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Irrational hatred of...
Second Division referees
By Nick Grundy
Christmas and New Year have, from a Watford point of view, been very, very miserable. I've been to four games: Gillingham, Notts County, Torquay and Oxford. Gillingham and Notts County were just pathetic, miserable, awful, dire, dire, dire. Why is it, incidentally, that you always persuade your friend the Man Utd. supporter to come along to the worst game of the entire season? Can anyone explain?

Then came Torquay. At this point I should recommend everyone who reads this never, never to rely on a non-football supporting friend to give you a lift to a game. Don't do it. It'll only end in tears. He turned up at my house ten minutes after kick-off and whined about how cold it was, and we only actually reached the ground about ten minutes before half-time, when they had, of course, shut all the gates. I went home to sulk.

Then we have the delight of the Oxford game. Being back up at university, I persuaded two more non-Watford supporting friends (no danger of the Man Utd fan ever coming to see another game) to come down for the Oxford game. We got on our bus at five, got down in plenty of time, settled into our seats, waited for kickoff and were told, a little after the scheduled start time, that the referee had decided it was too cold for him to ref the game and so he was off home for a nice cup of tea and he'd see us all sometime in f*cking July when we finally get rid of our backlog of games and play the tie.

While we were waiting to get back out of the ground it occurred to me that the referees in this division are, in fact, all rather shit. I struggle to think of a single competent ref that I've seen all season in this poxy godforsaken miserable division. My grievances are as follows:

(1) They don't know the rules, especially the one about players who aren't interfering with play not being offside.
(2) They tend to award decisions based more on the amount of noise made by the crowd/players/pa system/traffic than on whether or not an offence was actually committed.
(3) They're just plain weird, as when in the - I think it was the Gillingham game (it was Gillingham or Notts County, but they both sort of blurred into one long four hour stretch of misery and being cold, so I'm not sure which) - when the ref blew his whistle near the edge of our area, gave us a free kick, and then booked one of our players for no apparent reason. At all. And, just to prove that this works both ways, I give you the example of Richard Johnson, who tends (most notably this season against Gillingham, when he actually chased someone to the touch line in order physically to assault them. This was actually probably the most entertaining part of the whole game) to produce a spectacular succession of blatant fouls, and then get booked for, say, kicking the ball rather than the opponent's shins.
(4) They're very easily bullied/browbeaten into overlooking unacceptable behaviour on the pitch. The best example of this was when Connolly missed his penalty against Walsall and some defender about twice his size came up and started mouthing off at him. They actually showed this on Endsleigh league extra with a little aside by one of the commentators along the lines of "and the Walsall captain there telling Connolly what he thought about that". Not a thing about the professionalism Connolly showed in ignoring this, nor about how this is just possibly at the very least worthy of a talking to by the ref as ungentlemanly conduct, but a cheap shot at the international who missed the penalty. Bastards. Anyway, I was busy moaning a lot.
(5) They never, ever give fouls on our strikers. The best illustration I have of this point comes from the Wycombe home page, where the match report for our game with them earlier in the season contains the following lines: "he [Noel-Williams] caused problems for Crossley and McCarthy [two Wycombe defenders], who all seemed to be having a competition on who could remove the opponents shirt without the referee noticing - which judging by Mr Lynch's decisions throughout the game, was quite easy." Take a look for yourself, if you think I'm making this up.
(6) We hardly ever win games. While this may not strictly speaking be the referee's fault, I don't like them, so it must be. And if I spend four hours going to Watford and back for the Oxford replay, I expect to see some football, Mr.Richards.