Saturday, September 30, 2006


Bewildered and bothered followers of our national league have used up much lungpower lately on the bugbear that is the quality, or lack thereof, of our match officials. This is hardly a new problem; after all, shouting at the man in the middle is a spectator sport, a part of the game in which we indulged from an early age on the sidelines.

Indeed, in my formative footballing years I believed the match official was known as a 'blind b*****d'- seeing one of my teammates being booked for calling him such led me to question the veracity of my belief. Football has moved on since the days of rain sodden balls [ DON'T !], and heavy cotton jerseys.

We now have super light, mobile balls - well I do anyway. We have kit which wicks perspiration away from the body, boots which improve contact with the ball, plasticised grass - better playing surfaces generally- high tech fitness techniques and concepts - prehydration and post match refuelling - dedicated sports drinks of the non alcoholic variety. The list is ended.

Where have the refereeing sorority been in all of this? Well they have brightly coloured whistles. A selection of attractive outfits which they can mix and match to complement the colours of the teams for whom they officiate. Digital boards for substitutions, coloured cards and a fourth official to keep Paul Hegarty in the dug out.

The greatest change of all has been the glut of live footie on TV. From barstoolers to season ticket holders we all are up to our nosehairs in live football. For eL fans this season has been unprecedented. While there's not the camera saturation of the colossus that is Sky Sports, there are action replays and slo-mos which highlight any decision taken by the man in cerise.

Of course match regulars will have often felt the glow of ignominy when proven wrong in their judgement of an incident, post match, by an all seeing camera angle. It brings sharply into focus the difficult job of a referee. Goals are widely regarded as the result of human error or human inspiration. So we accept as a feature of the game that mistakes are made by players, and they often have a profound effect on the outcome. Managers too make errors of selection and substitution. Board members also; life is riddled with mistakes - but a mistake usually incurs a consequence.

Referees do answer to a higher power; but not in a very public way; they don't explain their thinking on controversial instances; they don't do interviews. But very recently refereeeing overlord Pat Kelly, sire of Alan 'where's my mirror' Kelly, was moved to comment that ' there have been some major foul ups and bad calls in the last month or so and we just couldn't sit idly by and let things go'.

So, things must be really bad then. Desperate times call for what..., class? Is anybody paying attention...?

The answer is help. Well done geeky kid! We need to help our officials before our game comes crashing down around our rears. Why doesn't the eL seize the opportunity to try out new technologies. We'd have to do it for a full season. Let's stick the 4th official into a box with a TV link, it's done in rugby already. Contoversies can be referred to the official , who could wear any colour that he or she fancies, and can be ruled upon with immediacy. A simple communication link between the 4 officials would improve official intercourse and cut down on the time wasted deciding on the post match take away.

We'll never eradicate errors in the game refereeing or otherwise- we can attempt to minimise them though. We can introduce post match reviews as a matter of course so that some level of justice can be attained. Obviously if a player scores a winning goal and is, postmatch, adjudged to merit a 2nd yellow card we can't have the game replayed - the league would never be completed. But it would be an improvement on the current status.

As professionalism seeps slowly uphill into our game, questions must be asked in relation to physical fitness. If the officials are dealing with fitter, faster players they need to be fitter and faster to keep up. It's all about instant decisions, and there are thousands of them made by spectators at games every weekend. Every decision a ref makes is feted with abuse and stunted appreciation in equal parts; his is the only opinion that counts.

Only after we've given them every aid can we give the persistently ropey ones their cards. Support your local ref!

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