Referees Would Have A Better Reputation If Fans Knew The Rules

It’s been another tough week for referees. Well, one in particular. Martin Atkinson took charge of the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and after misjudging the severity of Mario Balotelli’s challenge on Alex Song last week, he preceded to draw more unwanted attention to himself by guessing over whether a ball had crossed the goal-line, and guessing wrong. Chelsea went on to win 5-1.

The argument over goal-line technology is almost redundant now, as it seems to be on the way. The FA have confirmed that goal-line technology could be introduced to English football as soon as next season. Two systems are under testing by FIFA at the moment and by July there may be a green light to implement it domestically. Or not.

But balls over lines wasn’t the only talking point, and far from it. Ashley Young will be thanking Atkinson for at least taking a little bit of the exposure off him. Having yet again propelled himself into the air as if he had just detonated a land mine, Young was once more bending the rules for maximum profit. And yet again, fans seem to be confused over the rules of football.

There seems to be this creeping acceptance that contact in a penalty area means a penalty. Never mind that two players contacting together could mean equal blame, it seems that many think touching an attacker within 18 yards of the goal is an open invitation for a spot-kick. Commentators say it all the time. Co-commentators say it even more. Pundits repeat it. Fans regurgitate it. And it’s all utter hogwash. A penalty from a foul results from a trip, or an attempted trip (intent CAN be enough to exact punishment). Standing still and committing the heinous crime of letting a player kick your standing leg is not a foul. Except for the defender, perhaps. And it is so annoying how it has been generally accepted that players can “win” penalties nowadays, be it Ashley Young or Adam Johnson, that somehow this is just part of the game. Well it clearly is, but that doesn’t make it right. Let’s just accept racist remarks, hooliganism and poor-quality burgers if that’s the case. And let’s keep proclaiming that “raising your hands” is an excuse for the referee to send you off. Or the ball touching your hand in the penalty area is a just cause for punishment.

Back at Wembley, and only a few minutes after Chelsea’s controversial goal, Spurs were back in the game, with a perfectly legitimate goal that still resulted in a slating by some for the referee. A slating due to him doing his job perfectly. As tweeter after tweeter asked why Cech wasn’t sent off, it seemed that denying a goal scoring opportunity still counts to some even when a goal is scored. Go figure. Though Mike Parry, ex of Talksport, still thinks the rule is “last man”.

The rule was brought in to stop cynical professional fouls by defenders. That’s why it does not require a red card for Peter Cech, a decision that logic would suggest would be ridiculously harsh anyway, punishing the defending team twice over. In theory Bale could have deliberately missed the shot and got a red card for Cech and a penalty into the bargain, as was debated by the commentators at the time, but surely not, as even if Bale had missed, he clearly had a goal scoring opportunity. Cech would have been similarly cheated to have been dismissed.

Martin Atkinson was back on our screens and in our thoughts once more in midweek as he hung behind the goal as one of Howard Webb’s multitude of assistants, generally overseeing things and keeping a straight face. Cue more questions from fans about what the point is of assistants behind the goal – they don’t anything, hey, they don’t even have a flag!! And as we all know, no one can function without a flag. So if this is your view of them, then please stop. I’ll leave it to a tweet by the journalist Jonathan Wilson to set the record straight.

FFS. How is this hard to grasp? Goalline officials speak to refs on mics. We have no idea how much or how little they say.

A bit harsh, but it gets the message across. Maybe we should give them flags, just to stop people whinging.

The same game brought plenty of other talking points. Ribery showed Ashley Young and co. a thing about diving, hitting the deck as if knee-capped on a minute-by-minute basis. Then there were claims for a penalty in the first half as he went down after having his shirt grabbed at. That grab however didn’t cause the fall, slight as it was, so I can’t see any problem in not awarding a penalty. But in the second half perhaps Bayern Munich had better claims for penalties after two tackles in the area. This led to the usual guff and oft-quoted assertion that the defender “got something on the ball”, as if this excuses him from any punishment whatsoever. When will commentators realise that you can touch the ball in an attempted tackle and still foul the opposing player?

The rules aren’t easy – a game built on the premise of 17 laws first drawn up in 1863, and given a major revamp in 1997, has 10,000 variations and interpretations of situations, which are tweaked on a yearly basis. Fans can’t possibly know them all, and some follow the game more than others of course, but I would expect national newspaper journalists to have a grasp of them, rather than tweeting to ask why Cech wasn’t sent off (I’m looking at you Darren Lewis). I spent so long arriving at games at the last minute I forgot the first kick had to be forward. Referees make some terrible mistakes, some are just not up to it in my opinion, but they are not helped. The ruling authorities have dragged their feet for years in helping them with the technology available, and they face a double whammy by being slated by fans and journalists alike that can’t even be bothered to check the rules.


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