The Joe Royle column

WHETHER referees are right, wrong or indifferent, I believe we should not be publicly criticising them and our organisation, the LMA has got to get together and stop managers talking about officials after games.

WHETHER referees are right, wrong or indifferent, I believe we should not be publicly criticising them and our organisation, the LMA has got to get together and stop managers talking about officials after games.

Undermining them does not do any good and while columns like this or television analysis have a place in saying when referees have got it right or wrong, managers speaking straight after games criticising referees who are doing their best does not have a place.

I'm not pretending to be any sort of angel but even though 'Royle rant' or 'Royle rage at referees' scans well, rarely have I directed too much vitriol at referees afterwards, and I feel it needs to be cut out completely.

At the same time if a ref has done well we should say so. I was angry after the West Brom game when two decisions cost us dear and cost us six wins in a row but overall I felt the ref had a good game.


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I was taught at school the referee is always right and we should get back to that.

If we are not careful we are not going to have anyone left to referee games. We have spoken before in this column about the approach rugby has to officials and I would dearly love for football to have that respect where even if a ref has a bad game no one would probably know it because players and coaches get on with it.

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Funnily enough both games where there was controversy last weekend involved Premiership sides battling against relegation.

While I feel for Wolves manager Dave Jones, who is a good friend of mine and I know well, and can understand his frustration, if Uriah Rennie had a bad day at the office then we all have them.

Barry Knight made the wrong decision by not allowing the Portsmouth goal, the rules say it was right, but a bit of man a management could have allowed the advantage and kept the Birmingham keeper on.

Managers make mistakes too, we make bad substitutions that change games against us, we make poor team selections or we buy players that don't enhance the team, so we are all guilty.

The poor referee doesn't have television replays so we should give them more support and the LMA is a powerful body which can implement that.

On the other side of referees you saw the contribution Neale Barry had for Norwich, and please don't think this is a snipe or anything, but when that happens you know it is your season. It was still a great finish by Phil Mulryne and Mr Barry is totally blameless but believe me it doesn't happen for you when you are bottom of the league.

It was a light moment but I bet wherever he goes he is going to hear 'Neale Barry is a Canary'.

FRANCIS Jeffers is a lad I signed as a kid at Everton so I know his make-up. He will have been frustrated at not playing when he saw the likes of Campbell, Ferguson and Rooney could not play and he was desperate to and when he found out he wasn't the lad erupted.

But as Cloughie would have said 'Young man you have to have discipline'. The likes of Michael Owen and Gary Lineker would not have reacted like that and he has to learn not to - no matter how frustrated he is.

He went to Arsenal and it didn't work out, he came back to his home-town club and has not played as much as he would like and I have a little sympathy but just as with referees, the manager is always right even if he might not be.

I told Drissa Diallo just before the Sunderland game he was not going to be involved and he was very upset but he handled it like the gentleman and professional he is.

So, Mr Jeffers, learn the lesson and when you return to Arsenal gain a bit more professionalism.

THE great players of the past would have been great players of any era. I say that after hearing Diego Maradona saying he would have been even better today than he was in the eighties because forwards get better protection.

When I was a forward, defenders used to get the first tackle from behind on us for free and I would finish games with my ankles cut to ribbons and bruised just from tackles from behind.

So Maradona has a point, but taking it further those great players were so great because their technique was so good. They had the fitness to go with it. Stanley Matthews was a fitness fanatic in the 1950s in an age when players went home in the afternoons and smoked and had a drink but he was running along the beach.

He was the forerunner of the modern pro and believe me, despite what you hear in the media circus today's professionals are extremely fit athletes.

Even so Bobby Charlton, George Best, Johann Cruyff, Pele, Matthews, Maradona, and all the top players would be top players today because they would have adapted.

ASTON Villa have come from nowhere and are putting in a challenge for that all-important fourth place and a Champions' League spot. David O'Leary has done a great job at Villa Park and he has got the likes of Juan Pablo Angel and Lee Hendrie playing for him. He may be saying on television that they can't do it but I know in his own mind he will believe Villa can finish fourth.

Liverpool, Newcastle and Charlton are all doing well and it could be any of them.

What that shows though is the fine line between success and fighting relegation. Look at the likes of Everton and Blackburn, who were up there last season but are now struggling.

There are three sides who can contest the title, another six who won't go down but won't win anything, then after that it could be eighth or bottom.

It is hard to get a foothold in the Premiership. It would be fantastic for Manchester City fans if a Russian billionaire did come in. Having seen them at close quarters and the gallows humour they have, City fans have been superb. When we were in the Second Division they were singing 'We are not really here' because they could not believe it was happening to them but they stood firm behind the team, so I would be pleased for them.

If there are that many Russian billionaires out there then I can see plane loads of executives and agents getting on Aeroflot so if there are any Tractorski Boys out there you know where we are.

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