2 November ~ In the aftermath of Nani’s bizarre goal against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday we were, inevitably, treated to Alan Green et al going on and on about common sense. On 6.06 he suggested that referee Mark Clattenburg should have gone to his assistant after the goal and contrived a free-kick (by whispering to each other, brilliantly) on the basis that they’d made a mistake and needed, somehow, to put it right.

The point that is, unfortunately, missed by those who consistently bleat about the need for referees to use their common sense is that it makes their other frequently expressed desire, for consistency, utterly impossible. The laws of the game are already too subjective for referees to enforce consistently (just look at the definitions of excessive force), but adding a further, wildly subjective, element of the referee making an arbitrary decision based on some loose concept of fairness would render the game a farce.

Everyone’s idea of common sense is different, after all – Green believes that common sense dictates Clattenburg should have disallowed the goal, in spite of being “technically correct”, whereas I believe that the only sane way that referees can run the game is by applying the laws as they see them and not simply start making stuff up. We can’t both be right – indeed, it is perfectly possible that we are both wrong – so who would be the final arbiter of whether or not a referee had applied common sense appropriately?

We also see this with yellow and red cards, especially with red cards awarded for second bookable offences. The ex-pros in the commentary box or the studio will tell us all too often that the referee should use his common sense and not show a second yellow card, in spite of the offence committed. This is palpably absurd: an offence that merits a yellow card has to be treated in the same way regardless of whether or not a player has been booked. To do otherwise is to be wildly inconsistent and, essentially, unfair to the other side. The only person who should be showing some sense in these circumstances is the player who has already been cautioned, not the referee.

On Saturday evening it was not Clattenburg who failed to show any sense, it was Heurelho Gomes. One caller to 6.06 complained that the referee hadn’t waved play on and so the Spurs keeper was confused, but in the absence of a whistle from the referee he was asking for trouble in putting the ball down (in the wrong place) for a non-existent free-kick. Once he had done that then there was nothing Clattenburg could have done without seriously undermining the integrity of the game. I can understand why Tottenham fans feel aggrieved, and I would have felt the same under the same circumstances, but ultimately the person responsible was the goalkeeper, not the referee.

If we go down the path of instructing referees to use their common sense then we are opening an enormous can of worms, for even more decisions would be called into question than are now. It may well be that the laws could, or should, be revised to make them more explicit, although that would be no guarantee that players, managers or pundits would understand them, but the last thing that is required is more woolliness.

There is a certain irony in the fact that many of those who routinely criticise referees seem to think that they are incapable of making any sensible decisions, but are also keen to give them far wider, and far less defined, powers than they have at the moment. That way lies madness. James Thomson

Comments (17)
Comment by tempestinaflathat 2010-11-02 11:14:42

Personally, I don't agree that the goal was 'technically correct', because - to my eyes - an effective advantage for Spurs didn't ensue, and in accordance with Law 5, play should then have been halted and the original offence penalised.

But having spent the past few days arguing about this, the main conclusion I've reached is that Law 5 is absurd. All of it (well, nearly, not quite all), not just the bit dealing with advantages. There are so many different interpretations that I can't help but feel sorry for referees; even if no-one spoke of 'common sense', they'd still be hung out to dry for failing to understand a string of vague pointers in quite the same way as the next person.

The Laws need a thorough redefining, they need to say what is and isn't permissible, not just what the referee might want to consider, not include vague statements such as the referee waiting 'a few seconds' before deciding whether an advantage should be given. Presumably Sepp would think that this goes against the traditions and history and humanity of the game, though.

Comment by Jonny_Bananas 2010-11-02 11:48:40

Of course Sir Alex would have understood the referee's position had the referee disallowed the goal. After all, it was a sporting error by the goalkeeper and with United already a goal up it didn't affect the outcome of the game. I am sure he would have shaken the Mr Clattenburg's hand at the end of 90 minutes and congratulated him on taking a brave decision in front of the home crowd.

Comment by TheDag23 2010-11-02 12:32:11

Gomes did gain an advantage by having the ball in his hands. If a striker goes through on goal and gets fouled and the ball falls to his team mate, and he blazes the ball over, the referee doesn't bring the ball back for a foul. The advantage was that he was able to have a shot. Gomes got the advantage by having the ball in his hands, he just used it wrongly, like the striker smashing the ball over.

Referee's would like to use common sense but they just get punished for making mistakes by the FA. The FA will never change their ridiculous policies like getting booked for taking your shirt off and over celebrating by going to your clubs supporters. There are far too many farcical rules. Another problem is there are no ex footballers that go into refereeing. Ex players would have a better understanding of the game, but why would any ex player really want to go into refereeing as they'd have to start at the Amateur level like everyone else, or is there something the FA could do about this? Probably, but they won't.

Comment by Jonny_Bananas 2010-11-02 12:40:26

I can understand the thrill of scoring and ripping your shirt off, jumping into the home crowd but it is clearly in rules and is a yellow card. Particularly jumping into the crowd is an issue of crowd control and encourages fans to maybe jump over the barriers so that is understandable. What I cannot abide is a goalscorer lifting his shirt to reveal a 'Hello Mum' message on an under-shirt, pre-meditated before kick off when all players should be aware that any message (be it political or private) is technically forbidden. It may be harmless and the TV cameras love it but it just bugs me that players are stupid enough to do this!

Comment by lone striker 2010-11-02 12:48:35

James, as I understand it, you're saying referees shouldn't be allowed to use common sense because it admits an element of subjectivity into the application of the rules. But there's a huge element of subjectivity already: in playing the advantage, in judging intent with handballs, in allowing quick free kicks when opponents are within ten yards, in deciding whether an offside player is interfering with play. Madness has not, to my knowledge, ensued from any of this.

