The Untouchables


In the wake of Arsene Wenger’s third touchline ban in a single season, which has yet to be potentially appealed, there are questions that beg to be asked. As the old cliché goes; ‘Refs are human beings and will make mistakes’, which in everybody’s reasoning is perfectly true. However, the governing bodies of respective tournaments, whether it be the FA or UEFA don’t do their rule-enforcing contingent any favours by denying them the right to explain, or even discuss with managers decisions that were called in the game.

Everyone knows that refs have an astonishingly tricky job to carry out and that’s probably one of the reasons why they are so well paid. With one blow of a whistle they run the risk of becoming public enemy number one to millions of passionate supporters worldwide. We all know, and more often than not it’s plain and simple to see when they call decisions which are unjust and unfair. Players, managers and participants alike are always keen and sometime overly so to put forward their case upon the referee where occasionally passion spills and protests become over-zealous, which in March ’08, when Ashley Cole expressed his disgust petulantly after being shown a yellow card for a reckless challenge. Many were shocked and appalled at the way Cole reacted to the decision and this then sparked a campaign backed heavily by the FA calling for ‘Respect for Referees’.

The campaign aimed at trying to get players to get on with the game and avoid confrontations with referees over debateable decisions. Naturally enough it was well supported by everyone and all agreed it was in best interests to make an effort to abide.

I personally am a firm believer in thinking that an apology, or recognition of a mistake goes a huge way. It takes away resentment and bitterness, and provides a catalyst to leaving the incident behind and moving on. Whether it’s the constraining of the FA blocking referees from explaining their decisions publicly, or if all referees are stubborn and will never admit to making an error, I don’t know, but I sincerely hope that it’s the former. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if refs go home at night and watch the highlights of the game that they officiated that day and think to themselves – “oops”.

A very recent example of this was when relegation threatened Wigan travelled to Stamford Bridge in search of points to keep them in the Premier League. The game finished 2-1 to Chelsea with both of Chelsea’s two goals being scored from blatantly offside positions. Roberto Martinez described the officials performance in the game as ‘disgusting’ and few could argue, even the FA. Much to their commendation however, the day after the game they wrote to Martinez apologising for the decisions that were not given and in a worst case scenario could ultimately cost Wigan their Premier League status.

This is the first incident of the FA writing to apologise to a manager for poor refereeing decisions that I can recall, and with it I wonder have they set a new standard, and will all managers now be sitting at their front doors the day after a game where they were on the end of some poor officiating, waiting for a letter from the FA to fall through the letterbox?

One obvious way in which many of the controversies and episodes could be avoided and which could be nipped in the bud at the time of occurrence is inevitably the introduction of technology to the game. At the moment officials are aided by nothing except their own and fellow officials’ eyes, which in mine and many others opinions does not suffice.

If we look at other sports, taking rugby as a prime example, we can see how efficiently and effectively they have mastered the use of video replays, operated by an official in the gantries taking a minimal amount of time. It astounds me that in an age where we can talk to someone on the other side of the world via technology, we can’t implement some sort of a device to detect when a sphere crosses a painted line, whether it is by means of video or micro-chipping.

Some will argue that it’s these debateable decisions which fuel the drama and passion and the game would be more boring without the scandals. Personally I think that it complete rubbish and in football you should get what you deserve via means of hard work, determination, and not by an unjust error made by the rule-enforcer of the game.

To conclude, I think some sort of action has to be taken to allow more interaction between managers and referees, especially after matches when all is said and done where managers can do so without running the risk of retrospective punishment. I also hope in the interest of morals that the FA have set a new standard in dealing with issues where costly errors have been made by officials such as that mentioned earlier regarding Roberto Martinez. However, I think in reality we’re always going to have situations leading to managers facing touchline bans for speaking out against refereeing decisions until we see the introduction of technology, when and if ever it may happen, ultimately eliminating any doubt and question on decisions.

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