By Tony Attwood
Go back a few years and no newspaper would have published an article on referees other than to say what fine fellows they were and how foolish football fans are to barrack them.
Over the years Untold has tried to change that, particularly by focussing on the highly secretive organisation that runs Premier League’s referees in a way that is utterly different from the way in which refereeing is organised in the rest of the world.
If you want to take a look at what we’ve been saying there is the article which compares PGMO to a blind, lame man shuffling backwards into a wasps’ nest.
But over the last few years things have changed a little. We got the impression that something was up in August 2014 when the Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter wrote a piece very quickly after the series of articles on Untold which set the scene concerning the issue of video referees.
This series included an article in which we showed what the football authorities from Holland are doing to improve the refereeing standards. The third article showed what the PGMOL are doing in England to improve refereeing (nothing much as it turned out) and then the final piece referred to how PGMOL works to silence its critics.
That final article was published on 7 August 2014 and Henry Winter’s piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph five days later announcing that, “The two most influential figures in English refereeing, Mike Riley and Howard Webb, are preparing for a future with ‘robo-refs’ with caveats about the need for a proper debate and lengthy experimentation. Riley certainly feels the dawn of the video age is not that far away.”
That article in August 2014 also told us that PGMO “has been instructing managers and players that referees will be clamping down on holding and blocking this season, focusing specifically on those ‘under the flight of the ball, the player who doesn’t look at the ball, but is just looking at the opponent.”
And then some funny figures follow…
“There were 25 fouls per game in 2010-11 and 23-ish now and that reflects the nature of the game the players want to play. They don’t want continual stoppages. Contrast that to Champions League football where you’re looking at 30-35 free-kicks a game. In Italian and Spanish football it’s more than that. Even at the World Cup it was over 30 a game.’’
It was an amazing revelation, as PGMO admitted for the first time that they were bending the rules of football to meet the will of “players” (which almost certainly must mean some players of some clubs – you can’t imagine the most skillful players wanting anything but protection).
So the implication was that referees, instead of following the rules were following what some players wanted and the Telegraph then quoted Riley as saying, “We analyse every decision the referees make and their accuracy rate was 94.8 per cent two years ago and last season was 95.1 per cent but that’s not the story that comes across, because you can always point to one decision in a game that generates the week’s interest in newspapers and TV. There is not another group of referees in the world that has that strength in depth.’’
It was a strange piece in the extreme: to come out and openly claim that the PGMO’s refs were not giving fouls because players liked having fewer stoppages per game, and that as a result we were getting a very different type of football in the PL, was odd.
To claim figures of around 95% accuracy was odd too. I know not everyone agrees with our figures, but to have such a difference without any explanation was bizarre.
And after that outburst either the Telegraph let matters rest or the PGMO stopped handing out press releases. Either way there was not much more said, although two days ago the Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson, billed as their deputy football correspondent, wrote a piece about Mike Cairns, who stepped down from the Premier League’s select group two years ago. He then returned to grassroots football (which I must say is something to admire him for) and according to the Telegraph, in 30 games last season sent off 12 players and filed eight misconduct reports.
Since 2013, “he has also been driven into by a car, slapped repeatedly on the back, seen a club official floor an opposing player with a punch, sent off five players in one match and endured endless volleys of verbal abuse.”
And this from a man who was trained up by PGMO to avoid the use of the rules of the game because players don’t like it. It is a curious contrast.
In the article Cairns says that indiscipline has risen greatly, and that “many of the referees are turning a blind eye to foul, abusive and insulting language quite simply because they feel it is not worth the hassle.”
Now this is the second piece in the last week or so that the Telegraph has run about referees – both as it happens about grassroots football, and both in absolute direct contrast with the press release style of work that it produced seemingly under instruction from PGMO.
The point here that the Telegraph carefully fails to address is that while refereeing in the PL is a closed-door process in which no one speaks out and the PGMO remains a society so secret that it makes the Masons look like a “Come all Ye” singalong at the local pub, grassroots football is not under PGMO’s vice-like grip.
Here is what Mr Cairns says,
“I am currently mentoring a young referee and, a few weeks ago, he spoke to me after one of his games. He shared that at least four players could have been sent off. One player, right in front of a children’s playground, had shouted to an opponent, ‘I am going to rip your —-ing throat out at the end of the game you —-ing —-’. I asked why he did not send him off and he replied, ‘It was easier to leave him on the field’.
The paper reports Cairns speaking of a fixture in the Somerset County League when he sent off two players. “I was approached by a lot of spectators and had to be chaperoned to the dressing room,” said Mr Cairns. “In the car park, a guy connected to the same club drove a car at me that caught my leg. It resulted in a police caution.”
A misconduct charge was levelled against the chairman of the club yet what he most remembers about the disciplinary hearing was the chair of the three-man panel. “In my report I had referenced the club chairman by his surname and the chair opened the hearing by saying, ‘Do you, referee, not subscribe to the Respect campaign? Why do you not refer to the chairman of the club as Mr?’ He then focussed his attention on me. The meeting had to be stopped because I refused to be subjected to what was happening in the room.”
The story then continues…
“A player was dismissed because he directed foul and insulting language at an opponent,” he says. “On the final whistle, another player received a red card for his comments towards me. The manager then runs the width of the field and, when he gets to me, says, ‘Well done referee’ and starts to slap me on the back heavily.
“I asked him to refrain and warned him that it could be construed as an assault on a match official if he did it again. He did it a third time and goes to his mates, ‘He thinks this is an assault’ and slaps me again.”
The incident was duly reported, the manager appealed and, to his shock, Cairns was informed that the case would be heard by the same chairman as the previous incident. A request by Cairns and supported by the Somerset FA referees’ committee for a different chairman was turned down. “So I decided that I was not going to put myself in front of this individual again,” says Cairns. The outcome? “The manager walked away from the incident and I was charged with misconduct for not appearing. The case heard by an FA commission was proven against me, however the panel agreed there was a conflict of interest and no further action was taken. You had an allegation of potential assault on an official and it ended up with the referee being charged.”
There are more examples of this, and I would applaud Cairns for speaking out, and the Telegraph for publishing it. But we must ask, why is the Telegraph publishing this but not picking up on the point about PGMO refs changing internationally agreed rules? Why does it not consider that several organisations including Untold are regularly coming up with reviews by refs on refs which show figures utterly different from PGMO? Why does it not ask why PGMO alone in football is a) so close to the league it serves, b) so secretive?
All it needs is one journalist working for a major news organisation such as the BBC, or one of the serious newspapers, to take up these issues and point out that secrecy always means there is something to hide.
One journalist with a willingness to step outside the cage and look at the world beyond the bars. That is all it would take. Why no one will take up the challenge is as much a reflection on the media as it is on PGMO. But I am sure, one day, someone will break the silence.
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