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August 2021

Attacks upon linesmen, and the professinalisation of refs.

With the pros come the cons

By- Shard

Hello Untold readers.  I’ve got a brand new theory for you. Well, sort of, since I’ve suggested it in the comments below, but hey..It’s still new. But before we get to what the theory really is (clue: it’s about referees) let’s get to some ‘fun’ reading material.   It is Graham Poll’s article in the Daily Mail: “Mike Jones should not expect to return to Old Trafford for many a season”

Mr Poll says…

Jones must have been certain to have awarded the corner immediately the ball went out. And of course he was correct.

The way the ball changed direction helped verify his decision and he should have simply over-ruled Flynn. The fact that he did not should lead to his absence from a Premier League game

As for Flynn, I would expect a longer absence and he should not expect to return to Old Trafford for many a season.

Forget what the headline says, the real target of Poll’s attack isn’t Jones. It is the linesman Flynn. Well, in one way, it was Flynn who made the mistake, while Jones was correct, but didn’t Jones make the final decision?

But really: for a mistake, a linesman should be essentially banned from officiating at a certain venue? Don’t referees normally all stick together? Just what is going on? Maybe it’s just that the ever so honourable Sir Alex Ferguson was annoyed with Flynn.

This article claims that “United’s boss blasted referee Mike Jones – no stranger to controversy – after he first awarded a corner following Rio Ferdinand’s challenge on Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, then appeared to be talked into giving a penalty by assistant John Flynn.”

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But what the ever so upright Sir Alex really said was “’It was a terrible decision, one of the worst I have ever seen. The referees are supposed to be full-time but the linesmen are not [Flynn is a Flight Sergeant in the RAF]. Whether the assistant referee ever gets a game again is not up to him but it was an absolutely shocking decision. It costs you, that.”

He then had the temerity to bring up an incident where he was probably favoured by the referee (any chance it was Howard Webb?) and wondered why Jones couldn’t do that. “We had it a few weeks ago when the linesman gave a penalty that was never a penalty and the referee overruled him. Why couldn’t the referee do that today? He was so near to it. He was eight yards away. It was a travesty, the referee was closer than the linesman. I think it was everyone’s view that it was not a penalty, including the referee.

‘He says he thought Ferdinand had touched the ball and gave a corner kick and he’s let the linesman overrule him. He put the referee in a terrible position and he was clear about it, the linesman. He’s obviously not watched the game.’

As we can see, the attack on the linesman continued as well. And of course, this decision is what he recently brought up as a counter to the claims that Manchester United are favoured by the referees.

The whole media machinery, of course, agrees with him. The real question is…Do the fans? Maybe the cracks (or is that the crooks) are really beginning to show, and the media blitz is a response to that? Let’s hope so…

But getting back to the real point. The attack on, specifically, the linesman, by both Ferguson and a former referee, is something which is strange in my view. When last did you hear any official so publicly criticized…No..chastised.. for a ‘mistake’? Did the FA bring any fine on Alex for this incident? Maybe they did, but from memory, no such action was even contemplated by anybody. So why was this?

Let’s take a look at two seemingly unrelated articles

EPSN’s Soccernet ran the terrible story of the German referee who attempted suicide.

This is an awful story, and I hope Babak Rafati is doing well now. But looking beyond that, the article says ‘it remains entirely unclear whether or not Rafati’s suicide attempt has anything to do with football.’ However, ‘During the first days following the incident, there was hardly a newspaper that didn’t run an editorial about how everybody in football, from fans to players and coaches, should have more respect for match officials.’

‘Herbert Fandel, chairman of the German FA’s referee commission, criticised the German magazine kicker for its half-yearly survey among footballers, because the paper asks the Bundesliga players to name, among other things, the worst referee of the season. (Rafati has finished last in this vote on three different occasion in the past six years.) “This poll is humiliating,” Fandel said, “it needs to be abolished. Referees are being shown up, their character is being damaged.”

