1984: It is forbidden to talk about….referees – part 1

By Walter Broeckx

I think I have mentioned the book 1984 before. As Tony has done many times.  It is not the best book I have ever read. But it is a very intriguing book. One that makes you want to look further than what the mass media are shoving down our throat.

And one that makes you suspicious about what the mass media, or children, tell us. I’m not going to bother you with the story itself. Those who have read it know what I mean, those who haven’t I would suggest to really have a go at it and try to feel the spirit of the society that is painted in this book.

The first thought that I had when I read this article in the Guardian was: 1984.  The title of the article was: Premier League failures show it’s time to stop talking about referees.

On the same day that I wrote an article about the decline of the PL in European football following up on an earlier series of articles from November 2014  the Guardian came up with this article. Written by Barney Ronay.

I quote from his article: “Who out there could do any kind of job properly knowing every split‑second response will be scrutinised with relentless hostility, that your competence will be questioned, body mass ridiculed, integrity impugned?  We seem to have forgotten that muddle and confusion, a lack of any deeper platonic truth in any of this, are why referees exist in the first place, that they are a grudging necessity, like corner flags or crossbars, there simply to keep the spectacle chugging along.”

Now some of that is really staggering. Let me start with the fact that yes it is a difficult job. But actually nobody ever forces anyone to become a referee. And nobody forces you to grow and become a referee in the PL. It is a free choice. Even if the referee assessors tell you that you as a ref have what it takes, you still can say: “no. I will just stick with the youth teams, reserve teams,” or whatever you are doing. You will be met with hostility at that level also. You will be questioned just the same. But not on national TV. So when you go up in the referee leagues you know that if you reach the PL you will be faced with that.

And let me tell you one thing: most referees LOVE IT! Let us not beat around the bush. Just as most players love to be in the PL or in the top division of their country, it is the same for every referee. It is where you can become professional in the thing you are passionate about or earn a nice sum of money apart from your mostly part time job that you do during the day.

And yes you will get all that the author in his article writes about. But that is because you want to be in that spotlight as a ref.

It is not that they do the course, pass an exam and the get thrown in to the PL for their first match. No they have risen through the ranks based on their performances, assessments and most of all because they wanted to be there and to reach the top. Ambition is the correct word.

Most good refs have that bit of masochism in them and accept that they will be on the receiving end of things from time to time. And if they don’t know they have been badly prepared by their referee organisation or came in from Mars and are not knowing what to expect.

They also have that little bit of pretension on knowing better than most others. Arrogance might be another word.

Most top refs that I know personally (and I do know some of them personally who have had fifa badges) and with whom I have done a few matches are a bit arrogant when they are on the field. I might say it is part of the job. Outside the field some are really humble but it is a bit like a singer. Once on stage they become a different person. So do most refs.

So those refs do know what is waiting them and they do know that they will face storms. But believe me deep inside they would not want to have it otherwise. They don’t mind standing in the picture that much. As long as it doesn’t get too personal and no real body harm happens and no threats are made to harm are made, they can cope with it rather well. Most of them are not stupid persons.  So to suggest that they couldn’t do their job because of the abuse is a bit of nonsense.

In fact to avoid the abuse is one of the main reasons they will try to do their best. They will not lose it because they have had a bad match. Most refs have bad matches every now and then and they know it.  But I think most are strong enough to live with it. Otherwise they wouldn’t have reached that level.

So Mr. Ronay is wrong in thinking that refs will not be able to stand the heat of the kitchen. In fact I think his words are disrespecting referees in a big way one could say. He thinks they are not capable of doing their job. I think they can….if they could get the needed help.

But Mr. Ronay wants to refuse them that help if you read his article any further. He doesn’t want video refs assistance and he tells us that it doesn’t work in rugby. Now I must admit I don’t know rugby but I have been reading on Untold on a few occasions that it does work in rugby. Who is right ? Who is wrong?

I somehow doubt Mr. Ronay as I think he has some kind of agenda. An agenda related to 1984. More on that later.


The books

And just in case you like Bob Dylan, you might like our latest website… Untold Dylan.





