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By Tony Attwood
On German TV this weekend, in the run-up to the Leipzig – Bayer Leverkusen game journalists came onto the pitch with the cameras and microphones. They were there to interview… the referee.
Now that might seem a wind-up to you in you are a fan of English football, but it is actually absolutely true. And it was not considered unusual, because in Germany the referees are open to discussion – although mostly we see it after the game when they give their thoughts on how the game went from the refereeing point of view.
But there was actually more than this, for the journalists then gave the referee two boxes of Panini cards – which itself was not that odd because in Germany, the referees have their own dedicated pages in the Panini album.
Now of course, none of this is reported in England because in England the media has a different relationship with referees – one of keeping most things secret. Indeed the fact that Howard Webb has come out and admitted Liverpool were wrongly denied a penalty against Arsenal for Martin Odegaard handball is news because such an admission is rare.
This story of course then made bigger news also being picked up by the Telegraph and it has been produced seemingly to promote the “lucky Arsenal” notion. For there has indeed been no balanced reporting of matches where it would seem Arsenal have been denied a penalty themselves.
According to Sky Sports, which showed the match, PGMOL stated at the time that a penalty had not been given because “Odegaard’s arm is moving towards the body and not the ball as he goes down”.
But perhaps what is most interesting of all is that the Telegraph article continues with the point, “It is the second time this season Premier League leaders Liverpool have been on the wrong end of a major mistake in a crucial game in which they have ended up dropping points.”
And that is interesting because there is absolutely no comparison between the Liverpool situation and that of other clubs. For if it is a fact that Liverpool and only Liverpool are not getting decisions they ought to get, then clearly there is a referee bias against Liverpool and that is something that must be investigated in depth.
But if it is the case that all referees are making mistakes regularly and that this is going on unchecked because it “all evens out in the end” as the old saying goes, then the reports are incredibly misleading because they do give the impression that referees are biased against Liverpool.
Plus there is a third option. And that is that Liverpool are getting many more dubious decisions go their way, and with this having been spotted the referees are edging back from giving decisions that maybe could have gone their way.
Now this decision not to cover referees on a regular basis through a detailed analysis of what the referee has done in each and every PL game, is a decision made by the media. Just as their decision to focus heavily on the Liverpool affair is a decision by the media.
But in making this decision the media is greatly aided by the PGMO approach of generally keeping referees tucked away and not interviewed by the media.
We seem to be entering a halfway house at the moment in which some referees can talk on some occasions, and that is even more unsatisfactory since it can be used to suggest that certain teams are being unfairly penalised, which in turn suggests that some teams of getting the benefit.
The only sane route out of this horrific mess is to adopt the German open approach to refereeing, having them interviewed before and after the game.
The questions therefore are
a) why the are media not insisting on more access to the referees since clearly this is a matter of interest?
b) why are PGMO not allowing more access to referees, following the German model? What do English referees and their association (PGMO) have to hide, which does not have to be hidden in Germany?
The only logical answers are
a) There is corruption in the English game which does not exist in Germany
b) There is incompetence in the English game in terms of refereeing which does not exist in Germany
c) Both a) and b)
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