When Sepp Blatter announced that referees at all World Cup finals from 2014 onwards must be full-time, he caused consternation among many ambitious match officials. "Some people say there's not enough money to pay them, but there always seems to be plenty in the professional leagues," said Blatter. This prompted particular concern among Germany's part-time officials. When Blatter recently clarified his position he did not back down, insisting that German football association must "establish a system in which the referees are its employees".
Video evidence is all the rage. It seems that every time a manager or pundit is unhappy with a decision they ask why we cannot use video evidence, at least to retrospectively punish the opposition. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) are addressing the issue.
There are some sections of society that it is difficult to feel sympathy for, even when you know they have been treated harshly. Reality TV stars fall into this category, as do Tory MPs – Edwina Currie is the point of intersection in that particular Venn diagram. Previously, I would have lumped referees into this demographic too. You only need to hear the enthusiasm that greets a referee falling over to grasp their standing among most football fans. But in recent months, my attitude to them has softened. I no longer see them as slightly absurd pantomime villains. Referees are people too.
The odds against newspapers as diverse as the Oldham Evening Chronicle, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and the Buckinghamshire Examiner reporting similar local football stories over the same few days are pretty slim. Yet that is what happened in mid-October, when all three covered attacks on referees in amateur and lower-league football.
After controversial events during the Old Firm derby, Mark Poole writes why Scottish referees find themselves in a season of turmoil
Maybe it should have been a penalty, maybe it shouldn't, but the decision that went against Celtic at Tannadice on October 17 has led to lies, controversy, misinformation, a linesman's resignation, demands for apologies and further resignations, and a referees' strike.
When Celtic's Gary Hooper took a tumble in the box following a challenge from Dundee Utd goalkeeper Dusan Pernis, referee Dougie McDonald pointed to the spot. He was soon surrounded by angry defenders. He then consulted his linesman, Steven Craven, and reversed his decision. It was a game that Celtic didn't look like winning at the time, although a late goal swung it in their favour. After the game, McDonald explained to his match supervisor and to Celtic manager Neil Lennon that he'd got a shout on his earpiece from Craven, saying he'd seen Pernis get the ball first. So no harm done, in the sort of exciting, competitive game that is all too rare in the SPL.
But then Craven resigned. Across the press, stories were published about his resignation featuring quotes from ex-referee Kenny Clark about how Scottish refs sometimes received razor blades in the post and had their windows smashed. The implication that could be drawn from these reports was clear: that Celtic fans had driven Craven out of the game. New SFA chief executive Stewart Regan called for a "respect" campaign for referees.
Two days after Regan's appeal, in an interview with the Sunday Mail, Craven stated that the bullying that led to his resignation came not from fans, but from McDonald and the head of referee development, Hugh Dallas. Craven claimed that he had not called McDonald over. He says that the referee had run across, saying "I think I've fucked up", before reversing his decision. And that after the match McDonald suggested lying to their supervisor and Lennon about why he'd changed his mind. Craven also claims that Dallas pressured him to maintain his lie.
Both McDonald and Dallas dispute the details of Craven's interview. McDonald says it was Craven who suggested lying, while Dallas claims he never put pressure on the linesman. McDonald's actions were investigated by an panel of six SFA employees – five of whom were former referees. They found him guilty of lying, but only gave him a warning.
Regan then announced that he would examine how the refereeing committee works. As well as having their disciplinary hearings conducted by their peers, individual referees often hear appeals against their own decisions. The system sorely lacks transparency and accountability.
McDonald and Craven's lie wasn't a big one, but it saved McDonald from allegations that he had given in to pressure from Dundee Utd defenders to change his decision. Lennon wants an apology from McDonald. John Reid has gone one further: "He [McDonald] should go and, if not, he should be removed from his post," said the Celtic chairman and former home secretary. "There cannot be integrity in a system that allows a referee to lie."