The article then lists out all the problems the German FA has faced. “German referees have been indeed in the headlines on a regular basis in the last couple of years, starting with the match-fixing scandal in 2005 that centred around the referee Robert Hoyzer. Last year, the spokesman for the German referees, Manfred Amerell, was forced to step down when a young referee disclosed having had a sexual relationship with Amerell which he claimed was not voluntary on his part.

And just four weeks ago, the tax authorities searched the offices of the German FA in connection with allegations of tax evasion. The allegations, which some people believe to have been made by Amerell, concern referees who have officiated games abroad and thus received payments from foreign countries.

Which is why the coverage of the Rafati case concentrates on his hobby, refereeing. (There are no professional referees in Germany. Rafati, whose parents are Iranian, works as a bank manager.)”

The other article is a lot simpler to follow.  It is from the Dutch Referee Blog and it says

Carlo Bertolini will be the new Swiss referee boss. He succeeds Urs Maier, who resigned in June because he didn’t feel support from the FA in professionalising refereeing in Switzerland.

Bertolini doens’t want to professionalise Swiss refereeing as Maier wanted. “I’m a staunch opponent of 100 percent professionalisation of refereering. At first, I’ve doubts if the number of mistakes will reduces if amateurs become pro’s.”

Bertolini will do this as part-time job. He also will educate young referees and he keeps his job at SwissCom.

And finally, we come back to the original issue.  The Independent ran the story “Why are reputations on the line for £600?”

“Here’s another shocking decision: that in 2011, in a league that generates more money than any other in the world, where some players are paid in excess of £200,000 a week, where some are paid that to train with the reserves, assistant referees are part-time.

In Spain, assistant referees earn a salary of €50,000-€65,000 (£43,000-£56,000) for 20 games a season. In the Premier League they earn £600 per game. And as Flynn is probably about to find out, the group of assistant referees are not guaranteed to be assigned a game every week so they have no option but to continue with their day job.

These men and women are being asked to make decisions that have huge consequences. They face the kind of public scrutiny that many junior Cabinet ministers will never have to experience. Their decisions are pored over in HD and super slow-mo. Get it wrong and, as on Saturday, they face the kind of prime-time excoriation that few people in British public life ever have to experience.”

“Assistant referees like Flynn and Sian Massey do not run the line to get rich. They do it because, like the rest of us, they love the game and – in their case – they have achieved a level of excellence in their specialism. But if we expect them to work in a professional game, then they need to be treated as professionals.

A full-time salary is the least they deserve. The 18 select group Premier League referees are all paid a working wage. It enables them to prepare for matches, to rest and to do their research. Most importantly it means that when Friday comes they are not driving home tired from a week’s work and praying their judgement is not skewed.”

“Earning around £600 for 90 minutes work sounds like a lot of money (unless you happen to be Tevez). Given the demands of being an assistant referee upon a normal working career that hardly represents a commitment from the football authorities.”

“As a trade union man himself, Ferguson will recognise the unfairness of the situation. In fact, it was telling that even in the midst of his post-match recriminations he still acknowledged it. It would not happen in his world. There is more chance of him accepting a Conservative peerage than a member of the United staff not being afforded the right conditions and wage to do their job.”

Now, you could read this as a defence of Flynn. But this is basically an argument about professionalizing linesman, oh sorry, assistant referees. Something apparently Ferguson wants as well, because he’s such an old softie and a generous human being. It seems reasonable though, doesn’t it? That in a league that earns so much money, the officials should get more than they do at the moment. We’ve seen this sort of argument before was back in 2001, and I, for one, agreed with it.  Here’s what the BBC said at the time

Referees in England will be professional from next season, the Football Association confirmed.

The new scheme will enable officials to go full-time as a result of the financial incentives on offer, and they will also be more accountable regarding their performances in matches. The referees’ National Review Board is to be replaced by a new organisation, called the Professional Game Match Officials Board.

Former Fifa referee Roger Milford believes that the move will be beneficial for all.

