For as long I can remember referees have been at the forefront of any football debate/argument. Did he make the right call? Where’s the consistency? Does he need technology to help him? Football fans and pundits alike all have their views but it seems the managers are the most critical of referees.
Recently we saw Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho vent his anger towards Premier League referee Martin Atkinson. He blamed Atkinson for not giving Burnley striker Ashley Barnes a red card for a challenge on Blues midfielder Nemanja Matic, who reacted violently to the challenge and was given his marching orders, giving Burnley the advantage in the match. In the post-match analysis Atkinson found himself the focus of criticism from not only the Chelsea boss but the entire team, fans and pundits who described his decision as “inconsistent”.
As any regular viewer of Match of the Day would know, it’s certainly a common post-match reaction from managers and players, who often face disciplinary action for their comments. So is the line being crossed by managers and players? Are we doing enough to help the current crop of referees? Are we discouraging future referees from the game?
We spoke to former football league referee Ray Barlow, now the Referee Appointment Secretary for the Staffordshire County League, to find out whether future referees are still coming through and whether the manager–referee sparring match has changed since his refereeing days of the 1980s.
“There are still a large amount of youngsters that come into the game at grass roots level and progress under the guidance of the leagues such as the Staffordshire County League,” Barlow said. Whilst the production room for the future is still very much active, Barlow believes today’s youngsters are rushing their development and missing crucial aspects of becoming a professional referee: “A number of youngsters are impatient and try to fast track their ability as rookie referees into becoming an experienced referee within a few seasons. Refereeing is an experience situation that can not be fast–tracked.”
Despite the numbers of referees entering the game at the grass roots level remaining steady, the relationship between managers and match officials remains as fractious as ever: “The relationship between managers and referees is in my opinion as it as always been. Managers will vent their anger when a decision goes against their team,” Barlow said.
He added, “I do think that with the pressures of the media and the amount of camera’s at football grounds that this has put more pressure on the officials in making the correct decision.”
So as the modern game evolves and technology continues to improve, are referees going to become obsolete? Recently the Premier League saw the introduction of goal line technology which has been an overwhelming success but do referee’s need more technology to help aid their decision?
Ray believes that the introduction of goal line technology is a good thing but it should remain at that: “Football should always be judged by the human element. This is what gives it the different opinions of all involved. Technology would take that part of the game away and make the game predictable, however I do feel that in certain aspects that the technology could be used (goal line incidents).”
Whilst other sports such as rugby, golf and tennis have seen their decision–making dramatically redeveloped by technology for the better, it could be damaging to introduce the same forms into football. Whilst some may argue that it would have its benefits, I believe along with Ray, that football needs to be judged by the human element. If football did follow down the same pathway as the other sports, the game would be losing its DNA, it’s base structure.
Nevertheless the question remains, is their too much hostility between managers and referees? The evidence suggests it’s remained at the same level for decades but has become more recently intensified through the media and the fans’ desire. Yet despite the onslaught that referees often receive, the development and continuation of future referees remains to prosper. So whilst Mourinho, Dyche and fellow managers continue to ‘throw the toys out the pram’ over decisions, referees will remain to govern and control the game by their own decision.