Keith Hackett’s refereeing review: Fitness a genuine concern as Championship clubs demand talks with PGMOL over performance concerns

Officiating in the Premier League has taken a real pounding this season due to the handball law and a lack of consistency when it comes to using VAR, but that doesn’t mean everything is going brilliantly in the Championship either.

A recent report from The Telegraph confirmed that Championship sides have demanded a meeting with PGMOL Managing director Mike Riley to discuss serious concerns about refereeing standards.

These complaints range from serious errors in decision making to concern’s over the fitness of the individual referees.

I’ve been critical of Mike Riley in the past and I also share these concerns about the standard of officiating in the Premier League and Championship. Poor decisions often come from the official not being in close proximity to the play so they don’t have a good angle to see, recognise, think and react which helps them to produce accurate decisions.

There’s a specific group of professional full time referees who officiate Championship matches and they are separate from the Premier League group, but they do meet regularly to share experiences in the hope of improving consistency.

The fitness issue isn’t solely confined to the group of Championship refs, as I also believe that several Premier League referees are laboured in their movement.

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When I retired from PGMOL we saw that referees usually covered around 11.5k in distance during a game, while 1.5k of this was made up of explosive sprints.

We had two sport scientists who monitored the ref’s heartrates to give them specific training programmes, while they could also monitor their overall fitness and recovery too.

I even brought in a sprint coach to give the officials more explosive sprints to keep up with the demands of the game, while we could use Prozone analysis to look at a ref’s movement and how that related to the overall pattern of the game.

When Mike Riley took over he decided to get rid of these coaches and he also banned assessors from attending and reviewing referees’ performances in the Premier League and the Championship.

Referees do still need to pass an annual fitness test, but it’s no longer enough and I would urge them to add further fitness testing throughout the season.

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Referees fall ill or pick up injuries so that can have a lasting impact on their fitness, so I would like to see them tested on their return to ensure they are still able to keep up with the demands of the game.

Mike Riley and his colleague Adam Watts deserve their share of the blame here, but former ref Alan Wiley and Phil Gibbs must be accountable for not advancing the quality of officiating in their coaching capacities either.

While the Championship clubs will mainly be looking to raise concerns over the officials who oversee their games, it must be noted that at least 30 games have been overseen by Premier League officials this season too, so the issue clearly lies with both groups of referees.

It really does underpin the poor state of referring in the top level of the game in England. I understand why the managers have become increasingly concerned and would suggest that regular meetings need to be held between Richard Bevan of the LMA and Paul Garlick who is the Director of Football with the Premier League and an influential board member of PGMOL.

Being in the position to make a decision is a fundamental part of being a successful referee, so it’s vital that the authorities work together to get this right and ensure the officials have everything they need to perform to the best of their ability.


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