I agree with you about the second yellow card thing. There ought to be consistency there. But if we can't, as you suggest, allow common sense in situations like Saturday's, then to be consistent we'd have to banish all ambiguity. This would mean a forward could win a penalty by deliberately kicking the ball at a defender's arm. Persistent foul play would have to go unpunished, because there'd be no criteria for the point at which a yellow card could be shown. Ultimately we'd need TV replays to make sure free kicks and throw-ins were taken from the right spot. The game would be unbearable.

Comment by Jonny_Bananas 2010-11-02 13:07:23

In which case we may as well all just play the game on our play stations

Comment by Coral 2010-11-02 13:54:46

The basic problem is that there is no respect for referees what so ever which is because they are only as good as their last mistake. Name me a ref currently who isn't tarred as being useless because I am stuggling to think of one. Now either referee standards have got worse (as is the popular pundit theory) despite them being professional now, or there is much more made of mistakes than ever before. Managers have never been under such pressure nor the game under such scrutiny. There are few managers willing to praise a ref, but when they are on the recieiving end of a bad decision blaming them might just save their bacon, and the media love to rip into someone especially someone who is advised not to defend themselves after a game.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-11-02 16:57:37

James,you were right in your first paragraph.
Mark Clattenburg SHOULD have gone to his assistant after the goal and "contrived" a free-kick.
Not on the basis that they had made a mistake,but on the basis that Nani had commited handball and not been penalised.
Ok he(Clattenburg)supposedly played advantage,but none accrued,so the play could legitimately within the rules have been brought back,and the goal disallowed.
This would have fulfilled the requirements of common sense,AND,more importantly,complied with the laws of the game.
Not difficult at all in my view....

TheDag23 says that Gomez had the advantage simply by having the ball in his hands.......Not quite so...
To use his own example of the striker through on goal....,
The striker does NOT have the advantage simply by having the ball at his feet does he...?
The advantage(if any)comes from what he does with the ball(ie the shot on goal)not simply the possession of said ball.
What im saying here is that it is incorrect to say that Gomez had an advantage simply by having the ball in his hands,because he hadnt actually done anything with it.
Admittedly Gomez was naive,but the main culprit here was the referee

Comment by Coral 2010-11-02 17:04:22

We are presuming that Clattenberg was playing advantage (despite not appearing to signify this to my eye, but that is objective), and not that he just didn't give anything full stop. That said, no one has argued whether it should have actually been a penalty or not which to my eyes it was and thus there was no need to contrive a free kick because the original injustice was done.
Great stuff though, without knowing what any official said or thought the whole nation (who watch football) have had their say.

Comment by JimDavis 2010-11-02 18:31:33

The last time I saw a ref try and use common sense to keep players on the pitch for as long as possible was the World Cup Final......and the Dutch just ended up taking the piss becuase they knew Webb wanted to try and keep it 11 v 11 for as long as possible.

As for the Clattenberg incident - Why is he getting named and shamed for something which was not in his line of vision? This - like that halfway line goal is clearly the error of the assistant. It is not the fault of the ref is the assistant will not assist.

Coral asked
Name me a ref currently who isn't tarred as being useless - I can nominate one from the lower leagues - He did a couple of West Brom Championship games last year who was really good. So good that most people would probably never have heard about him. His name is Mr Singh. But he's probably to good for the Prem.

Comment by Kowalski 2010-11-02 19:04:11

I demand that players never make mistakes

Comment by Coral 2010-11-03 10:36:34

Is that this Mr Singh?

Comment by JimDavis 2010-11-03 12:34:54

I assume there is only 1, so yes it must be him. The article is from 2008....once you get through the rant, the writer’s only issue is he did not stop play for an injury. Not sure if the level of replies supporting the writer’s view is indicative of the club, the site or the writer.

In the 2009/10 season we had Mr Singh a number of times without any issue. Maybe he learnt from this earlier mistake?

Comment by Jonny_Bananas 2010-11-03 13:22:20

There is no such thing as a referee not 'tarred as being useless'. After every match one team's supporters feel, especially when they lose, that they got the worst of the decisions regardless of the performance.

Comment by trevorw 2010-11-05 16:13:20

In my refereeing days, at the toss-up, my last words to both captains were: "I'll get all my calls right when you get all your passes right." They always laughed and saw the justice.

Nowadays, refs SEEM worse than ever, but that's only because five million cameras are there to give 1 billion people, world wide, the benefit of hindsight.

Comment by Lord Pesk 2010-11-10 12:03:21

JimDavis, having had Mr Singh referee Stockport a couple of times, I can assure you that he is no better than the rest, and, in fact, is often a lot worse.

I've come to the conclusion that all referees are in an utterly impossible position, and, while I will assume decisions that go against my team are wrong, I accept that some are not, and none are due to anything other than human error. Mark Clattenburg has never criticised me for my mistakes, I shouldn't criticise his.

Comment by FCKarl 2010-11-14 06:20:05

Despite all the issues we have with referees at the very top levels of the sport, the real referee "heros" are those in the much lower leagues where there is ZERO protection for them.

And it can be worse in the youth leagues. Parents, yes, fathers, can be brutish and merciless. I don't just mean verbally.

A referee today cannot win. TrevorW is correct. And the speed of the game today is incredible. You have 16 year olds already flashing everywhere around the pitch in the 200 quid 6 oz. boots. A player today can indeed often go 90 minutes full throttle. This means not even a lull in the game, a brief mental 'break' for the referee or assistants.

And the never-ending 'professional fouls,' 'play acting,' 'verbal abuse,' and 'gamesmanship' used by players and managerial staffs alike.

It is a wonder that we have men ready to step up as referees to take the abuse.

I, for one, tip my hat to the youth levels and amateur levels referees who give it their utmost.

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