Referees in the PL: How are they doing their job? – Part 2

By Walter Broeckx

Part one of this serie can be found over here

I just wanted to give my view on a few things that I noticed while reviewing the referees this season. And on some misunderstandings that are being told during games by match commentators or pundits after the games.

3. Referee or game flow manager

Keeping the game flowing; in some places this seems to be the ultimate bench mark of a good referee. I beg to differ. Because a referee is not foremost a person who has to make sure the games is flowing. No that is the task of the players.

If players play within the rules there is no need to stop the game for fouls and the game will flow. I still remember a game from last season where the ref had only made one foul decision in a half and this was because both teams played in a fair way. They didn’t commit fouls so the game flowed and kept on flowing.

A referee should in fact not focus on keeping the game flowing. He should focus on what is his first job: to make sure the teams don’t mess around with the laws of the games. So if a foul occurs he has in fact no real option to call the foul and stop the game at that moment.

I can understand some of you saying: and what if he plays an advantage. Yes this is an exception where a ref can decide that it is better for the team that is suffering from the foul to not stop the game but to let the game continue. I will come back to this later on in a next point.

For some reasons we see a lot of referees not give fouls when they should be given. I think they are afraid to be criticised about not letting the game flow. As I have said before: if the players don’t commit fouls the game will flow. So a ref cannot really be said to be the reason for the game not flowing. He can only punish what is happening. So if players, managers, spectators want to see the game flowing there is only one solution: don’t commit fouls.

And if you do we have to accept that the flow will stop at that moment. It is very simple in fact.

But some referees seem to be afraid to stop the game even when it is really important to do so. For example when a defender is fouled in his own penalty area and the defending team keep the ball but are under pressure. All too many times I see refs letting the game flow at that time but a foul on a defender should be punished and certainly when they keep the ball but are under pressure. This has nothing to do with keeping the game flowing. This is playing a dangerous game against the defending team.

Another poor example of keeping the game flowing was seen recently when I reviewed the Aston Villa – Reading game. The ref in this game was so busy in trying to keep the game flowing that you could see the irritation growing bigger and bigger with both sets of players at times. At one moment you could see 3 -4 the same fouls being done in less than a minute and then when the 4th time the same foul was made the ref finally gave a foul. Leading to all kinds of players being irritated because of the different treatment they got.

Now a ref could say: I wanted to keep the game flowing and gave them an advantage. And so I end up with my final remark for now: advantage or not?

4. Advantage or possession, the big thin line

As my previous example showed I have seen too many refs let the game continue when a defender is fouled and giving the advantage signal. Tell me how can a defending team gain any advantage when one of their defenders is being fouled and on the ground, another defender gets the ball and has to hurry a clearance that goes out of play or ends up with the attacking team? And all too many times I see this happening.

The defending team has no advantage at all. An advantage would be: being able to reorganise themselves and move the ball from the danger area to the other side of the field without being under pressure. That would be an advantage. But in order to “keep the game flowing” referees let the foul go and don’t do what they should do. I could give you names of refs who do this on too many occasions but I will hold this back for later. But if you read this Mike, yes you are one of them.

And a really stupid example of bad advantage was seen in the game Norwich – Sunderland. A Norwich players jumps in the back of a Sunderland player, the ball goes to another Sunderland player in midfield. The ref signals advantage, the ball is played forward and the assistant raises his flag for a Sunderland player in an offside position. The ref still holding his hands to signal the advantage he gave then blew his whistle and gave a foul against Sunderland for offside.

And all this happened in about 1 second.

So at the end of the day the team that was fouled first didn’t get any advantage at all and the fouling team got the advantage. Now I know you can’t come back after 10 or 15 seconds, but this happened in what we could call a fraction of a second.

This really was a poor example on the advantage rule. The advantage rules is there to give an advantage to the team that was fouled. So when the advantage is lost immediately the ref should come back to the initial foul.

But I had the impression that all this was the result of the ref being too focused on keeping the game flowing and as a result you give bad advantages.

Refs should be more aware of the fact that the first thing they should do is to make sure the laws of the game are applied. And once that is done they can focus also on other things like keeping the game flowing. But the first thing on any ref his mind should be: is this a foul or not. Never mind the flow of the game.

Please refs read your instructions again and follow them because I see too many cases where you are more flow managers than refs.


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17 Replies to “Referees in the PL: How are they doing their job? – Part 2”

  1. Graham Poll in his autobiography has claimed credit for being able to interpret (bend) the rules when he judged it appropriate and in order to keep the game flowing, quoting our game with MU at Highbury when there had been the confrontation in the tunnel between Vieira and Keane.

  2. If we look at rugby, an advantage is allowed until there is either a break in play or it becomes certain in the refs opinion that no advantage is going to materialise. This can sometimes take a minute or more. I am not suggesting that we should allow that long but it seems to me that some refs are reluctant to allow more that a second or two which is usually insufficient to see how things develop. An advantage or not can sometimes take far longer than that to become obvious.

