Let’s get the basics in football right first

Mike Jones, Premier League Referee, Norwich 2 Liverpool 5

It feels as if sometimes in football, we get so wrapped up in witch hunts, controversies and Premier League melodrama, that we often lose sight of what’s going on in the present. A seemingly never-ending string of refereeing incidents seems to leave many of us baying for change, as opposed to analyzing the wreckage.

So often within the aftermath of a controversial red card, a missed off-the-ball incident or a disallowed goal, thoughts immediately turn to what could have been done to prevent it. The usual suspects of video technology and goal line technology are wheeled out with a certain level of self-satisfied confidence. The feeling seems to be that the influx of some 21st century additions could ease much of the problems that our game is currently facing.

And maybe to one extent, that’s true. In terms of goal line technology, we have already seen two systems in principal – in Hawk-Eye and GoalRef – come to the fore, with the proverbial heads up being given by football’s governing bodies. But it seems interesting that we should spend such time focusing on the complexities of technology in football and the hardest parts of the game to officiate, when our country’s referees seem unable to get the bread and butter right.

It’s an age-old argument that seemingly won’t ever disappear. Premier League referees go through the mill week in, week out, making unfeasibly difficult decisions in a professional sport that is played at untenably high speed. What’s more, where as the tools of their trade are their own vision and human judgment, the rest of the world gets to scrutinize their performance with a dozen slow motion camera and startling high definition video technology. They’re never likely to look good every week, are they?

But there seems to be some things that are becoming increasingly difficult to account for within the modern game. In the same week in which ex-Premier League ref Graham Poll spoke of a past tendency to award decisions based on reputation, we saw a stonewall penalty decision missed by four match officials. Some will point to the refusal to award Luis Suarez a penalty under the bundling challenge of Leon Barnett as rough justice, but depending on your viewpoint, the connotations of the incident are very concerning indeed.

Why are we worrying about goal line technology when it appears that our refs seem unable to perform the basic task of judging each foul on its own merits?

Of course, the Suarez debacle is a highly volatile example, but the point is there. Goal line technology is crucially important and it represents an addition to the game that is hardly going to sterilize in it the same way as video replays might. But the point remains that such incidents will crop up no more than a few times this season. Horrendously poor offside decisions and excruciatingly soft penalty calls blight us week in week out. Shouldn’t we be focusing on seeing our referees get the basic right before we start clamoring for technological change?

There is clearly an element of tedium to this debate. Referees mistakes are part and parcel of the game. If we were to introduce a medium to eradicate that, such as the use of video technology, that would undoubtedly sterilize the game and rob it of the spontaneity that we know and love. But no one expects refs to be bulletproof and free of making mistakes. We just want a little more consistency and a lot less continuous error.

The game can’t be officiated off the back of a series of agendas. Sitting down in a board room and pronouncing a desire to clamp down on diving, shouldn’t equate to a blanket prejudicial attitude to officiating player of Suarez’s ilk and so on. It’s currently diving, but we’ve seen a similar focus on the use of elbows and the showing of studs in tackles. This may reek of a moral panic, but we’ve just seen this story play out a hundred times. Our Premier League refs work under enormous pressure and there has been something of a groundswell of sympathy for our officials in recent weeks.

But despite the pressure they find themselves under, that shouldn’t stop us from critiquing their performance. There feels as if there is a very large, ambiguous blanket over the world of refereeing scrutiny and their subsequent punishment. Understandably, governing bodies don’t want to see match officials undermined, but any tangible solution will run that risk. Be it a more publicized grading system, retrospective punishment for players or a microphone hooked up to the match official, every possible alternative is thrown out as being ‘undermiming’. It feels as if you can’t win.

Because finding a solution to ease the chronic, basic errors that match officials make – or at least reasoning behind their logic – is just as important as the implementation of goal line technology. All people remember from England’s 1-0 victory over Ukraine, was the touted ‘ghost-goal’. The media got themselves in quite a frenzy and the calls for technology to be rafter in were more aggressive than ever. What people tend to forget was that the goal should never have stood anyway, as it was offside. It is the bread and butter, which is as important as anything else.

It’s difficult to instigate an argument such as one about refereeing performance, without being able to offer a real, valuable solution. But although the call to arms to implement modern day technology into football is a valuable one, fans should be under no illusion that it will present a magic tonic to officiating gripes that dominate games every weekend.

Subtle compromises are there, such as a stricter system for grading referees or even the importation of foreign referees. But just a little bit of consistency and an improvement of the basics, would feel as refreshing as any deluge of technological advancement.

What do you think about the consistency of Premier League refs? Desperate for technology or would you rather we sorted out the basics first? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me how you see it.