30 Replies to “1984: It is forbidden to talk about….referees – part 1”

  1. If you haven’t reffed you won’t understand the rush you get when you know that you have nailed a tough call. Even when a coach or the crowd are baying for your blood, it’s nice to be able to say to yourself “nope they’re wrong-I’m right”

  2. Some people don’t think that refs should be assisted in the very difficult task they undertake (and let’s face it, they are up against professional footballers most of whom nowadays are professional cheatss). For those people I have a suggestion. Let’s do away with goal posts and crossbars and let them make even more arbitrary judgement calls. Hang on a minute that would be asburd; that would mean refs would have to guess when with the simple addition of goal posts and crossbars we could assit them to get the correct decision……………………….what a novel concept.

  3. Goonermikey – While I agree the refs should be assisted I wouldn’t like to see any more video review beyond goal line cameras because it would seriously impede the flow of the game and slow it down. Imagine reviewing every offside or foul call? I’ve suggested before on Untold that perhaps the FA or EPL might consider a second referee as they have in North American professional hockey. As the speed of that game increased a single referee had a hard time monitoring everything on the ice. Compare that to the size of a football pitch and you’ll see the parallel. Another pair of eyes with equal authority could help with all the ‘missed’ incidents behind the play or when one ref’s view is impaired. I don’t see a downside, unless you consider both refs may be biased, lol. I invite comment from all readers and writers (that means you Tony and Walter)and am prepared to take it on the chin.

  4. Not every offside or foul has to be reviewed Goonersince72. We will leave that to Untold 🙂

    Only if let us say the captain wants a call to be questioned they could do this but with a possible penalty if the call is incorrect. But each penalty takes almost a minute to be taken because of players protesting the referee decision. Why not use this time useful and see if it was correct or not? That wouldn’t delay the penalty in 95% of the cases. And in case of doubt the decision on the field stands.
    There are all kinds of ways to prevent the system to be misused. Strict rules have to be applied. Each team have 2 calls to make for instance per match or per half and the ref can also ask a review himself to the video ref in case he doubts.

    Mind you I am not against two refs on the field but this would go against the characters of most refs from today. They want to be “the boss” on the field. Sharing their authority with another ref might not go down too well with them 😉

  5. goonersince72

    Absolutely, we do not need the game slowed down by video refereeing, which is the point Barney was making in his very witty article.
    Better full time referees, and more of them is what we need. That and the replacement of PGMO with a more transparent organisation.

    Can’t wait to see how this is linked to 1984.

  6. TailGunner

    Personally I am not against Technological assistance for Referees, but I agree it would perhaps be a good idea to first try simply increasing the amount of Referees, there demographic, as well as the transparency of the PGMO, before we go down the Technology route.

  7. There is no excuse for not introducing video review technology for football immediately. The “time” argument is a real canard. Surely it is worth taking 30 seconds to check to see if a goal/penalty/red card is the correct decision?! An incorrect decision will significantly affect the entire game! As a fan, I would be more than happy to wait for a review (provided the clock was stopped).

    In rugby, I think the referees only use video assistance for tries and for serious foul play (but stand to be corrected).

    In tennis, each player is allowed two or three (can’t remember) which reviews per set – but only unsuccessful reviews count.

    In cricket reviews are only used for wickets – generally LBWs – occasionally catches or run outs.

    In football I would suggest that either the referee can ask for a review or a manager can appeal a decision.

    And yes – increase the number of referees, more equally distribute them around the country, import foreign refs, enable PGMO transparency, fire Mike Riley, pay the officials more… but none of these are a reason to delay video reviews.

  8. I have not met a single cricket, rugby or tennis fan who is unhappy at video reviews – and would rather go back to the old days. I am not aware of any match officials from those sports either who would rather go back in time (or they have not said anything to that effect).

    I challenge any naysayer to find anyone from cricket, rugby or tennis who regrets the introduction of video technology.

  9. Whats the problem with an “eye in the sky” watching offsides? The linesmen only flag “obvious calls”. If it’s close let play go and if it was deemed offsides the refs watch goes off just like goal line tech. 10 seconds maybe 15?

  10. Even Gaelic football, an amateur sport, uses video ref quite easily and successfully for the big games (i.e. the only one’s played in stadia actually able to host the technology). FIFA’s decision-making on this matter is so bad they might as well get rid of floodlights at matches while they’re at it. “The referees don’t need the technology’s assistance”.

