Stalking Referees: Resolving Refereeing Problems
By Sharon Colwell & Patrick Murphy, CRSS
Produced in association with and hosted by...
The Center for Research into Sport and Society at the University of Leicester
First published in 1999 by Singer & Friedlander Investment Funds Limited,
21 New Street, London EC2M 4HR
" The harder you train, the
harder it is to quit!!! "
Given the increasing prominence of refereeing issues in the football
media in recent years, it might seem that refereeing problems, and the
call for solutions are new issues. However, such issues have been raised
over a relatively long time period, as the following brief examples
indicate. In 1968, for example, Arthur Hopcraft devoted a chapter of The
Football Man to refereeing, and suggested "it is increasingly obvious
that the standard of handling top-class football has got to be raised".
Hopcraft's proposed solution was the full-time, professional referee,
arguing that such an individual "would be physically fit for the job...
technically trained... constantly informed of developments in the
playing of the game... he could afford to be unquestionable on the field
because the players would recognize his professional status". In 1978,
Sir Stanley Rous proposed the referee "should in future have electronics
to aid him". He further argued "instant replays should be available to
referees...as it is, a referee will consult his linesman if he has
doubt. It would be almost as quick for him to see a replay if he
Full Time Referees
The possible introduction of full-time paid officials, an idea
supported by the Premier League Referees' Officer, Philip Don, and
some Premier League referees, raises a number of issues. Such an
innovation might well produce a range of 'benefits' for referees,
players and managers. Potentially, the extraneous demands made on
referees' time would be reduced, thereby allowing them to devote
more time and energy to football. If referees did not have to
combine two separate jobs, they would be likely to have more time to
travel to and from games, to train, rest and prepare mentally and
physically between games, and to liaise with players and managers.
This latter possibility might facilitate an improvement in the
currently strained relationships between many managers and referees,
by allowing increased communication and understanding between them.
With the exception of the occasional seminars arranged between
members of the League Managers' Association and referees, contact
between officials and managers generally seems to occur at the least
appropriate moments, i.e., post-match, when managers are likely to
be tense and angry if refereeing decisions have 'gone against' them.
Discussions between officials and managers at less fraught moments,
might, then, be expected to prove to be more productive than those
that currently tend to occur. In general, the full-time,
professional referee might also be afforded more respect than is
currently shown to the 'part-timers'.
Along with these 'benefits', however, such an innovation has
potentially 'negative' implications. The introduction of full-time
professionals might, for example, lead to a reduction in the number
of referees willing to commit to elite level refereeing. The
pressure on full-time officials is likely to increase, in terms of
heightened expectations about those being paid a relatively high sum
to referee. This increased pressure might, then, dissuade some from
wanting to referee at the highest levels. Similarly, if the 'best'
referees are identified and employed full-time, it is possible that
the status of the part-timers will be diminished in the eyes of
players, managers and members of the media, which may serve to
increase the pressure on them. Furthermore, to take up refereeing as
a full-time occupation would mean, of course, that referees would
have to give up their 'day jobs'. Given that referees have to retire
from the international list at forty five, and the national list at
forty eight, it is questionable whether refereeing would be an
attractive alternative to most other careers, which would be likely
to provide employment for another fifteen to twenty years. Referees
can be demoted from the National List if their performances are not
adequate. Might these factors encourage referees to choose more
long-term, less pressurized occupations? Perhaps one of the most
significant potential problems raised by the introduction of
full-time professionals, is that their full-time status will make
referees more dependent upon their 'paymasters'. Might this reliance
make them less willing to act as independent arbitrators? Finally,
full-time or not, referees have to make split-second decisions on
the pitch. There is no evidence to suggest that by making them
full-time, they will become better decision makers, or that those
decisions will become any easier to make!
