by Tony Attwood
The perennial question: how can we make refereeing more accurate? And of course there is a whole range of answers available – at the heart of which is the obvious fact that in all human endeavours there are always mistakes. I mean, although it may seem hard to believe, Untold Arsenal itself has occasionally been known to get things wrong. Not often … well, yes, quite often. In fact, we all make mistakes.
Keith Hackett recently put forward the view to Betway that match officials would make fewer mistakes if they were fitter, saying that the referees know this and “they know full well that they’re going to have to take a fitness test laid out by FIFA at the start of the season.”
Hackett also claims that he was “pretty strict” on that during his time as PGMO general manager between 2004 and 2009. He stated recently that during his time if a referee failed the fitness test “he wouldn’t get any games, and he would only get one other chance to take it for the whole season.”
Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, except… the ability of PGMO to replace referees through a lack of fitness depends completely on them having enough referees to replace any that are dropped for fitness reasons, (or for making too many mistakes, or indeed who resign for personal reasons).
We have already seen this, in the current season with Bobby Madley, who was the ref for the Arsenal / Chelsea Community Shield game, having suddenly resigned from PGMO.
As I mentioned in the run up to the weekend’s games, that reduced PGMO to just 17 referees. As Hackett claims, any of them who are unfit would then be dropped – but with just ten referees and 30 assistants and “Fourth officials” needed each weekend, that is pushing one’s luck quite a bit with the small number PGMO have to call upon.
In his commentary Hackett mentioned that the distance run by a referee in a top match has increased by 30% on average in each match while the number of sprints is up by 50%.
Of course we have debated many times the claims by PGMO to get 98% of their decisions right, and this may be true – because PGMO don’t release detailed statistics we really can’t be sure. But with the claim, also made by PGMO, that VAR will increase the referees accuracy by another 2.5% we have the claim that referees next season (assuming they do finally join the rest of football and take on VAR rather than continuing to be the outsiders in this regard) will be more perfect than perfection itself.
That of course is nonsense, but it is a nonsense that hides the other issue – just what are the 2% of errors that PGMO officials get wrong. Just how important are they?
Hackett now no longer in the business of refereeing has admitted there is a problem saying that for referees “the end goal is to have that dynamic when, if they’re caught out of position, they can put in a two or three-metre sprint to get into a viewing position.” But he then adds, “Some of our current referees lack that, I’ll be honest.”
Hackett’s view therefore is that fitness is the key, along with having an overlord (such as he was) watching and monitoring the referees, not just in terms of the application laws of the game but also through good communication.
This, he says, he took to what some of us might seem to be extreme lengths. For example, he claims that in the days of Gascoigne, Tottenham’s notoriously talented but wild player of yesteryear, the referees noticed that when Gascoigne was a sub, he could be so fired up he would come on and pick up a yellow card within two or three minutes.
Now here I want to quote from Hackett and see if you are as amazed at this as I was on reading it…
“As a group of referees we said: ‘Right, the referee is going to run over [to the Tottenham player] as though he is checking the studs, and he’s going to run alongside Gascoigne and say: ‘Hey, Gazza, great that you’re on, amazed that you were on the bench. Now, listen, don’t do anything rash’.”
Now that is presented as “the key to refereeing,” by Hackett. To me that is blatant bias. It is up to Tottenham to manage and train their players, not the referee. The balance would be that at half time the ref, in walking off would say to Tony Adams, “Look, my left eye is weaker than my right so if you are going to do one of your fearsome last ditch tackles, do it on your right in the second half. The linesman will be looking right across the pitch and probably have his view obscured by several players and I will be far less likely to see it.”
It is these admissions by ex-referees in terms of how they manipulated the game in order to help players from certain teams that first began to make some of us aware that there was something going seriously wrong with refereeing. So it is good, at last, to see referees admitting it. But it is also frightening.
As you may know if you ever read some of the odd comments we get after one of us writes a piece about refereeing, there are a few rather strange people who believe that Untold writers think that each and every referee is constantly biased against Arsenal.
That isn’t the case, as we have said many times. Rather we say that there are a lot of things wrong with refereeing (and the Gascoigne example of helping one particular player is just one of them). The solution is of course to a small degree to up the fitness levels, but that is not the prime issue.
VAR would help as well, as Hackett says, “If you had an English team with Webb, Clattenburg or [Mark] Halsey, ex-referees who are no longer in competition, saying to Michael Oliver: ‘That’s a penalty’, Michael’s going to take it.
“It should be a team of match officials, to develop trust between them all.”
Except it is still the same old gang who apparently think it is ok to help a player from one team against the opposition.
Much, much more important is for the PGMO to increase the number of referees. Immediately the match fixing scandal in Italy broke it was realised that the way the match fixing was allowed to flourish was to a large degree because there was so few referees employed by the league.
Since then every major league has greatly enhanced the number of referees it employs – except PGMO and the Premier League who stick by their “lowest number possible to get by” approach.
A higher number of referees would not only give us more insurance against corruption, but also allow for greater cover for referees who are making mistakes, or clubbing together to help a particular player (as in the example above). As things stand, if it were discovered that a group of referees got together to help a team as in the Gascoigne example, PGMO would be unable to do anything about it because they wouldn’t have enough replacement referees to keep games going.
And that is the heart of the problem.
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