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Are refereeing tensions really class war?

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Jim Spence | 11:10 UK time, Friday, 11 December 2009

Referees and managers are currently staring at each other like wild west gunslingers, while red cards in the Scottish game proliferate like bankers' bonuses.

But who'll blink first and will it come to a shoot-out before sanity prevails?

The sports psychologist Tom Lucas offers the theory that a kind of class war is at the root of the current problem.

His suggestion is that referees, in the main, are drawn from the professional classes while the players, by and large, are the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.

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Motherwell manager Jim Gannon has criticised refereeing standards

That means, he says, a simmering resentment at young working class men earning the kind of wages that the lawyers and accountants and others from a professional background, who some claim disproportionately represent the whistling fraternity at top levels, may not enjoy themselves.

Lucas further adds that there is a lack of deference from a younger generation of players, something familiar to parents and all of us over the age of 40, for one's supposed betters, which rankles with officialdom.

You may or may not agree with his theory, but while a state of anarchy may not be just around the corner, Craig Levein is right to raise his concern that steps must be taken by all parties to avoid a "them and us" situation developing.

Communication breakdown is a great track on a Led Zeppelin album, (those under the age of 20, ask your mum or dad) but it's not an ideal situation for the good of football.

Refs, managers and players have to start regular get-togethers to try to understand each others' points of view, and each others' jobs.

Accusations that refs haven't played the game so don't understand it, won't wash. I'm no plumber but I know when my sink's blocked.

The notion that referees can't distinguish between a bad and a mistimed tackle is stretching the limits of credibility.

However, they can and do misinterpret players' intentions on occasion, and then players, managers and fans react with fury.

Football people, and I include journalists, must start to learn the laws of the game. We can't criticise referees for the application of laws if we fail to understand what the law is in the first place.

Regular visits by top refs to the clubs and regular dialogue between refs and football people has to happen and happen frequently.

We've lost too many good experienced referees in the last few years because of a ludicrous and arbitrary age limit.

Stuart Dougal, Willie Young, John Underhill and others, could defuse an explosive situation instantly with a quiet word or, in Willie's case, a raucous turn of phrase.

The rapport and respect for men of that ilk has not yet been won by some of the newer officials. They need to earn it, in some cases by lightening up a bit and by showing more common sense and street savvy in a game where mortgages and livelihoods can rest on one bad decision.

But, there must be a quid pro quo. Modern top referees are fitter than before, have nutritional, psychological advice and more on tap, yet their job is becoming almost impossible.

TV angles everywhere illuminate contentious decisions made in a nanosecond and almost inhuman levels of perfection are demanded of them.

Some people make the case that a poorer quality of player in the modern game has lessened the ability to time a tackle and that some players don't realise that their rash challenges are unacceptable.

Some suggest that great players of yesteryear could read game situations so well that they didn't even have to make a tackle in the first place.

Whatever the truth is, referees and managers and players must find a way to talk to each other before the Gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted.

As the refs' head honcho in Scotland, Hugh Dallas has to get leading football bosses round a table to thrash this one out. Football will be the better for it.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Regular visits by top refs to the clubs and regular dialogue between refs and football people has to happen and happen frequently."

    Is it possible that refs could visit the clubs and play an active part in their training sessions? By actually refereeing training matches the players would become more used to the ref making decisions. The refs could also then take the time to explain why they made a particular decision on the training pitch.

    The refs would rotate round the clubs so there is no element of perceived bias if they worked with just one club.

    Sessions on the laws and watching videos of past decisions could also be part of the activity.

    Just my two pence worth.

  • Comment number 2.

    Michael Stewart was incorrectly sent off and the decision has been rescinded; but he must realise that previous indiscretions will have a subconcious affect on decisions made against him in future. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong, but it is a fact of human nature.

    Howeverm, part of a referee's remit should be to watch a the game afterwards and, if any decision was incorrect, immediately change that decision. This would be to rescind or hand out yellow/red cards for that match.

    A system like this might even prevent another week's worth of bad press for Scottish football that has been seen this week. Referees, managers and players all have a responsibility to Scottish football and until they work together nothing will get resolved.

    Unfortunately Scottish football has culture of blame rather than taking responsibility. Referees are blamed for losing matches, budgets are blamed for poor european performances and sectarianism is blamed on the other lot!!! Until everybody agrees to take on the responsibility of their role we'll be stuck in our own footballing groundhog day. :-(

  • Comment number 3.

