by Walter Broeckx
A few days ago I wrote an article on punishing certain types of behaviour of players on the field. Someone pointed out that it also should be done for referees. If players could get a yellow card after the game because of their body language or anything else that needed judging later, the refs also should be reviewed after the game and punished if it is necessary. So I can only agree with that remark: yes refs should be reviewed and punished when they make a mess of it.
Indeed this happens. In 2008, a week after refereeing Blackburn against Manchester United, referee Rob Styles was demoted so that he took charge of a League Two match between Shrewsbury Town and Chester City.
Styles turned down two Man IOU penalty appeals and cautioned Wayne Rooney when he complained about a challenge by Steven Reid.
The Premier League would say only that referees’ top man Keith Hackett had 19 referees to choose from for 10 Premier League games each weekend, but it did appear a huge drop in status for a man regarded as a senior ref.
In other words the Referees Association and the EPL look at how referees are getting on, and take action accordingly but don’t reveal exactly how this is done. In Belgium there is a system that was introduced at the start of the last season to follow up the refs. So I will first try to explain the system and then give my remarks on what could be done better.
In my country the refs are not professionals. Most of them have a part time job, as is true outside the EPL in England.
But we have to take this part time job with a pinch of salt. In fact they mostly work for big companies that use the ref’s name also as a way of advertising themselves. Some work for a company that sells sportswear and other work for a bank. So here comes the first problem. We have a Fifa ref that is working for a big bank and this bank is also a sponsor of one of the biggest clubs.
So our FA has decided, rightly so, that this ref can not do a game in which this club, sponsored by his employer, is involved. But one could ask: what if this ref does a game in which another team is involed and where a loss for a certain team would be a good thing for the club sponsored by his employer? Some pressure from his employer that pays him for his part time job could be possible and this is something we should avoid. So a first change would be to make the refs full time professionals to avoid these things.
For the moment the refs in the highest division get every month a fixed sum of money from our FA. And then they get another payment which is based on the games they have done and the distance they had to cover from their home to the different grounds. There is also is a difference between the league in which they do their game. Since last season our FA has organised some kind of employer-employee relationship with their refs. They pay them a fix sum as a wage. And to get this fixed sum you have to fulfill some criteria.
The most important is to pass a fitness test at the start of the season – which is the same in all leagues. And this test in Belgium is not an easy one but I’m not going to bore you with the details. But we have a professor in Belgium from the University of Leuven who also has been responsible for the fitness of the referees in the big tournaments of the last years like the last world cup and who is very well known for his research on fitness levels of the referees.
Another criteria is the mark the ref gets in the games. Our refs are being watched by someone from our FA during every game and that person gives the ref a rating. The people who do this are former refs. So every game each first division ref gets a mark out of 10 points. And at the end of the season the refs must have an average score of minimum 7 points over their games. If a ref doesn’t get this, he will lose his fixed money.
So how does this person do his job? He gives a general rating for the performance based on what he saw from the stands. A bit like we do as fans and where the refs ends up with something around +1 to -8. And after the game this person goes to the office of the director of the TV company and he asks them to show the images of an incident in the 12th minute, the 18th minute, the 42nd minute and so on. And he analyses these incidents from the different camera angles and tells the refs and their assistants within half an our or one our after the game what they don right and what they done wrong. Mostly only the wrong things but a good controller will give them both sides of the coin.
Has this changed the refereeing in my country? Yes I think it has. The refs knew the criteria, after a few games, and they felt the extra pressure. One of the major ways to lose points (and possible money) was not giving a red card when it was needed. This would get you under the 7 points mark even when for the rest of the game you had a good game. So in most cases when the ref was in doubt if it really was a red card or not they chose to give the red card to be sure it wouldn’t cost them points (and money).
To compare the red and yellow cards with the previous season is difficult in my country as they invented some kind of play off system and we had not as many games in the regular competition as before. But if we take the average per game it has gone up by some 10%. So refs were very sharp and alert to possible red card tackles and offences and did not hesitate to punish the thugs in the game. On a personal note I must say that I am happy with this trend and I really hope that the refs can ban all the dangerous and reckless tackles in the game. There should be no room on the field for thugs and criminals.
Is the system perfect and working? No, I don’t think so. A major thing is that there is only one person who gives the points on the ref’s performance and there should be more I feel to make the system better. After all if people don’t like each other or like each other too much it can influence the points given by the controller. But if 3 people would give points than the chance of favouritism is reduced.
But I think it is a good attempt to start with following the refs closely and to monitor their decisions in the game. I think with some fine tuning it should be something that can work an from which football and refereeing in general could benefit.
So in Belgium when you are a first division ref and you make a mess, you can get punished and the refs will do anything to avoid this because it will hurt them where it hurts most: in their pockets.
Editorial: After Walter wrote this piece I went searching for exact information about how the system works in England, but couldn’t find it. The Referees Association web site (which I did search) seemed singularly lacking on such information. If you know about this please do add details in a comment, or send in a full article to Tony.Attwood@aisa.org
Next Season: a set of articles about the squad, the transfers, and who is moving up from the reserves – not to mention a definitive analysis of how the 25 player system works.
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