“I am sure this will mean more consistency from the officials on points of law which cause controversy,” he said.

“The fact that the referees will meet regularly for training sessions means they will sit down together and watch videos of incidents which have caused controversy.

The top referees could earn up to £60,000 but Milford has no qualms about such figures.

“There are footballers out there earning £20,000 to £30,000 a week – and that is at the bottom end of the scale,” he added.

“So referees deserve to earn the sums being talked about.”

When I first started watching football back in 1996, with the Euros, and then the premier league where I could only watch a few matches a season, but was smitten with Arsenal.  I never noticed the referees. I hardly ever knew their name. Despite my anger at some decisions, at no point did I think that they were working to tilt the game in one direction. I always put it down to mistakes, and I believed that it would even out at the end of the season. Yes. I believed all the clichés the media puts forth. But was I wrong?

Was it just that I didn’t understand the game as much, or were refereeing standards better back then in the ‘good old days’? The thought behind this article came into my head a few years ago when I was watching some football match with a British friend of mine. (I say where he’s from to demonstrate that it isn’t just something someone watching from halfway across the world felt). Some incident made him say just what I was thinking at that precise moment. That the refereeing has seemed to have gotten worse since the refs became full time professionals.

As I said, back in 2001, I was actually fully for the idea. Of course referees should be paid well, and professionalism can only be a good thing which will improve the standard of refereeing… Somehow it didn’t quite turn out that way. It would appear that as with anything, also in football, with the pros come the cons.

There you have my theory. That professionalisation of referees actually reduced the standards of fairplay and accuracy, when the stated objective was the opposite. In crude terms, it is easier to control someone’s actions when you are their exclusive paymaster. This would bring the disturbing corollary that corruption is, in fact, stemming from the bodies in charge, rather than directly from the underground elements of say a gambling industry. But then again, how many people doubt FIFA, UEFA etc are corrupt to the core?


Corruption: A beacon of light in the world of match fixing and money laundering

Ref Review: QPR v Arsenal – the ref review

Match fixing: Media rush to deny match fixing takes place


42 comments to Attacks upon linesmen, and the professinalisation of refs.

  • marcus

    It seems extremely bizarre that premiership Refs earn about 1/20th of the average premiership player.

    They should be earning probably a minimum of about 200k a year, and then they should get chunky performance bonuses per game.(likewise linesmen).

    All that is then required is an impartial body that judges performance, plus video calls for penalties, goal-line stuff, etc.

    Any form of cheating, or malpractice, (betting etc), should result in a referee being immediately struck off.
    However, we don’t live in that kind of world….

  • fred

    The problem with professional refs is that as soon as it is your main or only income you will want to make sure you do not lose your job. Resulting in an implicit management of games erring on the side of the most vocal or influential managers of clubs with the explicit consequence of definate bias.
    I believe this is happening now and further professionalisation will make matters worse; or better for some teams. Unfortunatly why would the Premier League or any league admit this unfortunate truth!

  • WalterBroeckx

    After the successful experiment of taking on professional refs who are dependent for their income on staying professional the most important person in football is the head of the refs. It is him who decides who can stay and who can walk.

    And to put such an important position in the hands of someone with the pedigree of Mike Riley is absolute nonsense.

    It should have been someone who is beyond any doubt and suspicion. Riley is not that person.

    So the professional refs have to please Riley (and the persons behind his appointment of course). The assistants are not yet under such control and influence.

    So SAF insisting on putting the assistants under the wings of Riley…. why oh why….

    Imagine being an assistant and suddenly you go from getting 12.000 a year approx to let us say 40.000 a year for doing it as a part time job (let alone if it would be paid more and they would turn full time professionals…) wouldn’t you do a lot to keep your job?????

    I think the question answers itself in a way…

    Watch out for the professionals under the wings of Riley…and…

  • WalterBroeckx

    Maybe some people are not aware of it but starting your comment with insulting someone will not make it appear.
    Most of the time we are trying to keep it civilized so please if you want to comment keep it that way.