    Led Zeppelin are awesome!

  • Comment number 4.

  • Comment number 5.

    I commend Mark McGee for his move to use the red and yellow cards to the benefit of the wider community. There is no point in fining highly paid footballers, fine them in their time and the fans and the wider community can benefit, perhaps this will lead to players being more in touch with the paying fans. Well done mark, something positive to come out of this negative situation.

  • Comment number 6.

    An explanation of decisions would be nice. e.g. last week a Hearts forward ran into the box with a Hamilton defender and both fell ... decision foul for Hamilton. This week a Dundee Utd forward ran into the box alongside a Hearts defender and both fell ... decision penalty for Dundee Utd.

  • Comment number 7.

    This class war thing may or may not be true, but it's blowing a lot of smoke over the basic issue that Jim Gannon has a point. The standard of reffing in this country isn't good enough. It probably does impact the league table and it certainly impacts the cup competitions.
    Dallas and the SFA will focus on the outbursts rather than what is causing them and the press are blindly following suit in their usual way rather than do some real work.
    Ref's performances need to be publicly rated. If Opta can rate every single player in the Premiership, how hard can it be to scrutinise 6 refs a week in Scotland?
    Also, crack down on deliberate cheating. All decisions should be reversable and if someone cheats, the punishment should fit the crime. For example, Thierry Henry cheated to put Ireland out of the world cup. As a fitting punishment he should be banned from the finals.

  • Comment number 8.

    The standard of refereeing does appear to have gotten worse over the years, or maybe I have gotten old and cynical being a DFC fan. I do remember my absolute annoyance at Valentine (The DUFC Fan) when he got a derby. It could be that players today maybe don't have the same level of respect for officials as it was in the past or as we suppose it was. But I also think that works both ways. Some refs show a total lack of respect for players and managers, we see it on the TV each week. Well you do if you support an SPL side because the BBC in their wisdom still don't cater for the other 80% of fans from the lower league clubs who don't get highlights. Jim I seem to remember a previous blog when I asked you to change that, it hasn't happened so I can only assume that you are either not the sport reporting god of influence I thought you were, or your an arab and that would explain it all. Anything to keep the Dees Down.
    Anyway maybe a way forward for the ref situation would be for all young players coming through now to take a course in refereeing as part of their football education and for refs to spend some time with clubs to see how the day to day operation works, maybe that would foster some understanding on all sides.

  • Comment number 9.

    Clubs could be proactive in their relationships with referees by encouraging management and players to study for their own refereeing qualifications. It takes a little bit of time but for the individual who is passionate about football it is pretty much a walk in the park.

    In fact I would go a step further, make it a compulsory part of the professional football employee's job description to qualify as a referee. A player/manager/coach has 12 months from the date that he joins an SPL club to pass the SFA exam. This would surely benefit all parties involved giving players and managers a better idea of the referee's thinking and giving the referee the confidence that the professionals around him are well versed in his job description.

    A win-win scenario surely?

    This might also offer professional footballers another career route at the end of their playing days. That's a highly speculative supposition but why not? Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper has been refereeing Sunday football for years and he is looking at this as a real possibility for a new career when he quits professional football.

  • Comment number 10.

    I dont think that there is a class war, when a ref comes on the field he is wearing a refs out fit and unless you particularly previously took note you would not know his background, only the press would tell you his background.In todays game the ref has a fairly hard job, he has app. 750 sq yards to cover and the ball seams to be easily whipped from one end of the field to the other and where is the ref, at the wrong end. He has an assistant who only covers half the field whilst the other assistant covers the other half from their respective touchlines, if the assistant refs(linesman ) were to cover the whole length of the field then the ref would have a pair of eyes on both sides for the length of the field and would basically help him to get things right when he is on the blind side of the ball.
    The other thing to help the ref would be a clock for everybody to see, when the ball is dead ie throw in, corner kick, goal kick, free kick, penalty kick and of course injuries the clock stops until the ball is in motion, then there would be no more arguements about the ref going over or under the playing time, a clock would also give the fans 90mins instead of the average 75 to 80mins of actual ball in play time

  • Comment number 11.

    until you are a ref you wont understand the pressures refs are under .i used to play football and i was the first to shout at the referee . then on day i became one and it was a real eyeopener for me . everyone hates the ref cause yes wee can make mistakes but thats football . managers only like refs if their winning . they should get a grip and get on with it refs do. and trust me we no when we have had a bad performance it sticks in your head until the next game ......cheers


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