as an unimportant game.

I have officiated top professionals and WC champions as well as countless amateurs whose skills and abilities were far inferior to the pros, BUT they deserved the same performance from me regardless…..anything less would be unethical, unprofessional and unfair.

Also published today

Two anniversaries

  • 3 January 1951: Having rejected by Wolverhampton Dennis Evans was signed by Arsenal for £1500.   He subsequently played over 200 games for Arsenal – his only club.
  • 3 January 1977: Alan Hudson, the man who quite amazingly gave Stoke City creativity, made his debut with Arsenal in a 1-1 draw with Leeds in front of 44,090 spectators.


  • colario

    The type of referee you have written about I am sure exists but not in the Premier League, in my opinion.

  • Andy Mack

    I’m not interested in any career where I would have to move to the North West to become successful.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I don’t doubt that refereeing football…as it is today, without proper VT, but judged in the media by 23 different camera angles is one of the most difficult, and at times, unrewarding jobs in sport. In some parts of the world, or if you fall foul of another London team, it can be undoubtedly dangerous.
    Just a shame the likes of Mile Riley and whoever pulls his strings has to make it even more difficult with his secrecy, lack of communication, lack of accountability in the face of clear….bias at the very best from some, if not all officials.
    Mr Riley, their job is hard enough, give ensure they proper training and support, and let them do their job without interference from you/ SKY/ powerful managers /agents/ corrupt bookmakers/ organised crime.

  • Gunnerjoe

    Yep just give every decision against Arsenal I’d make it to the very top of the English game.☺

  • nicky

    I would only last one game before the big E from Riley.
    I would speak to both skippers before the game and warn them that any manhandling before and during set plays, in the area, would be red carded and penalties awarded. 😉

  • Mandy Dodd

    A Proper English Ref, especially of the northern persuasion also needs to understand that shoving players into camera pits and advertising hoardings does not count as a foul, when said player plays for Arsenal.
    Had another such incident yesterday, saw this posted on PA

  • Pete

    Thanks Don – very good.

  • John L.

    Also, remember that it is impossible to commit a foul against Oliver Giroud, so no amount of shoving, grabbing, or elbowing should result in a free kick being awarded. Similarly, it should be noted that Jack Wilshere has a habit of not releasing the ball quickly enough, so that he invites severe kicking around the ankles, which should not be confused with fouls punishable by yellow or red cards.

  • Va Cong

    I think we should start a petition to Use Henry to ask Carragher ” How long has it been since Liverpool won the premier league?

  • va Cong

    Arsene to do commentary on Gary Nevilles Valencia games lol

  • Menace

    Va Cong just tweet TH14 & I’m sure he will enkjoy doing it.

  • Menace

    enjoy -enkjoy?

  • Menace

    Proof that Wenger sets trends -‘I did not see that!’ followed by all at PGMO in selective vision training.

  • para

    Good, especially this:
    “Finally there is NO SUCH THING as an unimportant game.”

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice one , Don . I guess fair refereeing in the EPL will happen soon after the fall of the PIGMOB . Started with FIFA , UEFA , the South American federations , the English FA , the EPL , and then …….

    Just waiting for that small crack to appear …..its coming .

  • Norman14

    I noticed a worrying trend this weekend. One of the two “better” referees, Michael Oliver, appeared to be favouring the Tiny Totts against Everton. He booked Coleman for a dubious behind the back handball, but he failed to give a card to Dell Boy for constant diving. He also allowed Lamala FOUR really dirty fouls before warning him, then producing the yellow on the fifth foul. Imagine that Santi, four before a warning – what luxury 😉

    There IS a problem with English referees, and it needs to be fixed quickly, before the EPL finds itself embroiled in Calciopoli of an unprecedented scale.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Think you will see the Totts getting rather a lot of help Norman, like Liverpool a couple seasons ago.
    Why…who knows, more teams capable of catching us , the better…..a three horse race more exciting…….so it is seen teams other than the super rich can win….media driven love for Spuds, who knows.
    Don’t expect them to ultimately threaten us or city though, unless they have some artificial means of maintaining their energy levels, and they fade too much at the end of games.

  • Rich

    Think we should spare a thought from someone other than us who has suffered with referees recently : poor Wanyama!