  • Asif

    “With the pros come the Cons”…really like that!

  • mark

    The economic incentives ought to be for making correct decisions. Maybe suitable bonuses for refs who make more correct decisions per game would help?

    I think professional refs ought to improve the quality of decisions but this could be undermined if the incentives are not there for correct and quality decision. Clearly there are some incentives currently at work in the EPL that are not producing quality officiating.

    Did you see the article about the leagues in Eastern Europe buying their positions in the leagues? If it can happen in Serbia what makes anyone think it could not happen in England? Human being live and govern both places!

  • mark

    I think two refs on the field would help too! The game is too fast for one ref to see everything. It works with Basketball.

  • Shard


    I agree with you. The problem comes in finding an impartial body. The PGMOL was started as the impartial body. I don’t think it can be called that anymore. The league could always pay the linesmen and the referees more, without making them give up their ‘day job’. But it is a tricky puzzle to solve. However, I was simply stating what I think happened. That the beginning of the type of performances that we see, and the lack of transparency that goes with it, started with the process of making referees professional.

  • Shard


    Exactly. Why would they admit it? They can’t anyway. I bet they are only too happy letting the refs take the flak (which is justifiable) but let us not forget that the refs don’t control their own appointments. They are at the mercy of the higher ups. The ones who we don’t hear about, apart from Riley. But how did he get the job?

  • Shard

    The simplest thing that can be done to regain some amount of trust is to release the ref assessment figures that the Premier League proudly announces. The details I mean. Let us see how the FA appointed referee observers rate the referees themselves. But of course this won’t happen since it puts too much pressure on referees. What about more transparency that was mentioned when the PGMOL was created back in 2001? Should we pay the referees more, without judging their performance? Why the secrecy?

  • Mahdain

    great article shard and have to agree with Walter Fergie has his reason for wanting the assistants to be fulltime since sometimes a Webb,a Dowd,a Dean et al is just not enough and hence why he wants the assistants too to be under his control
    Speaking of Mike Jones has he refereed another United game after that one?or is he suspended just like Atkinson was?

  • Shard


    It does seem that SAF was campaigning for putting the linesmen under Riley’s control, doesn’t it? That, or it was just about his being a trade union man 🙂 Referees of the world. Unite(d)!!

  • Shard


    thanks. I quit like it too 🙂

  • Shard

    Oh and Walter, if I’m drawing insults, then it means I’m doing something right. Right? 🙂 You should know by now. Hey, maybe even Rhys will grace us with his presence 🙂

  • WalterBroeckx

    Exactly Shard 😉

  • Shard


    Basketball still has one senior official who can overrule the other officials. I believe Hockey is a clearer example of a ref being in charge of half a field. Both sports however, employ video replays to some extent. Increasing the number of officials won’t take away the inconsistencies, and might even increase the confusion. I don’t know. It might work, but UEFA’s extra officials on the line are useless. In any case, video is the way to go (though that also needs to be implemented properly)

  • Shard


    Thanks. I don’t know for certain, but I THINK Jones did get one ManU game after that one. With clear instructions to not listen to amateur linesmen, I’m sure 🙂

  • Shard

    The resignation of Urs Maier, and Carlo Bertolini’s statement, does show that at the least, this is an issue in the world of football politics. I wonder, how many referees from Switzerland will get appointed to the CL and the Euros now.

  • Mahdain

    @shard agreed PGMO is anything but impartial..their appointments really do make you wonder why no one has being investigated yet…how come we keep getting our sworn enemies ala Dean(3 times in TEN games),Dowd,Webb upto 5 times while united keep getting their favourites to those numbers?
    One thing i have also been asking myself without an answer.. why is Mark Clattenburg being kept away from big matches even when he is the most logical choice ? Who has he angered?

