Could football learn a thing of two from the way games are refereed in rugby?

By Tony Attwood

Untold has a number of correspondents from around the country, and indeed from outside the UK, who regularly feed in thoughts and ideas relating to the issues that we cover on the site, and this week brought in an email on the topic of the way refereeing is undertaken in the Premier League in comparison with refereeing other team games.  In particular rugby union.

Now I must admit I’m not much of a rugby fan – I have been to matches at Leicester and Northampton, but the game doesn’t really grab me.   So I’ve just had a chat with a friend who is a season ticket holder at Northampton Saints on the issue of the way rugby union is refereed.

And I must say it does sound rather attractive – not in every detail of course, but still I think there is a lot there that might be implemented in football.

The first thing to say is that they have video referees in rugby union, and the video replays organised by the Television Match Official (TMO) are shown on the screens in the ground as the referee looks at them, so all spectators can see that things are properly considered.

This obviously helps enormously as a base point since it keeps the referee on the right side of the rule book.  Such an approach in football would mean that within 15 minutes in many matches the TMO would be saying to the referee that he was wrong on so many occasions that either the ref would hand himself in for replacement, or following the TMO’s match report he would never referee again.  But hopefully some of them would be able to have retraining before the season began.

Also if the television match official spots something he thinks is not right, he can speak at once to the referee and bring it to his attention.  The referee can ignore him, but of course this could lead to repercussions later.

Now obviously such a system would be no good if the higher authority remained the PGMO, but for the moment we have to imagine a time when the PGMO had been consigned to the black hole of history, and a more sensible approach to refereeing has been instigated.

So on the basis that between them the referee and the TMO run the game properly, from this point on rugby union has a rule to the effect that players do not criticise the referee.  Thus not only is there no group surrounding of the referee there is in fact no talking to the referee other than by the captain.  The captain can politely ask the referee to explain a decision, but as I understand it, that is about as far as it goes.

In such a case I believe the player is not demanding that the referee should change his mind, but rather asking why a decision was given.

As for anyone else, a comment or gesture towards the referee, results in either a period of ten minutes in the sin-bin or else the movement of the ball 10 yards forward.   The 10 yard rule might well not be applicable in football, but certainly 10 minutes off the field of play could be a handy way for dealing with a player who questions a referee.

As we know, in football the reality is that the referee virtually never changes his mind even when hounded by players – which means that the players who either individually or in gangs, go running around the referee and waving arms about, are just doing it to intimidate the referee in terms of future decisions, rather than to get a wrong decision changed.

I have heard it argued when this has been brought up before, that such a rule in football would mean that each game would end up with six players on each side, but I think this is ludicrous.  All that would need to happen is for the referees to use the new set of rules in pre-season games and for the players to be warned thoroughly that the rules will be implemented, and then, after the first couple of sending offs to the sin-bin, order would be restored.  Any captain worthy of the name would quickly say, “look, we are now down to nine players, everyone stay under control and do not question the ref.”  No one surely is bonkers enough to allow the team to go down to eight or seven players, even for a few minutes.

Some maniac hot heads would of course push their luck, not because they choose to deliberately, but because they can’t help themselves, and this would see the value of certain players drop very quickly, but clubs would soon learn not to buy players who simply cannot control themselves.  We only have to think of the two Preston players being sent off (highlighted in the match preview) to realise that for some players, sanity is a foreign country.   But for the vast majority, sense will quickly prevail.

Thus instead of maniacs like Shawcross having a value in football, they would quickly become pariahs, rapidly removed from the game once and for all.

So I stress the point, the idea of sin-bins for dissent would quickly bring players to their senses.  Combined with the TMO approach it would give us a chance to have proper games of football, without any bias.

The sort of marauding gangs that some teams utilise to argue with the ref could result in them losing four players at once, giving the opposition a chance to knock in a goal or two as punishment for abusing the position of the referee, which could be quite entertaining in itself.

I know PGMO would never agree to such a change, but Uefa could act.  Although given that they are still handing out fines of just £25,000 for wholesale racial abuse, while Fifa ican have fans locked up in prison for three days for wearing the wrong t-shirt, I am not suggesting that this sort of change will happen.  Only that it is one possible solution.

In fact I guess what I am saying is, is that that solution is out there, and thus there is no excuse for the bad refereeing that we have.

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13 Replies to “Could football learn a thing of two from the way games are refereed in rugby?”

  1. Radio 5 Live spent 20 minutes pre the Spuds game this afternoon analysing refereeing in general – and Mike Dean in particular – with the help of Mark Halsey. Although Riley wasn’t named it was obvious that he was the target of Halsey’s ire. Halsey was also interviewed by Danny Baker on the same station yesterday morning. Good to hear that he is back on air – and I guess his issues with PGMOL have not yet been resolved.

    Halsey also said that he wouldn’t blame Clattenburg if he went to China as “there is no love lost between FA, the PGMOL and Clatternburg”.

    Worth a listen if you can find it on Radioplayer. Good to see that poor refereeing is rising up the media agenda.

