9 March ~ I was surprised to learn from the obituary of Keith Alexander last week that he had been a qualified referee, because it’s unusual for players to train for anything vocational within the game besides their coaching badges. That’s where they’re likely to make money on the side, or in the future, because there’s not much cash in refereeing, especially if you don’t retire from playing until your mid-30s. It speaks for Alexander’s love of the game that he would have trained to be a match official. Yet thinking about this a little more, shouldn’t every player be a qualified referee?

I spent 18 hours this past weekend training to become a referee at the lowest grade. Despite playing and watching the game for the best part of four decades, I wasn’t surprised to find there were many gaps in my knowledge of football’s laws. And there were plenty of things that I thought I already knew, but I didn’t. If I were to play my life back on video, it could turn out that on many of those occasions when I was yelling at the referee from the safety of the stands, or the sofa, or even on the field of play (though I try not to), I was completely and hopelessly wrong.

We all, professional players included, probably think we more or less know the Laws of the Game, but I can guarantee you that if you are not a qualified ref, my instructor this past weekend would have caught you out on at least a dozen questions. If taking and passing a referee’s course was mandatory for all young professional players, wouldn’t there be a lot less carping and dissent on the field? Well, you might argue, carping and dissent are part of a pro’s default behaviour, because that’s how they intimidate or subtly influence a referee. Having players truly know the rules would make no difference.

So don’t just have young players train as referees, have them actually go out into their localities and officiate games. This would not only raise a club’s profile in the community, but it would give the players valuable experience in seeing the game from the referee’s perspective. Let them learn how to deal with angry coaches and screaming parents. Let them understand that referees make mistakes, and that it’s not humanly possible to be in the right place at all times during the game, and to always make the right decision. Let them learn how to be flexible, and how to apply Law 18, which was drummed into us all weekend – the unwritten law of common sense.

This would allow referees at the professional level to say to whining, gesticulating players: “As you will know yourself as a qualified referee, I gave that foul against you because in my opinion it was a reckless tackle, and so you will understand why I’m about to give you a yellow card.” In fact don’t just have the younger players take the refereeing course – make it obligatory for every player who signs a professional contract in this country. Coaches and managers too. And commentators and pundits. If there’s enough time, get the fans to take the course as well. No entry into a league ground until you show your ref’s pass. I’m only half-kidding.

It won’t make everything perfect overnight, but it would be much more effective than the FA’s bogus Respect campaign that was roundly ignored by everyone once the bunting from the launch party was binned. If every player and manager properly understood the laws of the game, and what it’s like to referee a match, we might see a gradual abatement of the tedious and predictable histrionics that Sky has helped to make a statutory part of football’s entertainment role-call. The broadcaster could save itself the cost of the cameraman who focuses on Arsène Wenger clutching his head and screaming at a decision made 60 yards from where he’s standing. Meanwhile, Frank Lampard showing up unannounced to referee an Under-12 girls’ match might start to repair the public image of players as detached, spoilt and with too much time on their hands. What’s not to like? Ian Plenderleith

Comments (14)
Comment by Chirpy 2010-03-09 12:53:37

Ian Plenderleith is Alex Ferguson's Nom de Plume

Comment by Mighty Mudhsuden 2010-03-09 13:27:12

Excellent article. Really enjoyed that.

Comment by sebpatrick 2010-03-09 14:23:19

Yes. And let's have Steve "If you know the rules of the game, you're a saddo" Bruce first in the queue, please.

At the very least, it should be mandatory for all players to read You Are The Ref of a Sunday.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-03-09 15:33:35

It would be nice if the likes of ITV, Sky and the BBC insist its pundits, for lack of a better word, pass a refereeing exam.

Comment by tratorello 2010-03-09 15:35:26

Excellent article.

I can only echo what's been said about TV and radio pundits, they should be forced to take a yearly referees exam to make sure that there knowledge of the Laws is up-to-date and correct.

