By Tony Attwood
10 years ago Alan Green on Radio 5 would criticise referees regularly – not ever suggesting bias but rather their incompetence.
5 years ago Alan Green was silenced on the subject, and even the Wiki page about him now has no mention of his numerous run-ins with refs nor the controversy surrounding his one-man crusade for better refereeing. He never suggested refs were bent – only that they were incompetent. The PGMO responded by suggesting that referees got 98% of decisions right, the media bought into that, and Green was told to change.
4 years ago when Untold published reviews of referees we would regularly get comments about conspiracy theories and wearing foil hats to keep out the harmful radiation, and all the work done for two seasons analysing matches across the whole Premier League on the Referee Decisions web site was ignored.
3 years ago the Telegraph was happily publishing “news” taken from PGMO fantasy press releases about how progressive the world of refereeing in England is, and how other countries look to the PL approach with admiration.
2 years ago the mood changed a little as the media started to employ ex-referees to comment on decisions very occasionally and very mildly.
1 year ago newspapers started printing commentaries about how many points some clubs had gained and others lost through bad refereeing decisions. Untold published its analysis that revealed that PGMO, apart from being an ultra-secret operation, was unique in Europe in being run along the lines of refereeing in Italy during its match fixing crisis – an approach Italy has now left behind as it has joined the rest of Europe.
8 months ago the Sun ran a review of refereeing in a handful of matches and agreed that if the games had been accurately refereed Arsenal would have had additional points from the games they selected.
2 months ago the Telegraph ranked some of the PL referees in a rather trivial review but still concluded that three of them were not fit for purpose and should be removed from the PL. Unfortunately they made no mention of the fact that because the PL was so short of refs these incompetents were used over and over again.
This past week Robbie Savage was given air time on Radio 5 to rant against the notion of video referees, claiming that games would go on all night as appeal after appeal would hold up the game. Football would be destroyed he claimed, and so this stupid innovation would never happen.
The commentary not only reflected poorly on Savage who brought no evidence to his rant, but also on the other members of the broadcasting team who failed to stop him by pointing out that the technology had already been used in a Fifa tournament just a couple of weeks before and the evidence of its use had been widely reported and admired. The problem wasn’t so much that Savage argued against the technology but that no one on the programme knew that the tests had been going on. If that sort of incompetence had occurred in any business, there would have been wholesale sackings.
But the commentary was also another reminder to PL refs that following the BBC’s decision to reign in comments on refereeing incompetence, by and large they are immune from criticism in the mass media. That has boosted their confidence, I believe, and they really are now thinking they can get away with more dubious decisions per match than ever before. Why they do it is another matter, but the fact is that they do.
However just as the refs get more emboldened so there has been the start of a backlash. True, TV is still deliberately giving a wholly different vision of each game from that experienced by many fans in the stadium, but some of the newspapers have now broken ranks with the broadcasters.
True also, last night when the Bournemouth keeper suddenly got booked for time wasting, TV was at a loss to explain it, since it had resolutely refused to comment on or show any of the time wasting up to that point. The Guardian’s minute by minute commentary also just mentioned it, but gave no explanation or background.
So no change there. But consider this post-Christmas commentary from Barney Ronay also in the Guardian.
“It was at the very least a mistake of Olympian scale, fitting the sweeping gestures, the imperial hauteur of the match official, a referee who clearly feels each football match he attends is a spectacle made up of three interlocking forces, Team A, Team B and Mike D”
It is a comment that has been repeated on numerous websites since it was first published a couple of days ago, even some of the most vile anti-Wenger sites. The comment in the Guardian came, of course, with no questioning of the PGMO’s set up or any real background analysis, but at least it has started to float around the internet.
The same review later says, “Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s second, lashed in from an offside position…”
Regarding that, the Telegraph, so recently a supporter of PGMO continued its 180 degree change of direction vis a vis PGMO and wrote, “Lee Mason has enjoyed a fine refereeing career but he is past his sell-by-date and his decision to disallow Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s effort against Middlesbrough was further proof that he should be removed from Premier League matches on a permanent basis.”
Of course there is still the background of laughing at foreign managers who blame referees rather than accepting their sides’ failings are entirely due to the fact that they themselves are, well, foreign. As with the report that a “sarcastic Pep Guardiola struggled to hide the strain of his turbulent start in English football on Monday as the Manchester City manager claimed his side were being routinely harshly treated by officials.” Snigger snigger, silly foreigners. They don’t like it up em. Bring on Corporal Jones he’ll show them.
Thus in such circumstances, we are still getting the “evens up in the end” stories. But the overall mood seems to be changing. Changing slowly, and not every media outlet has caught on but it is changing. Alan Green, we are starting to see, was just ten years ahead of his time.
Guardiola was making a point that has slowly become more accepted in many countries, and by the team doing ref reviews for Untold – that refereeing has gone its own way in England. Guardiola’s challenging riposte, ““You are the journalist; ask the referee,” was to the point: referees don’t give interviews, but journalists should be challenging this rather than just accepting it.
But now things are changing just a bit. The next stages (of which we are already seeing parts) run like this).
a) Some referees are just not up to the task and need to be moved on.
b) The organisation that looks after referees is not up to the task and needs to be sorted out.
c) There is corruption on a small scale.
d) There is wholesale corruption which the organisation running referees is turning a blind eye to.
e) There is wholesale corruption which the organisation running referees is part of.
In this regard we can see the media’s attitude towards PGMO as lurking a few years behind the attitude towards the FA. The mindset behind the five stage process above runs as
a) Our readers and viewers are not interested in all this technical stuff – they just want to watch the game.
b) The FA is an organisation that looks after football and does a jolly good job, let’s pat them on the back and get back to the game.
c) There’s nothing wrong of course but maybe the organisation could modernise a little.
d) It really is moving too slowly and should show leadership.
e) They are a load of old duffers who should be forced to modernise.
f) They are corrupt, get them out and make them answer to past crimes.
It is possible that the view of the FA and of referees might change simultaneously – if so we are about to see a revolution in football reporting. As it is, for the moment we are still getting, “Bacary Sagna has been asked to explain himself by the Football Association following a social media post which may have questioned referee Lee Mason’s integrity.” Sagna wrote “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team”.
The change will be a slow process, but it is happening. The media will take the credit when it happens, and really that doesn’t matter. What we need to do is adopt the same approaches as the rest of Europe.
Untold Arsenal: Bournemouth v Arsenal
New from the Arsenal History Society – all the player histories indexed. The AHS player histories tend to be more detailed than those on the official Arsenal site – especially for players from the early part of Arsenal’s history. Now we are undertaking the huge task of indexing the main articles. Players with surnames A to F have been linked to their main articles and we are continuing the task day by day.