  • Anne


    I believe that they already get “chunky performance bonuses per game…”

  • Anne


    “with the pros come the cons”

    I quite like this myself 🙂

  • Anne


    Do you think that, in general, there are signs of increasing tension between the refs and the linesmen?

    I’m going to be keeping an eye on this in the future, I think. It’s easy to forget that the refs and the linesmen actually answer to different bosses, but it would be well worthwhile to keep a better eye on the differences in their performances.

    Great article. This is an issue that needs to be explored further, and I hope that you continue to do it.

  • Mahdain

    offtopic but good article this

  • Anne


    Excellent link.

  • Shard

    Great link Mahdain. And might I say, I have enjoyed the work of the writers on that blog on more than one occasion. One particularly interesting piece was about Alex Ferguson and his ‘feud’ with the BBC.

  • Anne


    That link is fascinating. EVERYONE should read it. I wonder if they would let me re-post that one on Untold? Wish I could claim credit for it 🙂

  • Shard


    I’m not sure there is any tension between refs and linesmen as a rule. I’m not even sure they have different bosses. Someone else might know more about this, but I would think it’s Mike Riley and the PGMO who appoint the linesmen to games as well. Which is why Flynn should ‘expect’ to not get to run the line at Old Trafford for seasons. Why else should it be so?

    Also, maybe some linesmen ARE full time professionals? AT least, they can hope to be promoted to be referees. They live and work with referees who probably tell them all about the money and the perks they get. And to their favourite linos, maybe also tips on how to get their faster? It’s all conjecture of course, but if only the FA would open up a bit more, we wouldn’t need to rely on conjecture alone.

  • bjtgooner

    Exvellent article Shard. The most unfortunate consequence that I can see as a result of the PGMOL creation is that the control of the EPL referees by one man is total. Riley, as we remember, was a total disgrace as a referee. His reward for shafting Arsenal against the Manures was to be put in a position to have us shafted in any and many matches. It would be interesting to determine the individuals who appointed him. At present the misuse of that control factor is injurious to fair play in general and Arsenal in particular.

  • Shard


    Hey hey hey.. I did more than provide a link you know? 😛 That’s NOT what everyone should read..LOL 🙂

  • Mahdain

    @Shard i remember being fascinated by that article when i first saw it months ago..truly a great read

  • Shard


    Thank you. I think that is a fair summation, though I’m sure there are a few more clubs that are shafted as well. But Arsenal are definitely right up there, and as we’ve seen it’s gone hand in hand with a coordinated media campaign, instead of there being any interest in asking the right questions.

  • Anne


    Sorry about that 🙂

  • Tasos


    Mike Jones did get to ref another Man Utd at Old Trafford after that game.

    Man Utd V Stoke City and would you believe it Mike Jones awards Man Utd 2(two) penalties.

    The Stoke manager Tony Pullis commented “Looking at them there (the penalties), they are very debatable but we are at Old Trafford.”

  • Mahdain

    @Tasos he did get to follow his orders then….thanks for that

  • GoingGoingGooner

    I absolutely agree with having two referees on the pitch. Ice hockey in the NHL made the move to this a few years back and it has been beneficial. People worried about differing standards between the referees and whether the game would be slowed down, however, this has not not happened.

    Will this aid the problem of bent referees, maybe…maybe not. A transparent body, independent of the Premier League, perhaps answerable to the FA (don’t get me started on their failings) might work?

  • ak47

    great read, new bookmark too. cheers.

  • Arvind

    @Shard: I re-read this and thought. It makes complete sense to pay refs well. Like in any other job. And you’ve alluded to that as well. But then you say the level’s crashed after that. That might well be true; I’m not contesting it at all.

    My point really is…where is the balance? In the sense…all of us have jobs and get paid well. So some day if the boss tells us to do something corrupt…would we all do it? Just coz we’re getting paid?

    I guess that is a rhetorical question and the answer is similar to what happens in “BMG” [My nick name for Big Money Games : D] .. people like Clattenburg will not be bought, the rest will be “influenced” to a degree. That degree will differ from person to person.