  11. Not convinced by the argument which says video technology working for various other sports proves it will work well with football. Logically, there is no reason to exclude the possibility that video technology is suitable for x amount of diverse sports, but unsuitable for another. Nor even that it could work for every sport bar one

    The closest, but not that close, of the three main ones, rugby, is a good place to look for insight into the extra difficulties football would face. The difference between the structure of the action-in terms of a suitable stoppage never being far away- is well covered. Less so the monumental differences in how the games are supported, covered by the press, and refereed. There is trust in rugby, between players and referees, supporters and referees, and even the press and referees. There are occasional grumbles, but next to football they barely register.

    That trust changes every aspect of the situation, especially the behaviour of referees, who don’t have to think a quarter as much about how their behaviour will be scrutinised, and aren’t always reacting to the latest furore from the most recent action.

    This has allowed the technology to bed in. Every questionable decision is not blown up to some sort of crisis in the press, fans do not obsess over them and jam up hotlines complaining. People watch it, grumble if they feel they have cause, shrug and move on, trusting the integrity of the game and its teams and officials. football is different to that in every way, it is, as suggested in this parish in recent days (sort of), mired in childishness. Overheated, in need of a lie down, not very well behaved. I don’t see video technology as an antidote for that, more likely it will be a new dimension for all that behaviour to run amok in.

    I don’t think this- the unique emotional landscape of football- is the biggest obstacle (probably comes in at third in my list), but it’s a really big one. Fourth- I just remembered how low-scoring a game football is.

    The sensible thing to do now would be trials, lots of trials. My feeling is that opening pandora’s box would most likely lead to the conclusion football is that game which isn’t well suited to video technology, but there is no good reason not to test it all out thoroughly. This cynic would obviously be delighted to be proved wrong.

  12. One of the reasons why I think it is imperative to change the status quo in football with regards refereeing is because unlike rugby or ice hockey it is commonplace for one bad decision to decide an outcome. Very rarely do rugby matches end with only 1 scoring play. The same can be said of cricket, tennis and ice hockey (there are more than 1 scoring play), yet in these sports they have decided that it is worthwhile to take the time to get decisions right. In football, however, very often one play or one referee’s decision decides a match. I agree with Walter, limiting the amount of appeals that a manager may make would be the way to go, and every goal and penalty decision would automatically be reviewed by a league TV officials at league headquarters. Only conclusive evidence would overturn an on-field referees decision.

    Adding an extra referee will not cause problems; it hasn’t in North American ice hockey. The referees each make decisions independently and where they are uncertain, they consult each other. Using stop time is, IMO, a no brainer, it relieves the referee of what is extraneous decision making. The time runs when the ball is in play, full stop.

  13. Only someone who doesn’t understand sport would seek to deny officials in Assoc.Football the kind of aid their colleagues in ALL other top sports receive (in order to protect them from fixers and aid them against cheats of course…a simple and fairly basic concept long understood in that bastion of the Free Market the US).

    That, or a liar.

  14. Haven to say the timing of. Mr.Ronay’s gibberish couldn’t have been better with Mr.East sending off Gibbs as a result of the fourth offical receiving aid/advice that they are not allowed to receive (the PGMO are breaking their own rules and guidelines as explained on the blog FIF).

    It is, what it is. 😉

  15. @Pete,
    I couldn’t agree more with yours of 5.08 and 5.12.
    Things cannot carry on without change.
    Corruption, bias and sheer incompetence must be eliminated.
    The professional game is now too big a business with all the sharp practice that implies.
    We must return, as far as
    possible, to the sporting contest aspect.

  16. Agree absolutely with the two posts from Pete.

    In rugby league the video ref’s ruling on contentious issues is incoprorated in the drama of the game.

    The notion that somehow in the structure of football there is this underpinning movement, flow, which makes it impossible to stop the game – a mate of mine is an amateur ref and I’ve had the argument for a decade or so – is stopped in its track by what happens in rugby league.

    Sometimes I think the reason replays are blocked all the way down from Blattter to Webb & Riley is because, from rugby league, the actual inmpact of the decision – goal or no goal, penalty or no penalty, offside or not offside, everyone wasits watching the screen for the verdict – in a stadium, in the hushed moment waiting for the response on the screen, this gives the authority of the game back to the players.