Celtic and the SFA haven't been on the best of terms recently. Last season, the club queried three key decisions in games against Rangers. This November, referee Willie Collum received telephone threats after he gave Rangers a controversial penalty in an Old Firm match, and Lennon received a two-match touchline ban for his behaviour during a match against Hearts.
Two days after Reid's comments, the referees announced their intention to strike, stating that the scrutiny they were working under was leading to personal threats against them. Over the weekend of November 27 and 28, SPL matches were covered by referees from Luxembourg, Israel and Malta. SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: "I'm really surprised and disappointed that referees felt the need to walk away from matches rather than talk about a solution." Meanwhile, Lennon admits that he has "crossed the line" with officials at least once this season.
Given the frequently dangerous passions that surround the Old Firm, Celtic (and Rangers) have a greater responsibility than other clubs to avoid inciting threats. It is often difficult to balance this with their equal right to appeal against decisions. But it is a gamble for the referees to demand that the clubs stop questioning them, when at the root of the problem is a referee who was not punished for lying to his supervisor and a club manager. Many fans will now view McDonald as untrustworthy and his recent actions will undermine his authority the next time he has to make a big decision, particularly one that affects Celtic.
Players, managers and fans across the world need to show referees more respect. But the SFA must introduce greater transparency and accountability to the country's archaic refereeing set-up. As referee Charlie Richmond said: "We have been trying to get referees and managers to work together. But if you tell a lie to a fellow professional, it's going to hinder that relationship."
From WSC 287 January 2011
Rob Bradley recently made an alarming discovery – he no longer hates referees and even admires one in particular
Life is all about change. You go to school, then you work, you have kids, you get old. You have different hair styles and then you go bald. As the years go by you lose enthusiasm for things that you used to enjoy. Like Frank Skinner or keeping fit. But some things never ever change. At least you think they don’t. I’ve always hated referees. When I played Sunday League football I got sent off by them. I even got sent off for ranting at one and I was running the line. You hate them when you go to watch the club you support. It’s traditional.
The experiment with goalline officials shows UEFA is attempting to improve refereeing, even if it will never be perfect. Simon Hart reports
“Football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings... We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely.” So said FIFA president Sepp Blatter on his March visit to Manchester, not long after the International Football Association Board had confirmed that tests with an extra official behind each goalline would continue. The “five-man” experiment began following FIFA’s rejection of video technology last year and the next testing ground may be a professional league next season – both the Italian and French authorities have already offered their assistance.
Under fire from managers and pundits, confidence in refereeing is being ruined by terrible public relations, writes Nik Johnson
Referees are undergoing a crisis of confidence, their relations with managers and fans at an all time low. Not a weekend goes by without a manager appearing on Match of the Day to complain about a foul in the build-up to a goal, Andy Gray vehemently attacking a decision, or a 6.06 caller bitterly arguing that the referee cost them the game. Is the standard of refereeing so bad that games are routinely being ruined by their incompetence, or are there underlying problems that go further than just poor decision making?
The campaign for respect for referees is targeted at managers and players, but, Michael Whalley wonders, wouldn’t it be better directed at broadcasters such as Andy Gray and Eamonn Holmes?
Sky Sports News – the channel that only considers sporting events to be truly newsworthy if they have the rights to show them – was a bit stuck during the Olympics. But on the day American swimmer Michael Phelps won a record-equalling ninth gold medal, it cleared its afternoon schedules – so that Eamonn Holmes could talk to John Terry about respecting referees.
Referees get official help. Steve Menary reports
The idea of clubs even at semi-professional level – let alone in the Premier League – having to find their own referee for a home game is hard to imagine. At parks level, however, many clubs do that every week, often prompting disputes about the officials’ impartiality. The reason that referees are in such short supply is because hundreds have drifted out of the game due to the poor behaviour of players and spectators. That is why the Football Association launched its initiative to improve respect for referees, which begins in earnest in January 2008.