Following the furore over Jonathan Moss’ display in the recent match between Leicester and West Ham, there was a fierce debate about the consistency of referees. In this particular match, the issue of grappling in the box came to the fore, with the Match of the Day pundits pointing to several instances where both sides could have had penalties. It is certainly an issue that is worth debating. However, the tone taken by pundits tends to be one of blaming the officials and absolving the players of any responsibility.
Firstly, it is important to consider that referees have the most difficult job on the field. Not only are they charged with keeping up with players at least ten years younger than them, but they do not have the luxury of being substituted, meaning that they are expected to run for 90+ minutes.
The standards by which they are judged are also ridiculous. If a referee makes one mistake, they are subject to fierce criticism from players, managers and pundits alike, whereas often a poor display from a player is explained away as ‘‘just one of those days.’’
Then there is the fact that, when any contentious refereeing decision is discussed, there is nearly always a difference of opinion between at least two of the pundits. If armchair observers, having seen a number of slow-motion replays can’t agree, how do we expect the man in the middle to get it right at full-speed?
Alan Shearer recently proposed that any form of grappling in the box should be an immediate penalty, to eliminate any possible confusion. However, this would leave referees open to the accusation that they are ‘‘ruining the spectacle’’ if several players were sent off in the opening game of next season as the officials attempted to set some sort of precedent.
Lastly, many of the decisions that the referees get wrong revolve around diving. While many clubs will applaud attempts by referees to clamp down on it, they quickly change their tune when punishments are dished out to their own side, as managers insist that so-and-so ‘‘is not that sort of player,’’ when he definitely is. The fact that the officials are subjected to horrific abuse for just doing their job is unacceptable, especially when the players know in their heart of hearts that the decision was correct, and yet try to imply otherwise.
This is not to deny that referees are perfect. They certainly do make mistakes. However, the scrutiny of their mistakes is excessive, especially as they are often far more consistent than the players who criticise them for their ‘‘poor’’ performances.
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