How to control referees

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


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.

The glorious future

The adventurous past

What to read on the beach this summer

19 Replies to “How to control referees”

  1. We need something for sure and your article has been refreshing considering what we put up with in the UK not just remembering back to wayne rooneys dive to end the unvicibles run or any of the major injuries we have suffered. But it might cut out some of the pressure that managers put on referees with pre match comments about decisions gone by. The smaller teams say the top 4 get all the decisions at home at that maybe the case but it would also cut out the nasty tackles they dish out also.
    I think its high time things were improved and the information made available to the public about how they try to judge referees week in week out.

  2. Excellent, a brilliant system, this should definatley be brought into all major european leagues. I think four people judging would be perfect, one behind each goal and one on each side at the halfway line, that way you have a 360 view of each incident regardless of tele reviewing the incident post game, which should still be done but with four positioned in this way at least one will pick up on a dodgy decision for later analysis.

  3. Walter,

    Thank you very much for the article. The system in Belgium sounds like the right thing to do for all major leagues and it seems an even equivalent to the yellow card system you mentioned in your previous article for players.

    Now all we need is to get both systems implemented in order to make the beautiful game beautiful again.

  4. Really insightful that Walter, thanks very much. I’m planning on taking my reffing qualification over the summer so I find these insights really interesting.

  5. Phil I wish you succes in your career and hope you enjoy it mostly as much as I do. And some advice: you will hit the wall in a game and maybe doubt yourself. Just get over that hurdle and you will see that a bad game makes you stronger. Well it does with me.
    Even now I usualy have one game every season that at the end I think: Walter, are you losing it? You got to do it better. And then the next game I go out on the field with determination to do better and must say that mostly after such a bad game I perform really well in the next games. And the joy you get when you manage to get that bad game out of the way is like winning the title. (Well not quite the same but…… )

    Mmmmmm Phil, I’m thinking of writing an article based upon my experiences and on the experiences of the refs I know and the story’s they have told me and the mistakes they have made.

  6. Walter: I give you A1 for this piece , make that A++. The Premiership & FA can learn from this; but I guess their tendencies to helping clubs like ManIOU & co will not let them emulate this.

  7. The problem is highly paid stars of the game trying to influence a referee who earns in a year what the top stars earn in a week,hence the time wasting lectures and other nonsense from refs,just get on with the game and show cards when absolutely necessary ,these stars couldn,t care less about the refs lectures etc. during the game .

  8. @critic,

    “really true”? No, the only true thing is that Mourinho is an extremely irritating man. Otherwise it’s just a typical Brus piece. Suddenly Mourinho is a superman who can turn regular players into superstars? Utter drivel.

  9. Thanks for the advice Walter. I decided to take the qualifaction after the Ramsey tackle – it’s easy to sit and moan about it, but harder to go out and do something about it. It’ll keep me fit and busy over the summer, and then I’ll just do it as and when I can afford the time alongside my studies. Should be excellent fun and a great experience!

  10. Walter

    You may be interested to learn that there is a strong call now for the new Chairman of the English FA to be ‘independent’.

    I think this is due to a perception that there are many interests which seek to promote their cause through the FA and one can only surmise that one is the selection, monitoring and promotion/demotion of particular referees.

    One hopes that all potential candidates read your article!

    I’m glad to say that I thought H. Webb had a good game last night in Madrid. I’m not qualified to judge him officially, but his season past was not his best, so let’s hope he kicks on to a good World Cup. Not including reffing the final of course, as that would mean that England would already be on the plane home!

  11. @Critic.

    Crap article.

    Wenger is getting the best out of his players.

    Players like, Viera, Henry, Pires.

    None of them are even going to play football like they did with Arsené.

    Our players, just have such potential and are so young, that we havn’t seen their best.

    It is a pity, that there are so many people you mistrust Arsené.

    Other than that.

    Great Article about the ref system.

    Does anyone know if there is a system for the Champions league ?

  12. I think the worst thing is that the people in charge can never overturn a refereeing decision. Thiago motta should definitely have been playing in the final yesterday and I think ribery’s sending off was harsh in the extreme. Yellow card imo. So really poor decisions cost 2 players the chance of playing in the biggest game of the season, and in bayern’s case maybe it cost them the chance of winning the competition.
    There are plenty of other examples. Presumably this is why evans wasnt suspended for about 5 games for his flying kick to drogba’s ribs earlier in the season. I suppose the ref saw it, and just decided not to act… (and then all the Utd players complained about the standard of refereeing AGAINST them; sorry, i just cant let it go)

  13. guys, guys, i don’t want mourinhio to come to arsenal…

    1)but he must be doing something right that’s why he is successful, 2 cl in 6 years is not a joke. He gets the best out of his players.

    2)wenger’s success came at the back of graham’s defensive work….our defense in recent time is a proof of that…

    3)wenger plays almost all players out of posn…sometime it may come good some time they look ugly…nasri was cm, tv5 left back, eboue RB….may be clichy will become our new winger…

    though idea behind it is good but…i don’t know i don’t know his mind….

  14. @critic
    “2)wenger’s success came at the back of graham’s defensive work….our defense in recent time is a proof of that…”

    What about the invincibles? Keown was a backup CB, but the rest was built on wenger’s signings and ashley cole.
    Also, when wenger first came, he added further defensive stability to the side by signing vieira and petit. The old back four of dixon, winterburn, keown and adams were of course amazing, but the addition of 2 strong centre midfielders who could tackle and play their way out of trouble improved the side defensively and must have contributed to our fantastic defensive record.
    We also played with 2 fairly defensive players in the middle during the unbeaten run, with gilberto and edu/vieira maintaining that defensive stability.
    I think this is something that has changed in recent times and has contributed to the defensive weaknesses. Last season our fullbacks had very little protection, and really we currently have only one CM who is very good defensively. Diaby is rapidly catching up however and Im confident that denilson will eventually become a solid, consistent CM as well. There’s also the height issue of our more recent CB signings.
    Anyway, you can blame wenger for the recent problems, but its incorrect to say he cant build a strong defensive side. He converted Lauren to one of the league’s top fullbacks, brought ashley cole through, bought in the league’s best CB for free and kolo toure, one of the best all-round footballers around, for not much more.

  15. Critic
    There is at least one player he (Moaninho) did not get the best out of — Robben —
    all the best Dave

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