    So really…while the data is probably correct, to say making refs prof is a root cause (I know you haven’t directly said this but that’s a conclusion I draw) is probably not totally correct. It’s kinda inevitable that people keep getting paid more and more as the years go by.

    So I guess I’m asking…what’s the solution? Thanks.

  • Shard


    Thank you for your comment. Solution? There is no solution to human tendency towards corruption. Apparently we’re all born in sin 🙂

    As of now, it is just a theory based on observation, and of course reliant on what could well prove to be a coincidence.

    But at least in the Swiss FA, it is a big enough issue to cause a change in regime. Germany does not have professional referees, and Walter has said that they do some things better. They have more referees, the refs give interviews etc. Also subjectively, the German referees seem to be better from what I see. So maybe it is a coincidence, but maybe it isn’t.

    Trouble is finding ‘proof’. Like any other activity of the PGMOL, real proof, is out of reach. But I am compiling some data. I don’t know where it’ll lead, or if I’ll be able to make any sense of it. (I suck at that sort of thing) But I’ll try to do something. If only to satisfy my own curiosity. This is just a theory at this point, but one I believe has some basis.

    The analogy of the refs and us in our jobs isn’t really valid. In our jobs, corruption is defined by the law of the land. In football, the law is laid down by the football authorities. If they decree that Manchester United’s players will not receive a red card even for a blatant elbow to an opponents head, then that isn’t really corruption as far as the referee is concerned. That is the law he is supposed to follow. Who is going to judge his actions in the end? (Let’s leave God out of it 🙂 ) The same person that employs him and told him to do something ‘corrupt’.

    Referees aren’t any more or less likely to be corrupt than you or me. But with professionalisation, the rewards they get (as well as their dependence on the one source of employment) have become much greater, while the risks are virtually non existent, if present at all. Basically a bigger carrot, and the stick only comes out if for some reason the ref loses his appetite.

    Immoral it may be, and I’m sure some referees leave the game disillusioned, both before and after they get to the top. But we don’t hear about it because it’s in everyone’s interest to keep it quiet. No one with any influence is asking anyway.

  • Shard

    Oh and by the way.. I just realised who it was that gave Rooney a yellow for elbowing the Wigan player in the head. Mark Clattenburg. I wouldn’t count on him being some sort of saint. Though maybe he just doesn’t recognise dangerous play. He also didn’t send off Adebayor for stamping on Robin’s face.

  • Micko

    Very good article.
    There seems to have been a bias towards Manu ever since Sky (basically) took control and renamed the old First Division to the Premiership, but the first time I noticed a bias actually against us (and not just for Manu), was at the end of the 2002/3 season when we were competing with Manu for the title. Although it was only slight (compared to now!). Since then the only time we have won the Premiership is in 2003/4 with the Invincibles, and yes, that is the only way we will win it again with the current PGMOL regime. In fact, I don’t believe that another Invincible side would be given the lee-way to actually form again in the first instance.
    I think that during the last 4-5 years it has now got so obviously pro-manu and anti Arsenal that a lot of people are beginning to take notice. I think this coincides with Mike Riley being made head of the PGMOL.

  • Shard

    Thanks Micko. That’s interesting. I always suspected bias, but only in 2008 did I suspect cheating (when ManU won on the last day, not when we were being robbed) Bias, I can live with, because I think bias affects only some close decisions. What we see now I think goes beyond that.

    Riley’s appointment might well be the catalyst for it, but Riley would still need some trusty henchmen to carry out his work. I’ll be making an effort to see if such trusty henchmen began to be cultivated, and the rest weeded out, from the point they became professional. Hopefully, I’ll have something soon, but let’s see.

    As of now, I think, regardless of whether that’s the root cause, the issue of professionalisation of referees, and their assistants, is something that should be discussed and paid attention to. If for no other reason that Alex Ferguson seems to want it. 🙂