  2. Professional Football officials ,in the majority, and FIFA ones as well desperately want video refereeing to be successful. From what I’ve read on various referee sites and forums, they also like the idea of a penalty bin which would replace minor offenses yellow cards, or supplement them. In Québec-Canada,where we were allowed only 3 substitutes per match, I was able (because players can be substituted and allowed to return to the match)on occasion to ask the manager or coach to take a player off,substitute him or her,calm him/her down and then allow him/her to return to play,and this often worked very well.

    The spirit of the Laws seeks to permit both teams ,where possible, to finish the game with all 11 players in good health and on the field and not to be punished,where possible, if they play well,safely and honestly. Sin bins and video reviews would go a long way to ensuring this.

  3. OT: Middlesbrough FA Cup

    Congratulations to Calum Chambers and Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough open there scoring in the 58th minute, and within about 1 minute had a man sent off (straight red) against Wednesday. Middlesbrough went on to score another 2 goals and keep a clean sheet. Calum played the 90.

  4. OMG your last paragraph I think sums up what every truly decent supporter likes to see , 11 players on each side finishing the game .
    Of course it goes without saying that there are laws and rules which must be adhered to , and players who fail to heed warnings and act stupidly have to walk . But this obsession with some who would love to send off countless numbers of players is frankly counter productive and is more likely to turn supporters away .
    Football has always been slow to make changes but they will come I’m sure , just when is anybody’s guess .

  5. Ozil said his contract renewal depends on Mr Wenger’s. He also told Henry to f..k off, in a polite way. 🙂

  6. Thanks Tony. Very good article.
    Football has a lot to learn from rugby.
    At least football has managed to successfully copy from tennis the use of goal-line technology.

  7. OT.
    Although Arsenal have been reported by the Sky football sources to have denied submitting a bid for Andrea Belotti, a striker at Torino fc in Italy. But the way the rumour of Arsenal the bid for Belotti has gathered strength in the media’s January transfer rumour news publication and have been circulating around suggests there could be an element of truth in the rumour.

    The only out and out striker at Arsenal is Olivier Giroud. The rest of Sanchez and Perez are convertee strikers but are effective in particular Sanchez in that role.

    I am not against Arsenal to sign Belloti during this January transfer widow. I am totally in support of his signing by Arsenal but they should do it in time. If necessary let the transfer be completed before Arsenal take on Swansea City at Liberty Stadium this weekend. Because time is of the essence in completing a transfer deal and have the player transferred ready for immediate action on the field of play.

    Torino have been reported to have inserted a release clause of £86m into Belloti’s contract deal but Arsenal have offered them £56m to have him and Torino were said to have refused the offer as been not to their own valuation fee for Belotti according to reports.

    Now, I want Arsenal to investigate if actually the £86m activating release clause had been inserted into Belotti’s contract deal before Arsenal submitted their bid for him. Because Belloti if not that very well known until Arsenal have been linked with him as he’s relatively unheard off as a hot top transfer target in football circle. Or it could be Torino are clever in inserting the £86m release clause into Belloti’s contract deal a fresh after Arsenal submitted their bid for him so as to rip Arsenal off of some of their money in excess of transfer fee.

    However, if it’s true the release clause of £86m had been there in Belotti’s contract deal before Arsenal submitted their bidding for him and Arsenal want to have him now to enhance their results in their PL & CL campaign this season, I will suggest to Le Prof to divide the remaining £30m to complete Torino’s asking fee by 2 and resubmmit a fresh bid of £71m for Belloti to Torino. And if they reject it, Arsenal should forget about this transfer and look elsewhere for another marquee striker signing who will not exceed the £71m mark to sign him.

  8. Rugby has evolved into the role model in ‘football’. The easiest change would be the broadcast of the radio communication between officials & players. It would immediately reduce foul language & reduce the open bias.

    Halsey has gone a little gaga with his praise of Dean, but he may know something about Deans future position. It may be time to revive the Dean petition because he has proved beyond doubt that he is a biased cheat.

  9. “There is no excuse for the bad refereeing that we have.”

    And there is no rational or reasonable explanation that could be supplied to explain the lack of such aid for the officials the in much more wealthy sport of association football as we can see in other sports these past thirty odd years:

    But the trolls they will try, bless ’em, exposing theirs and the pgMOBs lack of reasoning ability & rational thought (at best)

  10. £86 million is in the Suarez price bracket. Is Belotti as good as Suarez? Is he heck. Most people won’t have heard of him until these reports surfaced. How much of that is the agent cut? Perhaps not as much as you might think. Plenty of cash-hungry agents around but we’re starting to see even more naked greed from club owners/chairmen, trying to fleece big clubs for players who haven’t yet proven themselves.

  11. Noticed Dean’s rather more subtle support for Spurs in last night’s match.

    First, he was giving all the marginal decisions to Spurs (ie penalising every little Villa brush of contact and ignoring a series of Spurs fouls – until a foul was committed but the ball fell to a Villa player in a promising attacking position: therefore a clear case for playing advantage. Dean stopped play and brought Villa back to take a free kick a long way from goal. Steve Bruce was visibly and justifiably annoyed.

    Then, with Spurs finally 2-0 ahead with 10 mins left, Dean suddenly became a fair referee and awarded Villa a number of free-kicks – having waited until it was too late to matter.

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