The use of video replays during matches clearly has the potential to
allow referees a 'second look' at incidents. Officials could avoid
having to make some of those split-second judgments, and could
instead contemplate decisions with the aid of the replay to clear up
any doubts. The hindsight afforded to armchair viewers, commentators
and pundits by replays, which, of course, help us to be really
certain in our minds that the referee has 'got it wrong', would thus
be made available to the referee.
However, despite the potential 'positives', such an innovation again
raises significant questions. Some of these concern 'who' would call
for the replay -would referees and/or managers and/or players be
allowed to call for incidents to be reviewed? Given the current
response to contentious decisions in matches, it seems highly likely
that managers would want to be involved in this process. How would
such involvement be managed? Moreover, the 'classification' or
definition of which incidents could be replayed would also be
complex, in terms of actually trying to distinguish between more or
less significant decisions in a game. The use of video replays may
also have an impact on the nature and pace of the game, in terms of
slowing it down in order to allow incidents to be reviewed. The
'advantage' gained by taking a quick free kick, etc., after a foul
is likely to be reduced too, for the time taken to review incidents
may allow teams time to reorganize. Further problems are raised if
we consider the possibility that a fourth official might make the
decisions on replayed incidents. Would their judgment be consistent
with the referee on the field of play? Finally, the possibility that
the replay might not actually be conclusive - we're still talking
about that goal in 1966 - indicates the problems posed by incidents
that are not 'clear-cut', even on the replay.
A range of ‘off-the-pitch’ constraints operates on football
administrators attempting to resolve refereeing problems. Of these,
'cost' is a central issue, particularly in relation to the use of
various technological aids for referees. In terms of video replays,
for example, clubs would not only have to pay for the equipment to
view the replay, but also for a number of cameras to 'cover' the
pitch. How many cameras would be required to ensure this coverage?
How much would they cost? Who would maintain and check the cameras
and video equipment between games? It would obviously be vital to
test and maintain such equipment to ensure that it was in working
order for each game. Might clubs have to employ technological
support staff to do this, and if so, would the required 'package',
of equipment and trained staff, be an affordable proposition? The
issue of 'cost' led the board of one Premier League club, Sheffield
Wednesday, to reject the use of goal-line cameras, after trials last
season. If smaller clubs could not afford to have the required
technology installed and/or maintained, might they be refused
promotion to the Premier League?
One of the reasons that the details of Philip Don's proposals for
full-time professionals have yet to be agreed by Premier League
chairmen also relates to the financial aspects of the proposal.
Essentially, club owners have to make a choice about the way they
allocate club funds. Clearly, they spend money on transfer fees and
players' wages in order to attract the best possible players to
their club. They may improve the fixtures and fittings of their club
stadium, of medical facilities for players, or youth academies, in
order to provide their clubs with sound footings for the future, in
turn safeguarding their economic investment. Given these factors,
would club owners be willing to put forward money for solutions to
refereeing problems, which have yet to be proven to be feasible,
efficient and effective in a footballing context?
A Change in Direction
The complex range of issues briefly discussed here highlight some of
the difficulties inherent in trying to resolve them, and underline
the reasons why the same solutions have been proposed over a thirty
year period whilst none of those discussed have been successfully
introduced into League football. Despite the recurring criticisms of
referees over a relatively long time period, referees and refereeing
have yet to be thoroughly researched. In contrast to the analysis of
players' performances provided by the Carling Opta statistics, for
example, no similar analysis of refereeing performances in football
has been undertaken.
As part of our research at the CRSS, we are attempting to consider
referees in a more systematic, detached way than has been the case
to date. Whilst we are considering the kinds of solutions to
refereeing problems discussed above, we are also adopting a slightly
different perspective, in order to avoid being caught up in the
current, relatively sterile debate. A potentially productive
starting point for attempting to understand refereeing problems
would seem to be an analysis what they actually do on the pitch, in
order to discover possible areas for improvement. Via an analysis of
a series of videotaped Premier League matches, we are attempting to
systematically study the performances of referees. In particular, we
are attempting to address one of the key criticisms leveled at
referees; consistency. As part of our assessment, minute-by-minute
analysis of games is being carried out, and the following questions
are being considered.
