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It's unfair to keep blaming the referee
By Chris Lawton
It seems to me that there is a growing trend to criticise referees over every little incident. I believe there are a number of reasons for this and also a number of possible solutions.

The whole nature of the world game of football has changed in the past ten years. This year's world cup promises to be an exciting extravaganza with a host of teams in with a chance. The development of African and Asian football is a definite bonus to the world game and has made competition fierce.

Nationally, like it or not, money dominates our game, and society, more now than it ever has. Football is big business and teams can no longer afford to lose matches. In the past entertainment was as important as success, today results mean much more. The development of what I will call the George Graham mentality is prevalent in every division - that is, if we can 1-0 each week, however poor our performance, then that will do.

Against this back-drop have come many changes to the laws of the game - the professional foul (why it is called professional is beyond me - most amateurs are equally capable in this department at least), backpasses, more game time, offside and more.

The consequence of all this is that referees have more to officiate over with more at risk on it. Consequently every decision is examined to the last detail by fans and the media. It is not suprising, given this pressure, that mistakes are made. Another important factor, often overlooked, is that the referees are themselves amateurs who have other jobs to worry about.

The final problem with all this is that managers, players, pundits and fans are ignorant of the rules to a startling degree. How often has Ron Atkinson yelled "He is surely offside" - only to be shown wrong on the replay? Ninety percent of the dodgy decisions are usually given correctly by the ref, it is our lack of understanding and their lack of communication that creates the myth of bad decisions.

There is one, simple, solution to this problem - make the referees professionals. The twenty Premierships clubs can all stump up £100,000 to pay for sixty referees to run all the professional games in this country week in week out. That corresponds to a wage of £33,000 a year - not too bad. Expenses would probably not included in that although I'm sure the finer points could be sorted out at a later date. In fact Man Utd could raise all that cash from the sale of a few replica shirts, let alone the rest of us. The Premierships clubs should do this as part of their commitment to lower league football.

This is not a huge sum of money for the clubs to find - in fact it is remarkably small. Now the clubs, having provided this cash will want some say as to what happens. Well, I propose the following. All the referees are trained by the FA to international standard. Secondly, managers are entitled to make constructive criticism about the referee. If enough managers complain about a certain referee then his performance has to be examined in some detail by the FA - not telling the managers to shut up and fining them. Thirdly, managers can refuse to have a certain referee if they feel there is a just reason for so doing. With sixty referees in the pool it should be possible.

Why do I think this would work ? Well, firstly, you would remove the external job pressure on a referee - something we often ignore. How would you like to have to be in charge of Liverpool v Man Utd after a bad week in the office ? Secondly, by bringing in some kind of public accountability the referee has to be certain of his decisions as do managers in criticising.

Thirdly all the proposed technological aids would not necessarily help - all they add is another platform for the ref to be shot down from. Why? Because it would be up to him if the "video evidence" for example should be viewed real time. He may chose not to and subsequently be proved wrong. Furthermore how would a decision like the Bergkamp situation on Saturday be resolved - how much time should the game be delayed to allow a decision to be reached ? There is also the issue of who funds it all ? I doubt Doncaster Rovers et al can afford the extra costs.

So why won't the FA do it ? Firstly, the clubs will be reluctant to part with money to fund lower league football. Secondly, if the FA push the clubs Man Utd will moan about being victimised and short of cash anyway and threaten to set up their own league - at which point the FA will say they were only asking !

Thirdly, it would remove some of the control the FA has over officials. At the moment it is a very closed community and managers are fined for saying hello to a ref (or so it appears). Through referees the FA has some control over what managers say and can stop referees stirring up debate. But what are they frightened of ? More correct decisions and better understanding or a loss of revenue from managers who "bring the game into disrepute" ?

I'm sure some of you out there will find flaws a plenty in this argument. But it is the best, and most sensible offer you will have heard as to how to improve the standards of refs. If you can come up with something better, that covers all divisions, I'll be willing to listen.