There is maybe an even bigger problem than referee errors in football – part 1

By Walter Broeckx

What seemed impossible and what was laughed away by some when I first wrote about it on Untold is coming closer. Yes video refereeing is more and more likely to become a reality in a few seasons. To be honest it should have been here already but I accept that this takes time. I remember being laughed away by a top class referee in Belgium some 10 years ago. He didn’t need any assistance was his arrogant answer at the time. A few months ago he send off the wrong player in a case of mistaken identity. A video ref surely would have saved him some blushing. He then stopped his career on the field and will now work for our FA to help the refs. Oh yes in Belgium they also are working hard to bring in the video ref. He will know what to do now…and why it is needed.

Now introducing a video ref will cost some money. As you need another referee to sit in the TV studio who can look at the incidents. They estimate that the cost in Belgium will be around 1,5M euro. That is roughly £ 1.279.800 according to my online programme. In a league where they have so much money flowing around you can buy half a leg of a player for that amount it is peanuts. So money can be no excuse to hold it back in the PL.

So on the day it arrives I will be crowing around a bit telling everyone that I was in favour of the idea long before it was even talked about. But I bet my money on it that the first “victim” of a video ref decision will be Arsenal. That is how those things can go.

BUT that would be no real problem for me. Because I have said on so many occasions that I don’t want Arsenal to win in a bad way. Yes, I do want them to win but it gives me a bad taste in the mouth such a win. When my son texted me that Koscielny was offside when he was fouled it made the level of joy drop a few points on my joy scale. Later when I saw the whole picture of Moss I could accept and enjoy the win more. But reality is I want us to win but… fair and square.

But when it comes to winning fair and square there is not just the ref possibly at fault. The ref might have a bad day, he might be biased,  he might be just bought… but that is only one side of the story. The other part I will take on now and in fact I think that the video ref might be the long term answer to his other problem I have with football.

If for the sake of it we will accept that all refs are really 100% honest, have no bias whatsoever and are real gentleman. Okay… but for the sake of it, just try for the length of this article.

Because the way players behave it is very, very difficult to make correct calls for such a referee. Is it the fault of the referee that he falls for a dive in the penalty area? In a way not. It is the fault of the player that tries to con the referee. We mostly put blame on the referee (and so do we in the referee reviews) but the person who should be on trial when a player dives and wins a penalty is… the player.

And we know that some players have become real experts in falling down as if been shot in the penalty area. Players tripping themselves up in a wood of legs, difficult to see for the ref. But some players have no honour and selfrespect and will do anything to win a game of football.  Including diving, kicking an opponent and whatever that is not allowed.

Some players have no honesty at all. They cheat, lie, pull, punch, … all because they are having the “right spirit” as the pundits will say.

If we compare football with other sports I sadly have to admit that football is a terrible sport.  The level of cheating is amazing. Now I am not an expert in lots of other sports but it seems to me that in other sports there is a great emphasis on not just winning but also on winning in the right way.  I have (I don’t see it a lot so could have missed it) never seen rugby teams running up to referees in packs in order to tell him what an idiot he is. There isn’t a football match or this happens umpteen times.

Do we have to accept this? Of course not. Because we assumed refs would be honest for this article and so if he makes on honest mistake there is no need to rub his nose in it. Just get on with the game. A video ref might correct him if it was for a penalty foul or a ball crossing the goal line or not.

I have watched some hockey on the last Olympics and the way the refs do their job and work with the video ref that already exists in hockey was a real eye opener to me.  But in hockey that is a real gentleman’s sport in my opinion  and even in Rugby they seem to have embraced the notion of wining fair and square. And let’s admit it when you see them clashing and coming together you wouldn’t bring rugby and fair play together in one sentence. And yet it looks like that to me. I don’t know the rules of Rugby enough to recognise any cheating but it sure doesn’t look like cheating to me.

But in football that was once called  a sport for gentleman (compared to rugby) we see cheating in each and every match. And that is not the fault of the ref of course.

