The hardest job on a pitch, the referee?
Refereeing is the toughest job on the pitch, and this coming weekend we will probably see some more controversy. What I want to try and deliver is a sense of balance and perspective coming from a qualified referee, who has experience at schoolboy level and amateur level.
When you are the person in the middle of the pitch, in charge of making sure that every decision you make is correct, because it could cost a team a goal or a play at scoring a goal through a set piece - that is when you find out how tough it is to be a referee. The media will do a great job criticising the standard of refereeing, but the huge number of decisions they get correct go unnoticed. The closest comparison on a pitch I can think of is a goalkeeper, one mistake and its typically in the back of the net. It’s a matter of perception and having your angles and distances correct. The Premier League referees have the luxury of assistants, but on a wet Saturday/Sunday in the local park it’s down to one person, you the ref!
“According to the PGMO (Professional Game Match Officials) Premier League referees make around 245 decisions per game, three times more than an average player touches the ball over 90 minutes. That's one decision every 22 seconds. Approximately 45 of these decisions are technical - whether goal-kicks, corners or throw-ins - leaving around 200 decisions to judging physical contact and disciplinary actions. Of those 200, around 35 are visible decisions where an action is taken (fouls, restarts), and 165 are non-visible, where play is allowed to continue.
In total, refs make around five errors per game, meaning they are right 98 per cent of the time.” (Sky Sports 20/03/17)
Last week in the Liverpool v Spurs match, there were two penalty decisions which were very controversial. Let’s look at the Kane first penalty incident, for example, Lovren making a dive to win the ball but deflects it into the patch of Harry Kane. Last season, I would have said; offside, no penalty. However, the rules have changed with the phases pf play, which doesn’t make it easy for us as spectators or the officials to get it right. The 2nd penalty decision was correct from the assistant’s perspective; I can clearly see a penalty however on other angles it looks very soft. Man Utd at Old Trafford versus Huddersfield, a penalty wasn’t given for the foul on Scott McTominay. The referee’s opinion, I can guess, was that it was a coming together rather than a late challenge. However, we have the luxury of multiple camera angles and reviews by the broadcasters during, and post-game analysis. However, and this is the key phrase from any referee playbook, all decisions are made in the opinion of the referee (ITOPOTR!). It’s nearly a get out of jail free card.
Fitness is equally as important for referee’s as it is for our Premier League stars, they run just as much if not more than some players (11/12km per game), which means they have to keep fit, not just physically but mentally.
Although it may seem refereeing may be getting worse, it’s actually just getting tougher with the scrutiny on them as the game’s ratio per decision for money is increasing. Without a referee, the game will never start! Let’s look to solutions like VAR to improve the standard of referring and decrease the border line bullying by players when a decision is made.