One of the great debates to come out of last season was whether referees should be made accountable for their decisions. On many occasions last year the public glare was cast firmly on the officials after a hideous error that many would argue had an effect on the game and result. But this is in no way a new problem. Every fan knows the experience of wanting to scream when in your eyes the referee has made a horrific mistake that goes on to affect the result. But should referees come out after a game and be forced to explain their decisions?
The criticism over referees is an ongoing issue around the country, from angry parents in a child’s Sunday league to irate managers in the Premier League. An FA fine for criticising a referee is so commonplace that you almost expect to read about it every Sunday morning in the paper. But whilst whether criticism is fair or not comes down to the situation, referees must now step up and be forced to explain contentious decisions.
Too often last season a bad refereeing decision would get swept under the carpet and the referee bubble-wrapped until the issue was forgotten. Whilst you can’t expect officials to get every single decision right, an explanation over why they made certain calls would go a long way in keeping the peace in certain situations. In a game between Bolton and Arsenal referee Stuart Attwell’s decision not award a free-kick for a clear foul and then within seconds send off Gary Cahill infuriated Bolton and changed the game as Arsenal went on to seal the points comfortably in his absence.
Sir Alex Ferguson was also left angry when in a league game last season Martin Atkinson didn’t send off Chelsea’s David Luiz before Chelsea went on to get awarded a controversial penalty that won them the game. In both cases it was the managers forced to explain themselves and question the decisions (and Fergie slapped with a long touchline ban) rather than the referees. Quite often officials find themselves demoted after a bad performance but a referee would lose no respect in admitting they were wrong, respect is only lost when a bad decision from a person in a position of responsibility is ignored by the powers that be.
But would referees stepping in front of a camera only cause more problems? Whatever could be said would no doubt be taken the wrong way or criticised by fans. Opening officials up to the media and criticism even more would only go on to cause more strain on people who already very high pressured jobs.
Tottenham’s clash with United last season is an example where the point over officials explaining decisions could be contested. Mark Clattenburg’s decision to award Nani’s controversial goal in United’s 2-0 win (a goal that sealed the points for United) divided opinion. Whether that goal was within the laws of the game can be debated but Clattenburg could have come out and explained why in his view it was a goal. But in this case would any explanation from Clattenburg be any consolation to Redknapp or Spurs after the loss? An obviously incensed Redknapp commented in his column in The Sun, “We all make mistakes. But wouldn’t it be nice if a referee actually held his hand up and came out publicly and admitted it?”
Officials do have the chance to explain decisions after games if they want to but the fact that the opportunity is very rarely taken up by any official implies that some change in that rule is needed.
One case of accountability from referees was Rob Styles in 2007. Styles mistakenly awarded a penalty to Chelsea against Liverpool and after the game publically admitted he was wrong and apologised. Styles was subsequently dropped from officiating the following weekend and such punishment and public apology was a fair and consistent way to make officials face their bad decisions.
The bubble-wrapping of referees and their bad choices caused endless arguments last season. Match officials must be allowed to make mistakes without the threat of personal attack but when their bad decisions start to detract from the beautiful game, referees should start being made accountable for their own decisions.
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