Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish attempted to further agitate the debate regarding the protection of Premiership referees from criticism following the club’s defeat by Tottenham at the weekend. Howard Webb awarded a seemingly unfair penalty to Spurs, but instead of choosing to lambast the referee for his decision, Dalglish claimed that officials get away ‘scot-free’ for not having to explain their decisions. But, in a league where referees’ decisions are increasingly visible and open to the scrutiny of TV cameras, is Dalglish right to question their silence?
Several managers have incurred the wrath of the FA for criticising match officials this season. Most notably, Sir Alex Ferguson received a two-match ban in November and, more recently, a five-game ban for his criticism of Martin Atkinson in the aftermath of the defeat by Chelsea in March. Ferguson clearly felt aggrieved by these refereeing decisions but at no point did the officials in question have to respond and justify their actions. So is this a case of the FA wrapping officials in cotton wool and should they be more open to criticism from managers and clubs alike?
With the advancement of TV coverage, referees decisions are assessed more and more to the extent that the vast majority of decisions are questioned and undermined. With levels of respect for match officials seemingly at an all-time low, therefore, it is important the FA does what it can to protect referees and linesmen. The sight of players mobbing and berating referees on the pitch is disgraceful enough as it is and managers must set a good example if we are to eliminate this horrible sight from the game.
Referees are, at the end of the day, only human and we all make mistakes. It is impossible for officials to see everything happening on the pitch at once, whilst the huge increase in diving and play acting has made their jobs even more difficult. And, if the FA were to allow managers and referees to openly discuss decisions after games, what would this actually achieve except for allowing more criticism?
Referees are supposed to remain impartial and objective at all times. By being sheltered from criticism from managers the FA does a great deal to preserve this and their authority. Admittedly officials do make mistakes that can cost games, but managers and players must accept this as human error rather than favouritism and get on with trying to win games on the pitch rather than moaning off it.
Refereeing decisions never used to come in for as much criticism as they do now. Therefore to describe officials as getting away ‘scot free’ when they are berated by mobs of players all over the country is somewhat unjust.