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Our demands of Premier League referees are totally unreasonable

Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except for death and taxes.” Having died in 1790, he did not have the opportunity to take in the English Premiership, but had he done so, he would surely have allowed one more onto his list of certainties: the verbal bashing of referees.

This weekend, we had Blackburn manager Paul Ince, who felt he was on the receiving end of “A diabolical decision,” and claimed, “If the referee can’t see it then he shouldn’t be a referee.” At the City of Manchester Stadium, Mark Hughes was still not willing to accept Pablo Zableta’s red card, even after watching his studs-up lunge on Xabi Alonso on television.

At the Stadium of Light on Saturday, the reaction bordered on absurd. Talking of Arsenal’s disallowed goal against Sunderland, Arsene Wenger claimed “When we scored… the ball was not out.” BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce replied the incident was “Difficult to see from the replay, but the TV whiz kids have apparently shown that it was still in play.” The two happily concurred that the goal should have stood.

So, Messrs Wenger and Pearce, we couldn’t tell from live action or slow-motion replays and it needed technical experts to simulate the incident with a computerised graphic to prove the ball was not over the line, but you are willing to fault the (human) referee for not spotting it? One can understand that the pressure and adrenalin of the in-game situation could cause a manager to act with a degree of irrationality, but our demands of referees are completely unreasonable.

Just for a moment, imagine yourself in the referee’s position. At any one point in the match, you are required to enforce the laws of the game, control the play, be aware of what is happening off the ball, act as timekeeper, look out for infringements, be alert to injured players and stay close to proceedings. In doing this, you will cover a distance of just under ten miles and will gradually feel the effects of fatigue and dehydration.

You will be asked to use your judgement in enforcing the laws of the game for one and a half hours. During that time, you must have an unobstructed line of sight of all incidents (on and off the ball), because it is in no way acceptable for a single one of the hundreds of judgement calls you will make to be wrong. The many thousands of home fans will constantly barrack you and attempt to influence your judgement by screaming and shouting at every disputable moment. You must not let the views of these thousands of angry and abusive fans have any bearing on your decision making.

Referees are professional nowadays, so they have training to cope with all of the above, just as you and I receive training to help us in our jobs. But does that mean they can never make a mistake? Or is it that they can’t make mistakes that have substantial consequences, like disallowing a legitimate goal? There is no difference in the heat of the moment. When you know your work is going to be on display to the boss, you put a bit more time and effort into it, don’t you? Just to make sure. A referee doesn’t get action replays or thirty seconds thinking time, he has to take a split-second and whatever view he manages to carve out between the bodies.

Next time you are in your car, absorb the information of every road sign you go by. After you have passed it, recall what it said. Try it for an hour and a half and see how long it is before you make a mistake.

Better still, next time you watch a game on television make your judgement live. Definitively say to yourself whether it was a foul, a goal or whether the ball crossed the line straight away. Don’t wait for the replay or Andy Gray’s reaction; make your judgement immediately and see how many times you are proved to be wrong.

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