Tag Archives: referees

Working the Industry Behind the Game

Referees take a lot of stick.

Sometimes they deserve it. Other times, when we are in a more generous mood, we are happy to admit that they have a tough job. Particularly at the highest level.

However, there are times when we are infuriated by their perceived incompetence and believe that we could do a much better job ourselves. We probably could, but we usually think this way when we are equipped with the benefit of multiple camera angles, slow motion replays and plenty of time to think.

We also need to remember that mistakes and inconsistencies are pretty much guaranteed in any fast moving, adrenalin fuelled situation. We too could have made the same mistakes in that situation, even when, from our vantage point, we can see exactly what went wrong. Human error is inevitable, and when there is a great deal at stake, the vultures are usually quick to pounce.

Having said all that, take last night’s Champions League game, in which Juventus defenders appeared to deploy tactics more suited to a game of rugby or a wrestling match than football. They were fully aware that one of Celtic’s strengths was the ability to score goals from well worked set-pieces. The Juventus defenders appeared well drilled in their tactic of nullifying that threat by bear-hugging the Celtic players or simply pulling them to the ground when they looked too dangerous.

Some might be inclined to describe it as nothing other than their traditional style of defending – suggesting this makes it normal, acceptable even – and I also heard someone say that Celtic were naïve to fall for these tactics – but Juventus got away with their negative and cynical approach all night, not because the Celtic players fell into their sophisticated traps, but because the referee and his stooges consciously chose to do nothing much about it.


There are times when refereeing mistakes and inconsistencies can be put down to inexperience, or intimidation by aggressive players and fans; there are times when they can be put down to genuine and honest mistakes; there are times when they can be put down to unconscious bias towards one of the teams; and there are times when you really do have to question the integrity of the referee and his entourage.

Refereeing integrity has come under scrutiny countless times in the past and it will come under scrutiny again in the future. That some referees have agreed to facilitate a certain outcome in return for a handsome reward is not a new thing. Managers and players are not averse to it either. There is a lot of money to be made here.

Last week, in response to the Europol investigation into the list of 680 games suspected of being fixed in the past 18 months, Sepp Blatter commented that match-fixing is such a small part of football that it will be overcome.

It seems to me that match-fixing is now such an integral part of football – and many other organised sports for that matter – that the chances of it being overcome are slim to none.

In a cynical moment, you start to wonder whether the manner in which football has evolved into a highly lucrative industry for already ridiculously wealthy individuals, and for those with the bravado and hard headedness to indulge in whatever dishonest money making practices they can get away with at the time, has resulted in the entire context being flipped on its head.

It may be that the honest competition we expect to see every week is now simply an addictively appealing smoke-screen that distracts our attention away from the real den of iniquity that sits behind it. We might not be too far from the truth if we went back to Sepp Blatter with the retort that honest competition, rather than match-fixing, is such a small part of football that it will be overcome!


So where does this leave Celtic in terms of the Champions League? Probably in the same situation as other teams not ‘expected’ to progress too far into the final stages of this glamorous competition – battle tired and weary, a little more experienced, an enhanced valuation for certain players, and significantly better off for their troubles. Not a bad return, when all is said and done.

Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn here is not that teams like Celtic are never going to be good enough at this stage of the Champions League; but that there are other teams from other countries whose presence in the final stages is far more appealing to the organisers of the competition. And hence (or because?) these teams and all their trappings are far more profitable targets for those who have mastered the fine art of working the industry behind the game.

(But enough of my paranoia – I am now praying for a small miracle in Turin.)

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Who would want to be a referee?

Who would want to be a referee?

The problem referees face is that their decision making is based on how things appear to them at the time, whereas our assessment of their decision is based on how things appeared to us, based on our priviliged vantage point and a slow motion replay of the incident.

There is no way of changing this unless technology is made available to referees to give them the time to analyse and reflect, in the very same way that we can, when we watch a replay and spot a crucial mistake.

Referees do make mistakes. Too many mistakes, in fact; but we are privileged in our vantage point and prone to see what we want to be the case. We look for reasons why a certain decision should be made, rather than another.

And, it is much easier to judge an incident in retrospect, with the benefit of technology, than it is to judge it at the moment it occurs in the thick of the action. But of course, that’s exactly what referees are paid to do and we expect them to get it right.

We are only interested in our own team. We scrutinise decisions against our own team in a way that we don’t with decisions against other teams. We rarely care about bad decisions against other teams. And in this sense we tend to experience decisions against our team as too frequent for our liking. But that is football.

Perhaps the standard of refereeing in this country is poor. Perhaps the majority of big decisions do actually go against our team. Perhaps referees make mistakes because they can’t concentrate for ninety minutes. Perhaps they consistently find themselves in bad positions. But so do many footballers. Yet they are quick to complain, as are we.

This is the just way football is played and managed. The vantage point we enjoy means that there will always be a difference between how things appear to the referee and how things appear to us. And there is not a lot you can do about it.

I don’t think it is personal, but it is very easy to feel that it is. I just think too many referees make too many mistakes. And like the rest of us when we make a mistake, we try to defend our decision and find a reason why it was justified.

Most of the time it just looks like a poor excuse, so we assume an element of bias. But we feel justified in assuming bias when we witness critical mistakes against our team on more than one occasion. The truth is, it is so much easier, and much more comfortable, to focus on a referee’s mistake than it is to focus on our team’s performance.

Honest or otherwise, the majority of referees in this country just don’t seem to be good enough, often enough; but by the same token, it is also far too easy for us to exaggerate the poverty of their game because of our vantage point and the emotions we invest in our own team.

So who would want to be a referee? Very few of us would, that’s for sure!

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