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Are we right to hound referees?

Tuesday 24th January 2017
The quality of refereeing in England's top leagues was again brought into question this weekend with a number of high profile incidents and decisions. Pundits on Match Of The Day, Sky Sports and even Howard Webb on BT Sport joined in on the debate.

As a referee myself I tend to lie firmly on the side of the men in black, however this weekend I found myself thinking why are these men and women subject to so much bad mouthing? With Wenger physically assaulting the fourth official on the touch line is it time to say enough, football is just a game?

Wrong and poor decisions rile people, that rings true not just in football but in all warps of life, but it is only in football you see the levels of abuse aimed at the mistake maker turn into a personal attack. If you take an office for example, mistakes are a regular occurrence – whether that be too many sugars in your cup of tea, slightly wrong data entry or just slow work – but you wouldn't dream of screaming in the face of a colleague, surrounding or even pushing them because of this. Yet in football, a profession like any other, it seems the norm. The level of abuse Premier League officials receive filters down into grassroots football, even referees at children's matches are hounded now. Soon we won't have any officials left. If we take the Wenger incident at the weekend for example, he was caught on camera physically pushing the fourth official because the referee gave a (totally correct and just) penalty against his team. This will be seen by grassroots players and managers who will mimic this action in their games, making football an unsafe place for officials.

As I mentioned, wrong decisions do wind people up, but are they not a part of football? Do we talk about games where all the decisions were correct, easy and simple for a long time after? No. These decisions and human error are what make the game so exciting, so why do we hound the men who make these decisions? This throws up the discussion of technology in football, something which will surely make the game better and a more respectful place for all involved, but will it take some of the excitement away from wrong decisions?

There has to be some give and take, all too often the media and fans are quick to jump on the back of referees when something goes wrong, yet when an official makes a brilliant decision people seem to forget and do not give the credit it deserves.
The same can be said of personality. Referees such as Mark Clattenburg and Mike Dean have received a lot of negative press recently thanks to ‘ill-advised' tattoos and wanting to be the ‘centre of attention'. However, people seem to forget that players play with arms full of tattoos, demand the limelight and earn obscene amounts of money for this, so why can't referees do the same? They have reached the peak of their careers, refereeing high profile matches in front of millions, so why can they not shout about it? And who would bemoan a man for wanting to be centre stage?

The FA respect programme has gone a long way in trying to cut out abuse and make football more inclusive, but it has to go further. Whilst high profile managers and players continue to hound referees for making mistakes, the game will never be rid of the abuse. It will continue to filter down to all levels and this will mean fewer and fewer people will want to take up refereeing. If the FA want England to stay at the forefront of football, referee abuse needs to be addressed. Now.
Stephen Parkinson
23 year old Football fan, player and referee. Specialising in the Bundesliga since having lived in Leipzig for 2 years.

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