Somehow in football (and some will call me an old fashion romantic for this) we lost our sense of fair play and honesty. Because we must and need to win. At all expenses. At all costs. Even if it would take the live of another player, some players will not hesitate to make that foul just to make sure they win the match.

Isn’t that a disgusting way of practicing a sport? Humans can behave badly and surely it seems that football players are very good at behaving very badly.

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23 Replies to “There is maybe an even bigger problem than referee errors in football – part 1”

  1. I am glad that you mention John Moss as according to Soccerbase statistics he has refereed 24 games this year and produced a red card on just three occasions . Once for Nolito , headbutt late on in a game , and of course Granit Xhaka twice for tackles. Yesterday he refereed the Swansea v Leicester game where Robert Huth went into a two footed tackle with Carroll where the ball was totally ignored and Jack Cork brought down Mahrez as he was breaking away . Both these instances were far worse than the 2 Xhaka tackles but warranted just a yellow card. This is the sort of bias that frustrates and needs to be addressed and I am not sure a video referee would make up for this inconsistency.

  2. Should the first decision be against Arsenal would be no problem if the same situations were treated identically in every match. That of course would be Utopia .
    Players cheating ? You cite Rugby as an example of referee respect , but they use their videos for retrospective justice even if the officials miss or see things during the match. The current situation allows confrontation to be avoided by merely stating that the referee saw something and chose to not penalise those involved. If they use the system both during the game and after it should help but I still think that the prejudices will remain.

  3. I agree that players who cheat (and by extension, their managers) should be blamed. However, this behaviour is tolerated by the media, as “professional”, “using all their experience”, “buying the foul”. Pundits like Redknapp praise Chelsea for fouling opponents as part of “game management” and criticise Arsenal for not resorting to this and “letting opponents play”.

    The exception, of course, is whenever there is the slightest suspicion that an Arsenal player might have “gone down too easily”.- then there is a media witch-hunt calling for lengthy bans – eg as in the Eduardo incident.

  4. Walter,
    This observation is quite apt and if the footballing world continues to ignore it – indecent player behavior will gradually become the acceptable norm. It should not. Take boxing for instance, its laws forbids hitting below the belt, you are not allowed to hit an opponent when the bell has been rung to end a bout etc. The referee/umpire and judges all watch out for playing according to the rules of the game and I don’t see why football should be any different.

    I am afraid it seems not to be the case not only in the EPL but almost every where else perhaps in varying degrees. You need not look far to see why this has persisted, look at FIFA, how it is run, look at the various FAs around the globe. Getting into an FA in most countries is seen as a lucrative appointment to the gravy train. If the head is rotten the rest of the fish will hardly be fit for consumption.

    A clean up in football administration would in my view be the right place to start, if that will happen or not is a long shot. It is like working at banishing indecent dressing by a woman desperate for a rich catch for a husband. Nations invest so much material and emotional resources into winning soccer matches. National pride and egos are badly bruised when teams loose what is seen as a winnable soccer match.

    Reactions from supporters are highly emotional and reactive, often devoid of a sense of perspective and that the world has not come to an end simply because the team you support has lost a match. The usual remedies to ‘sort things out’ is a resort to brigandage and unfair play to avoid that sense of loss in future football games. If football administrators start to come down hard on offenders in a fair and equitable manner there will be hope. I am not holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon unless FIFA and the FAs around the globe are also committed to fair play in every sense.

  5. Very good article Walter.

    There are so many examples of “cheating” that to list all the possibilities would result in a PhD Research paper.
    Perhaps, there is a requirement to prioritise the “seriousness” of offences, but would that necessarily mean that causing or attempting to cause Injury, is any worse than causing or attempting to cheat?

    Is diving, not as bad as betting on matches, for example? Are the outcomes not the same? Both involve influence on the outcome of the game.

    Perhaps, instead of a whistle, we should give referees a rifle? Serious foul? Bang! Cheating? Bang. Maybe a pistol for Mike Dean, who may have difficulty shooting himself with a rifle.