  3. Until we can trust the majority of EPL referees to use the advantage rule expertly and without bias, I would prefer the whistle I’m afraid.
    There are still too many mistakes made where the Laws of the game are being overlooked in favour of mistakenly keeping the game flowing. That is just not right.

  4. Whilst I agree with most of the article I cannot agree that an advantage can’t last for 10 seconds. My own opinion is that if a player is fouled and the advantage breaks down you always come back to tha original foul that made an official give the advantage signal. This will be considered a free attack and that is the offending teams punishment for infringing the laws of the game. If every time an advantage was given and it broke down then the official returned possession to the fouled team we would start to see teams less inclined to foul as they will never get possession of the ball.
    Referees should also be penalised for cherry picking what rules they follow, financial fines should do the trick.

  5. What about time wasting from the beginning of the first half?

    But as for the rest, spot on.

  6. @Adam
    Totally agree with you Adam, come on Walter tell us, why can an advantage not last for 10 or 15 seconds?

  7. It would have been better if I hadn’t put seconds in the article to be honest.
    First of all the advantage should be a real advantage, not possession. If a team can get a scoring chance from the advantage it is a real advantage and then when the chance is missed you cannot come back on the initial foul. They could have scored despite the foul so at that time they had an advantage. It is not because of the foul that they missed the goal (then we have another situation)

    With the time I wanted to say that in such a period the ball could have been in two penalty areas and then you cannot come back any more.

    There are no seconds expressed in the laws or instructions but in general the oral instructions are that it should be visible within seconds.

    Unfortunately most refs look at pure possession and think it is an advantage. And this is a myth. Possession IS NOT an advantage.

  8. Thanks for the explanation Walter, I understand and the way you put it makes complete sense. Why is it so (apparently) difficult for most refs to put what seems a straightforward law into practise, is it the fault of the powers that be.
    On a different refereeing subject I see that the two red cards in the W Ham v Everton match have been (surprisingly?)overturned.

  9. I some respects I agree with you Walter, although the current rules allow for infringements to go unpunished through the natural flow of a game of football.

    There has to be a form of punishment, otherwise the exact same foul will be punished if no advantage is available, in all honesty for this to work we may have to install a fouls limit, the same as in basketball with a foul but advantage given, is a foul accumulated for the offending player.

    When a referee gives the advantage signal, you have to remember he has acknowledged that an offence has taken place but can also recognise that the defending team is at a position, tactical or numerical disadvantage which could lead to a goal scoring opportunity.

    100% agree, just having possession is not an advantage over your opponents.

    Again this comes down to how a referee views how a game of football should be played. Personally I don’t think many refs are quick enough in reading the game or are aware enough to judge tactically if an advantage should be applied.

    which should be a prerequisite for officiating and can be easily tested through examinations or simulations.

    Walter are referees in Belgium educated on the tactical side of the game?

  10. reading the reports, the FA are going to write to Manchini and Harry about their conduct but worded as ‘observations’ during the boxing day game. But considering Fungus’s touchline shenanigans, the FA won’t be taking any actions against him. nothing new here then. Wonder why the main ref did not report this or why the assistant did not inform him, or did he? Does it take only the ref report for the FA to take action [if they do], what about the millions watching, doesn’t that count for anything?

  11. Maybe you have to kick a plastic bottle in order for some punishment to be given! Or maybe you just have to be French.

  12. Mick
    Is it just me or have arsene’s comments about ferguson gotten more media attention than the actual issue in question? I would wager this turns into a smokescreen of sorts..

  13. Then again who needs a smokescreen, he always does what he wants and gets away with it..its not like “truth” has ever been something the media worry about, or even strive for

  14. Advantage, among other difficult and demanding decisions a referee is called on to make, is not permitted in the assistant referees case. That tells you the following:

    1) It is the sole prerogative of the referee since he(or she) alone has the authority,positioning and the judgement to apply advantage.
    2) Recognizing and giving advantage (as the Laws state) requires an excellent sense of judgement, timing and an ability to take risks (it is afterall a risky call under the best of circumstances).
    3) Most referees don’t have the confidence and understanding of the game needed to try recognizing and giving advantage. It is part of the ART of officiating.
    4) Like most referee decisions, it is final and despite some referees trying to ¨correct¨ their decision(s) after the fact, advantage either is or is not given and if given, as Walter correctly said, may or may not produce a scoring opportunity or in the case of the defender, prevent a scoring opportunity (it goes both ways).

  15. Domhuail, I see the point you make but by a linesman not signalling for an infringment is the same as continue as you were, if the linesman signals then the ref decides wether to stop play or not.
    A linesman can give an advantage by just not signalling.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Also look up Gestures in the rules, this could cover a whole multitude of actions. Page 91 in FIFAs laws of the game.

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