Comment by tratorello 2010-03-09 15:36:13

Bah, apologies for the "there/their" typo.

Comment by Red Adder 2010-03-09 15:59:27

Especially the pundits - especially the ultra-lazy Lawrensen.

They also ought to learn the rules of the competitions - Line Acre was spouting guff about it was unfair that Pompey should loose 9 pts - they spent money they didn't have to win the cup - i.e. they cheated the other teams - such a penalty is warranted - and in fact rather light.

Comment by Gratius Falsius 2010-03-10 03:02:50

It may just be an Australian Rugby League thing but a number (possibly a majority) of TV and radio commentators have their ref's ticket.

Whether or not this makes them a better judge of what is going on on the field (especially in Greg Hartley's case) is a moot point.

Comment by Bishopville Red 2010-03-10 03:15:53

Just to play devil's advocate, I became a bigger critic of refs after I got my ref's license. I was qualified, therefore I was in as good a position o call bullshit on the ref. Or so I thought...

Sadly, I've corrected (yes, I actually was right, they were not) the refs in my league often enough to "justify" my naughty dissenting behaviour. I've also suffered the outrage of getting carded because the incompetent shite in the middle was not fond of being corrected. Nothing worse than eating that shit sandwich because the ref doesn't know the rules.

I hate refs. End of.


Comment by imp 2010-03-10 11:15:46

Heh, I did think about that flipside - in fact I've already thought about how I might fall into the trap of, erm, gently arguing my case with referees as both a player and a coach, pompously citing my new qualification. But presumably, Bishopville Red, you're not playing in a professional league - at the top end you won't get the kind of frustrating ignorance of the laws you sometimes get with referees in the amateur game. I'm not daft enough to think there would be no arguments or controversy, but I think that as qualified referees themselves, players will have no excuse for not knowing better. Every game I've watched this week has featured players clattering in for reckless tackles (eg, Steven G), taking players out, then getting yellow cards while moaning at length about how they 'got the ball'.

Comment by Roches P.A. 2010-03-10 12:36:22

If professional footballers completed a referees course and exam on the Laws of the Game, they would just manipulate that as a new way to 'get at' the ref eg "you have to listen to me, I'm a ref too" etc. It's the nature of the professional game. I could see the player who is the qualified ref being the one who is tactically deployed to hang on the referees shoulder, give his opinion and all that.

Same applies for managers. Only rarely does their criticism of referees highlight a lack of knowledge of the laws. It usually consists of second guessing as to why decisions were made, and blinkered interpretations of incidents, all designed to play the victim. Like with footballers, a refereeing course and exam on the Laws of the Game won't change their approach.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-03-10 14:20:27

"I could see the player who is the qualified ref being the one who is tactically deployed to hang on the referees shoulder, give his opinion and all that" if this would be an effective tactic why has this not been done before? With regard to Keith, I have seen him argue with refs but without a significantly different outcome to anyone else.
I am most in favour of the pundits and commentators having the training. I know that producers often instruct pundits to pull out the referees perceived mistakes as it creates a talking point to fill 15 minutes, it's far easier to grasp than tactical analysis. If they will insist on doing this could it not be based on knowledge? It is (vaguely) akin to unqualified people who make packaging for tablets complaining about the way a proffessor has used the laws of chemistry to produce a drug.

Comment by imp 2010-03-10 15:12:15

It's worth noting that there are several stages of qualification to becoming a top referee. Doing a course to reach the most basic grade doesn't entitle me to argue with a professional ref, it just qualifies me to referee youth games. For a pro, it would mean having no excuse for ignorance of the game's laws, not a passport to argue the toss. Dissent by word or action is, as all players of course will know, a yellow card offense.

Comment by leebatt 2010-03-13 02:10:53

Oh, I can see the possibilities inherent in this. Just imagine-- Lee Bowyer, referee. Robbie Savage, referee. Joey Barton, referee. Oh, yessss..... :)

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