    On a serious note, sadly, if we are to believe that video referees will produce a level playing field, then the rules and their administration urgently need a massive overhaul.

  6. It’s going to be very hard to distinguish intent from non-intent, so a foul should be a foul regardless. And also do away with warnings. Yellow, yellow, red that’s enough. Warnings allow players to get off unpunished for the first foul. Ditch that.

    Video ref will probably be just another tool that they use to manipulate, the problem is the officials and their masters, and some ambiguous rules.

  7. The Laws are sufficient & together with the advice to officials are more than adequate to ensure a sporting game. The human addition to these is where the issues begin. Each one added bends something (like the game Chinese whispers) & eventually there is no sport any more.

    Officiating must be democratic,open, transparent & responsible to some elected body. The FA in itself is an absolute sham. It does not represent society in its entirety but represents the corrupt levels in Banking, Insider stock trading & the like. It has nothing to do with democracy or patriotism. It is plain controlled nepotistic corruption. The positions should not have a term longer than 2 three year stints to ensure no complacency.

  8. There was a recent report or comment describing the make up of the FA – Can someone please point me to it? Thanks

  9. Well said, Walter. Trouble is, as long as cheating – by some players and some teams – is praised by the pundits and rewarded by the referees, it will continue. It is obvious that some managers over the years have positively encouraged it. Where so much money is showered on a sport, corruption of all kinds will follow.

    Hopefully video assistance will make it a bit harder.

  10. Menace

    There’s a fair amount of information out there now about FA membership. The House of Commons committee looked into it, proposed reform…….

    From the BBC ”Figures show that, of the FA Council’s 122 members:

    12 are aged over 80
    92 are aged over 60
    Eight are women
    Four are from ethnic minority backgrounds”

    Riley will share their vision of football. The refs will present that vision. The FA will applaud Riley and his men for presenting a vision of football that looks like the football they grew up with.

    With video technology there is the hope the player becomes the most important person on the pitch. The player can then set the standard as a professional.

    In truth, nobody knows. Before Brexit you could go anywhere in Europe and treat it like home, always keeping an eye open for when Arsenal were playing, and where you would watch it. Now, after Brexit, nobody”s got a clue.

  11. I await the day that this comes to pass . The video ref will review and give his decision immediately while the crowd will get to see what he sees on the big screen .

    Was watching the India -Bangladesh cricket test and am impressed with the review system. The video ref or third umpire communicates his opinion loudly so that there is no doubt.
    Start slow and let it progress .Ball to hand , hand to ball as well as elbows to head will not have to be debated any longer.

    As for the tv experts , I’d recommend that they pass a basic exam on the laws of the games
    as well as go for English classes ! Half the time they seem to be swallowing their words, or are they choking on it when it doesn’t go to script ?

  12. It’s true you don’t get players crowding the ref in rugby, but in football you don’t see regular examples of punching, stamping, butting and – the crème de la crème – gouging. Rugby is a simply dreadful sport; a Neanderthal run-around involving very little skill (other than the kickers, how ironic) that’s only a couple of evolutionary rungs up the ladder from British Bulldog.

  13. In terms of simulation to draw penalties (and cards), I agree it isn’t easy for the referee to determine at the moment that a player has simulated or not. And while video will help, I still can see players being coached into how to do this for the benefit of the video referee.

    If a player is faking serious injury, and 2 minutes later is prancing around with no apparent injury, simulation can be safely assumed and dealt with. I would suggest a card for unsporting conduct at the earliest opportunity upon noticing this, hopefully by The (sweet) FA issuing a ban after the game’s conclusion.

    What may help, is instead of having a goal scored from a penalty count as 1 goal, to have it count as 0.999 goals. If a game ends as 1-1, but is really 1-0.999, we still have a winner/loser and not a tie.

    It is not necessarily that rugby (officiating) has to be held in high esteem, it is that it is held in high esteem relative to what the PGMO does.

  14. OT: Xhaka abuse charges

    A blurb in the medja, so take with a grain of salt. But apparently those charges have been dropped.