    I don’t think he was wise to the fact Moss gave him special allowances against us. So, fresh from all the praise and his most effective game of the year, off he goes thinking he’s allowed to dive in wherever he likes. Tragic. Reminiscent of Rooney’s international struggles in the early years.

    To stay with Moss, don’t think I ever moaned on here about the dodgiest thing with the Koscielny trip : why would a referee choose to look at a player totally on his own in a wide position instead of at the area where three players (two defenders, one attacker, were in close contact) ? There couldn’t be any foul play where he chose to look, but, as we know, there could and was where the players were.

    Maybe Moss was just excited by the game and wanted to see what the player in possession (alone, out wide) would do, which would be a hefty mistake, but my suspicion is that he pulled the old classic (copyright Atkinson, Dean) of seeing that contact was likely and swiftly turning his head the other way for plausible deniability.

    Then there’s the linesman- once he’s seen the player out wide is onside, his eyes should’ve moved instantly to the centre of the field. That was the only place he’d have to make a call, especially as he is no longer required to judge whether or not the ball has crossed the goalline.

    Oh well, maybe Riley gave them a stern, constructive lecture about their failings.

    It does all even out in the end: Utd got an offside goal at St Mary’s; Southampton get a similar one there against us; Wanyama gets away with stuff against us; but not a few games later; Adams is allowed to put someone in a headlock, Cameron is sent off for a light slap on the head; Ramsey’s offside against Liverpool, erm, Walcott’s offside at Villa. All evens out.

  • Rich

    Norman, Mandy

    Yeah, noticed a bit of that in Spurs game. Trying to ignore it as it’ll be a real blow to lose faith in Oliver!

    They’ve been doing pretty well from refs this year and so have Leicester. Think that was their 8th pen at the weekend.

    Only real theory I have which doesn’t include corruption or similar (know what they do) to explain some of the worst officiating…sees the refs as a kind of vessel for (bear with me here), erm, the will of the English people.

    This will of the English (football) people is subject to change and, at the least, strongly influenced by the media, but there are things about it which remain near constant or are very slow in changing.

    Had a minor breakthrough in trying to understand it when some phrase popped in my head a while back about ‘who they relate to’.

    Do English football fans, and refs, who are representatives of the latter but also one of their number, relate to or identify with, say, the tricky technical sprite or the lion-hearted grafter ,who might have some technical deficiencies but is ‘honest, brave and powerful’, tasked with stopping him?

    I think it’s obviously the latter and that the will of the English (football) people is to side with the ‘robust’ player and, generally, give him the benefit of the doubt and a bit of leeway or help in evening up the (unfair) contest.

    It would help explain why, for all the handwringing about national team failures, no attempt whatsoever is ever made to try the most obvious thing to solve it : make the game fractionally less frantic here, and protect technical players more. You’d accomplish that through different refereeing, but it’s not the real will of the (football) people to do so.

    What would all that have to do with Spurs or Leicester at the moment? Generally speaking i think they are both sides who embody a lot of the English virtues- hard running, physical, direct, get stuck in- they have quite a few, or in Spurs case a lot, of English players, and, after good starts to the season, the majority of people are liking or not disliking their strong performance in the league. So the refs, poor blighters, are having to resist, or not, the will to see them keep doing well.

    Was noticeable and comical in Gerrard’s book that, as he recounted the second half of 2013-14, the penalties were really flying. Felt like there were twenty but, when I checked, there were ‘only’ twelve.

    Conversely, for more than a decade, and not very accurately, Wenger has been portrayed (and the media have played a huge role in this) as a sort of enemy of English football, a man who would denigrate and, if he only could, destroy those standard bearers of English fortitude, grit and honesty, Allardyce and Pulis. Refs, relating much more to the latter and their apparent belief it is fair to try even up the game, have simply tended to sympathise and side with their approach.

    Anyway, that’s my ‘they know not what they do’ theory. In truth, I think there’s probably a lot of that, but there’s other more sinister stuff,too, and they combine with each other.

  • Andy Mack

    va Cong, Arsene is to classy to say anything rude about Gary Nevilles team.
    But at least he wouldn’t come out with the usual fawning BS.