By Walter Broeckx
I think it must have been 7 or 8 years ago I wrote on Untold that if you appointed me as the ref of a match between let us say Manchester United and a 3rd division team I maybe could force a win for the 3rd division team. I said “maybe” because it isn’t 100% sure. But if I were determined to force a result, as a ref I could use every trick in the book that a ref has to unbalance a team.
Now most people who are not referees would think that I would blow penalty after penalty for that imaginary 3rd division team. But no, that wouldn’t be the way to do it. Of course if the chance arises to blow a penalty for them I would do it. But that would not be the primary way of handling it.
No the way to tilt a match is to get under the skin of the players of one team. So how do you do that? Well that is rather easy. In fact it sometimes even happens when you don’t want to tilt the match at all. Because of the nature of the game and the psychology of the players you can do this in a simple way.
Sometimes you have a difficult start of the match. You (by accident) miss a foul from team A but see the same type of foul from team B. So team B will say: hey why didn’t you give the same foul seconds earlier. Now if this just a minor foul it could have no influence. But if the same thing happens again a few minutes later the players of team B might get a bit angry.
And if you keep on repeating that I can assure you that after some 15 minutes team B will start to show signs of displeasure and dissent towards the ref. That is a moment that can be very important in a match.
Because when a team starts to play not just against the opponents on the field but also is more worried about what the ref will do next to harm them… you are under their skin.
This can happen by accident. But this is a tactic you could use if you wanted to fix the match. And when you use it in a deliberate way you are tilting the field of play and it is the sort of thing that maybe some people will not notice it from the outside. Certainly those people who never consider that the referee can make mistakes, or those who only believe in honest mistakes might certainly miss what is going on.
Now of course the mistakes could be honest. But any ref with a bit of experience knows that this is a way of making players angry and getting them to lose their focus on what they should do: play football.
A result is that once players start to lose their focus and shift their focus on to the referees decisions…. then they virtually have lost the match. And once you lost the focus it is difficult to get it back.
I have in my referee career been in a position where I made honest mistakes where one team early in the match thought I was deliberately trying to harm them. When the players think you are trying to tilt the match they will start to argue with the ref and think every decision is wrong and against them. And as a result they will forget to play football.
When I felt that a team lost their focus and turned all their attention on my decisions I tried to tell them that they shouldn’t look at me if they didn’t want to lose. They should stop being so focussed on the refereeing of the match but should start playing football again.
If such a thing happens then I usually tried to talk with the captain at half time when going to the dressing room. If you explain it to the captain and they are receptive to what you are saying (and mostly they are), you can see a different team after the interval.
I know that if I were to be out on the field with the intention of really doing a team over, I could do it and make them lose their heads. Indeed a quick way to counter the possible feelings a team has is to give a few soft fouls and let them feel that the other team also was punished. A few fouls that in normal circumstances would have passed like a slight push in the back without the team losing the ball. But just to show them that you are not after them or out to get them.
When I was sitting in the Emirates last Sunday I could see the Arsenal players losing their focus and getting more and more upset with the referee and his decisions. And this culminated with the not given foul on Özil and the following penalty.
You could feel it coming before that, (well at least I did), and then I could see the natural reaction of the players who were more looking at the referee than at the ball. One could argue that professional players shouldn’t lose their head like that, but this is the normal human reaction when people feel badly treated.
Now I don’t know if referee Jones just had a bad day or if he was up to something more sinister. But when you look at our numbers and see he was the ref with the least errors and then to see him make a few remarkable decisions then it feels rather strange.
As if when Arsenal is on the field referees suddenly change and forget what they have been doing rather well in other matches, and make errors that they haven’t made in the other matches we covered from them.
Is it a coincidence? Well we can hope it is. The other explanation really looks too frightening. But then again…..with people like Mike Riley as the head of the referees…what can you expect?
Correct or not, one thing was for sure last Sunday. Jones was under the skin of the Arsenal players and even Özil who rarely protests could be seen shouting something (I think in German) against the ref. It takes a a fair bit of refereeing errors to make Özil lose his cool, but on Sunday Jones managed to do this.
Luckily a good calming down session at the interval managed to get our focus back on the football and our focus was back to beating the opposition and if possible the ref.
But alas the days of excellent refereeing we have seen at the start of the season seems to have gone….Certainly since we have gone in to the title race… but that might be a coincidence of course….