    The clown from Riley’s circus is stipped bare in such a situation. The ref then is no longer the authority, the paramount figure on the pitch, the man who decides the game, he has become the facilitator.

    As a facilitator he is there to ensure the experience is played out, the players and fans the top of the tree. Too much freedom for citizens that.

  17. Change is needed, but unfortunately, Blatter, FIFA, UEFA, Rliey, Scudamore, Keren Barratt , some referees, some agents, some managers, some players, most of the media, and some of the most influential organised crime bodies in Europe , Asia…..all peas in a pod.
    I suspect there are people in the English football establishment who would love to get out of it, but they just can’t, no wonder some are so silent

  18. Great post Rich, some really valid points, but I just cannot get past the fear of the powers that be, coinciding with the silence of Riley and co. Even if football is not suited to this, I suspect some are feeding on it for their own games. As you say, need further trials. But there must be a way of making this money spinning pastime much more transparent.
    Riley has to go, yet another Roger East PGMOL mis ID fcuk up last weekend, no sunderland players will be banned, surprised they didn’t sanction Gibbs or Ox for good measure!

  19. To go further, professional football is losing its credibility in my eyes and this is damaging my enjoyment of it. Video reviews would go a long way towards re-establishing that credibility.

    I simply don’t trust PGMO referees to make an honest decision any more.

    That is absolutely terrible! If things continue to deteriorate then my interest will wane and I will be a very sad person.

  20. The experiment in Holland of which we have written (of course 😉 ) was that most of the time within 10-15 seconds the video ref could have told the ref on the field if his decision was right or wrong.

  21. Anyone who thinks technology would not help should see how seemlessly it is being used in field hockey. Field hockey is the sport closest to football and we can even hear what referees say to each other. Time is being kept by a separate machine ensuring that no wastage happens and it works brilliantly..

  22. Walter
    Can I ask how the technology is being implemented in Holland, for example is it a fourth official with a screen to hand, and what sort of decisions are being referred?

  23. My first question is that why we can have foreign managers, foreign players, foreign TV pundits, but no foreign referees? If the quality of the referees in UK is so bad that only a handful of them can be trusted with the premier league games, why not recruit some from abroad? Surely the £5bn of TV money would mean that the premier league can afford it? Why do all referees have to be white, bald and from the North of England?

  24. @WalterBroeckx “The experiment in Holland of which we have written (of course 😉 ) was that most of the time within 10-15 seconds the video ref could have told the ref on the field if his decision was right or wrong.”

    Wow, thats almost half the time that Stoke takes for each throw in when they’re leading 1-0!

  25. Mandy Dodd, Thanks.

    I figured I wouldn’t be winning popularity votes here (or anywhere else as it goes- the general view among fans being it would work fine*) with those opinions, but what the hell, and I thought it could at least help the debate along.

    Main point, anyway, is that whatever reservations I have, or anyone else has, there’s no good reason not to run extensive trials. If they throw up a lot of problems, so be it, the clamour will die down and at least some aspects of the game might be shown to be fit for the technology.

    As for there must be a way to make the game more transparent- geez, you’d hope so.

    Spurred perhaps by reading a free extract from The Invincibles book last night I found myself thinking today about our games versus United around that time. Oh oh. The penalties, the red cards, the all of it.

    Sometimes I try to pull myself back from my beliefs of how rotten things are; other times I think ‘no, if anything you don’t go far enough!’. The fact alone that a team as ‘competitive’ and aggressive as United rarely (I want to write never, but there must be one or two I’ve forgotten- I’d love an example of one, especially if it was while the result was in the balance), as far as I can remember, conceded a pen at a crucial time in those games nor had anyone sent off while the game was in the balance, while the opposite was true for us, simply defies belief, and the law of averages etc.

    Those games were managed against us and in the miraculous event of the game becoming a whole lot cleaner and there being some actual evidence (apart from match footage) of wrongdoing, I still don’t think the games administrators, or anyone connected to the sport, would ever let that evidence emerge. It could be why the whole things has become even more secretive when it is so clear it needs to move in the other direction.

    *I think alarm bells should ring for people when the likes of Redknapp and Allardyce call for it, when something has annoyed them, and assert it would be easy and pain-free. Not an infallible rule for life- be suspicious of anything those guys say- but a pretty good guide.

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