  15. OT: Relegation battle

    Given last season, there is no reason to think that the impossible can’t happen.

    But there are 5 teams nominally at 21 points (to be slightly generous to most of them). With 13 games remaining, it is highly unlikely that any of them will acquire more than 12 points in the remaining games, which is not quite averaging 1 point per game.

    That is, if these teams continue to perform as they have been performing. If somehow they make a revolutionary change in performance, all bets are off.

    Last season the officials showed that a single team can perform far beyond expectations. How many more than 1 team can do so?

  16. @Flares
    Stamping, butting and gouging especially are rare in professional rugby because video is used if there is doubt or suspicion of foul play. To say that rugby isn’t skilful is to not understand the game. I think the main point for rugby is that the ref is truly in charge and very very rarely challenged.

  17. Here’s a law from the Australian Football League, That’s Aussie Rules, a highly physical contact sport:

    These Laws explain how a Match of Australian Football is played and seek to
    attain the following objectives:
    (a) to ensure that the game of Australian Football is played in a fair manner and a spirit of true sportsmanship; and
    (b) to prevent injuries to Players participating in a Match so far as this objective can be reasonably achieved in circumstances where Australian Football is a body contact sport

    19.2.2 Specific Offences
    Any of the following types of conduct is a Reportable Offence:
    (a) intentionally or carelessly;
    (i) striking another person (using the hand or arm)

    Can we assume from this and recent events, that English referee’s have no need to prevent injuries to players playing in a match, and that there is NO equivalent to AFL Law 19.2.2.a.i in the FA Rules of the game manual?

    Sometime soon, VERY soon, a player is going to charge the FA and PGMO with negligence, and sue for millions.

    BTW, any offence that is “Reportable” requires the player to attend a tribunal to decide on guilt and penalty.

  18. Zedsaunt

    I will second Menace’s sentiments. Thank you.


    I think I just about have all the data I need to start with 1994/95. But, one referee on the list (so far) started at Dover (which is the east coast of England) and later in his career is listed as Cornwall, which is the west coast of England. Sorry, I am implying the south coast of England in this, one is the east end of the south coast and the other is the west end of the south coast.

    Can I just assume the N-S discrimination issue is all that is at play (they are both south), or is there something else attached to Cornwall? And is Cornwall regarded as sort of like Wales, or not at all like Wales?

    I am a materials person by education. I just know of Cornwall as a source of tin (mining). And I’ve since learned there is where things like meat pies became useful (how to take lunch to work).

  19. Walter – you have obviously never followed the NHL… Nepotism in the refereeing ranks a few years ago. Not so obviously bad now, but there are definitely teams favoured to win, or at least go far in the real (playoff) season…

    and check out the history of officiating in the NBA.

    Finally, video referee is a help, but far less useful than some other measures would be, that you have mentioned several times — like an adequate number of referees, proper rotation/randomization, post-game reviews and retrospective cards for diving and other egregious fouls, with transparent, published reasoning.

    All would go further, IMO, to improving the game and protecting players, without impacting game flow.

  20. The principle goals of any competent official are as follows, in order of importance;

    1)to apply the letter and spirit of the Laws in order to ensure that the game is played fairly and equitably, particularly focusing on preventing/punishing cheating, serious foul and dangerous conduct and violent behaviour .
    2)to apply the Laws in a firm but fair manner in order to protect players from serious injury or abuse.
    3)ideally to ensure that the game can be played in its entirety and that all 22 players on the field can finish the game without major incidents or hindrances, when possible.
    4)to attempt to promote competition that is both entertaining, enjoyable to watch, sportsmanlike and that respects the integrity, fair-spirit and discipline inherent in the game.
    5)to avoid influencing the game in any unnecessary manner,either consciously or subconsciously for one or the other side, and to remain as secondary to the play as possible, without ignoring the proper application of all the Laws or the importance of the official’s presence when and if needed.

    These and other essential requirements are taught to all officials at some time in their careers and the best of the best have mastered them to perfection. The remainder need to be reminded of them regularly and a few never master them at all.

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