For 90 minutes in football there is one person who ultimately wields power on the field of play. Week in week out players and managers alike will contest refereeing decisions, whilst fans lining the touchlines up and down the country will play their part in questioning the integrity of the modern day referee. However, when all is said and done there is only one opinion on the field of play that counts and that belongs to the person in black. So why is it that the voice of the referee is diminished as soon as the whistle blows? This column will look to analyse the problems facing the beautiful game at grass roots level from the perspective of the so often ostracised referees. Furthermore, I hope the columns to follow will chart the progress of one referee in Surrey and his attempts to reach the pinnacle of this testing profession.
Common sense in football is often at a premium. How often do we see players committing reckless challenges whilst already walking the tightrope of a caution? Players seem happy to talk themselves into bookings knowing full well that any dissent will neither change the referee’s mind nor come without financial consequences. Common sense is a rare commodity in the modern game. However, a reflection on last weekend’s round of games raised the question as to whether common sense can go hand in hand with refereeing. The argument exists that referees are perhaps too robotic, purely following a strict set of rules and ensuring they never stray from the stated guidelines. Whilst the refereeing powers that be may argue otherwise, I believe there is a place for common sense in the refereeing handbook.
Take a scenario from a fixture in yesterday’s Surrey Primary League. To set the scene, the sun was beating down, a sight all too unfamiliar for the British public in early October. The opposition played a dangerous ball over the top of the home defence which appeared to be easily gathered by the goalkeeper in question. However, with the onrushing keeper struggling to see in the blinding October sunshine he picked the ball up, unaware that he was standing just outside the penalty area. Immediately cries rang out from the opposition fans and the yellow and red cards sitting comfortably in my pocket suddenly sensed they could be getting their first appearance of the day. However, after taking time to think I realised the keeper had made a genuine error whilst struggling to combat the effects of the blinding sun. The on rushing striker had little chance of reaching the dangerous through ball and to claim the keeper had denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity would simply be wrong. Common sense was applied, the opposition was awarded a free kick in a menacing area and whilst the keeper was given a stern talking too, an early bath was spared.
The home team went on to edge a narrow 2-0 victory to upset the current league table. Immediately after the game I was confronted with that dreaded sight of an opposing fan marching over towards me, presumably to vent his frustration. However, the conversation that ensued was far different to what I expected. I explained my thought processes behind my decisions and described my application of common sense to the situation regarding the home team goalkeeper. In return I expected a barrage of abuse. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The fan respected my opinion and seemed happy with the manner in which I reached my decision.
My experience from Sunday’s match has truly led me to believe that there is room for common sense and accountability in the modern game. Undoubtedly, the rules of the game need to be enforced by the referee. However, this does not mean referees should leave common sense in the changing rooms. Referees do not need to be the villains in the modern game. If referees took time to explain key decisions at the top level I am sure this would bridge the widening gap between supporters and officials. A personal conversation with a Premier League referee enlightened me to the Referee Association’s unwillingness to allow top level referees to explain decisions to the national media. Referees across the country have a loud enough voice on the pitch; surely it is about time this voice was allowed to bellow off the pitch as well.