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Referees now under attack from ex-refs!

Over the past few years, the Football Association has been strongly pushing its ‘Respect’ campaign, designed to “address unacceptable behaviour in football”.

football on pitch in stadium

Although its precise goals cover a wider area, the main thrust of the campaign is about respect towards officials, amongst a widespread belief that the levels of abuse suffered by referees has become unacceptable.

The FA’s statistics at the time of the launch were interesting. 98% of grassroots referees had been verbally abused from the touchlines – sad but not surprising – which meant 5,000 match officials quit the game in the season before its launch, “with spectator abuse cited as the main reason for dropping out”.

Even more interestingly, however, one in three matches in England took place without a qualified match official, a surprisingly high number. Even at amateur level, qualified referees should surely be considered a prerequisite.

It’s particularly frustrating, then, that over the past year, referees are suffering from a new source of criticism – their own colleagues. Now accustomed to abuse from the stands, dissent from players, and criticism from managers who have watched replays from multiple angles before deciding a decision was incorrect, referees themselves are turning on their own. It’s hardly helping the campaign.

Referees, of course, should not be beyond criticism. Individual decisions will always be scrutinised, while a more general discussion of the Laws of the Game will help football evolve and occasionally introduce reformed laws. In the past couple of years, football has realised that officials need help judging whether a ball has crossed the goalline, and help keeping back defensive walls ten yards. These innovations have arrived following debate about refereeing.

Less understandable, however, is personal criticism of referees. A creeping theme in football is discussion of a team’s results when being refereed by a certain individual – “Arsenal haven’t won in their last four matches refereed by Mark Clattenburg,” which, at best, is a frustratingly simplistic way to view football, and at worst accuses referees of bias.

The personal criticism is now coming from ex-officials. Mark Halsey, who had a brief, unsuccessful stint as a BT Sport commentator last season, says the decision to award this season’s FA Cup final to Jon Moss is “a joke”. “Seriously, Jon Moss at Wembley? I can’t be having that. He’s made too many high profile mistakes this season already,” he said on social networking site Kicca ( Even if his other comments are correct, it’s hardly the most respectful approach towards Moss, one of his ex-colleagues.

Keith Hackett, who enjoyed a fine career as a referee, than a referee’s assessor, before becoming head of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (effectively in charge of refereeing standards) has become the biggest culprit. Rather than using his status, helped by his assistance in the excellent ‘You Are The Ref’ column for decades, purely to further discussion of the game, increasingly Hackett is interested in calling out individuals.

A pre-season review of the Premier League’s officials became peculiarly spiteful. Phil Dowd “started off last season surprising everyone in the game with his weight loss, but we saw that appear to creep back on as the season progressed,” Hackett said. “He needs to be kept busy with games.” Supporters will be delighted they can sing ‘you fat bastard’ with the approval of Hackett.

Meanwhile, Hackett is “less than impressed” by Neil Swarbrick’s fitness, while Mike Jones “needs a kick up the rear”. In 2009, Sir Alex Ferguson was handed a two-game ban for suggesting Alan Wiley was “unfit”. Now, ex-referees are now committing offences the FA would ban managers for.

Midway through the season, Hackett said the “the current group of professional referees is the worst that we have seen,” and called for five individuals to be removed.

Hackett’s latest blog is particularly bizarre, a long diatribe against David Elleray, now the chairman of the FA referees committee, in which he blames some form of personal dislike for Mark Clattenburg not being awarded the FA Cup final.

Hackett closes by arguing that Clattenburg is the best referee in the country, but because he hasn’t been awarded the FA Cup final, he should leave the Premier League for the MLS. Alternatively, Hackett argues, should Clattenburg desire to stay in England for family reasons, he should refuse any other FA appointments (which, of course, seems somewhat counter-productive if the very complaint is that he hasn’t been awarded the FA Cup final).

It’s, quite obviously, not very helpful in general. If, as Hackett argues, refereeing standards are at an all-time low, the loss of our best official isn’t likely to help.

A previous blog post called for Howard Webb, now in charge of Premier League referees, to “retire Mr Foy and Mr Dowd”, advised that “Mr Mason and Mr Jones should be removed from the Select Group,” and further suggested that “Mr Marriner’s fitness needs to improve and you need to work on his decision-making.”

Laughably, that blog finished with Hackett telling Webb he should “get off the media van and get into the referees dressing rooms, offering them your advice and support”. Get off the media van and provide more support? Hackett might consider following his own advice.

April 22nd, 2015 by Michael Cox

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