- How consistent are referees?
- In what ways are referees inconsistent?
- Do particular types of tackles seem to be judged inconsistently?
- Are different players treated in a consistent manner by referees?
- How consistent is a referee within a single game?
- How consistent is the same referee between different games?
- How consistent are different referees between different games?
- Does the location of the official in relation to the incident
affect the accuracy of decisions made?
- Are there particular times during games which seem to 'throw up'
- Do the reactions of players to incidents seem to influence
- How often do referees consult Assistant Referees?
- How might we identify problem areas for referees?
- What would make referees more consistent?
By attempting to answer the kind of questions posed here, we are
hoping to establish the accuracy of repeated accusations of
refereeing inconsistencies. Earlier this season, for example,
Manchester United manager, Alec Ferguson suggested, "Referees are so
inconsistent. Don [the Premier League referees' officer] seems to
have changed the aspect of refereeing, changed it to his vision of
how it should be done, but it is not working". Southampton's Dave
Jones said of Uriah Rennie, "I don't know what the referee was doing
today, he seemed to make up the rules as he went along". Whilst, as
we suggest in Trading Places elsewhere in this publication,
managers' comments on referees are almost invariably partisan, they
are not always without foundation. Referees do, of course, make
mistakes, and they are unlikely to interpret similar incidents on
the pitch in exactly the same way. The Laws of the Game allow for
this variation, in terms of encouraging referees to interpret The
Laws in 'spirit', rather than too literally, in order to avoid
having to stop play for every foul, thereby facilitating a flowing
game. But how do such criticisms affect referees?
The way changes to the Laws of The Game by FIFA impact on the
performances of referees is also under consideration as part of this
research. The effect that such changes can have was highlighted
during France 98. Prior to the World Cup, referees and players were
instructed on changes in the way the tackle from behind was to be
interpreted and penalized. After twenty World Cup games, during
which a total of four red cards had been shown, FIFA president Sepp
Blatter, announced that referees were not acting in accordance with
FIFA directives, that players tackling from behind were not being
penalized, and that "the refereeing should improve". In the next two
matches, five red cards were shown. The response to this increase in
bookings highlights the difficulties referees face in implementing
such a change. For, whilst Blatter felt that the referees "had heard
and understood" his message, FIFA's Michel Platini complained, "one
moment they don't hand out enough cards and the next they hand out
too many. The referees need to be a bit more careful". Clearly,
referees are constrained by the Laws of the Game, and by directives
from FIFA, which can make their task more or less hard. Our research
aims to highlight these kinds of issues, in the hope that we might
then shed more light on the problems referees face.
As well as analyzing what occurs on the pitch, then, we are also
considering the broader context. This includes the relationships
between managers, players, commentators, other media personnel and
referees. By examining these factors, an understanding of the
complex network of relationships which referees are part of may be
achieved, and some insight into the pressures, which they are under,
may be gleaned. By doing this, we may begin to understand the ways
refereeing might be improved, or could be made easier. Issues such
as differences in playing styles, the varying degree to which
players use relatively 'physical' tactics, and their propensity to
'dive', will also impact on the way referees control the game, and
again can affect how easy it is for a referee to make decisions. For
example, how does the possibility that players are 'diving' affect
the referee's ability to make accurate decisions? What implications
do these kind of actions by players have in terms of refereeing?
Might we need to address players' attitudes and behaviors in order
to improve the consistency of referees? How do differences in
atmosphere, or the significance of the game being played, or the
previous history of the teams playing affects the referee's
Given the long-term nature of refereeing problems, and the fact that
refereeing issues have been under researched, it is likely that the
research at the CRSS will merely provide the starting point for
future studies. However, we feel that by adopting a slightly
different approach, and by answering at least some of the questions
posed in this paper we may gain a better understanding of referees'
performances, and may make a contribution towards actually resolving
some of these long-term problems.