Who'd be a referee?

Who'd be a referee? As vocations go, match-day officiating is about as appealing as a career in bomb disposal. And with technology increasingly becoming another weapon used to lambaste the man in black, the job of a ref is a thankless task.

Who'd be a referee? As vocations go, match-day officiating is about as appealing as a career in bomb disposal.

And with technology increasingly becoming another weapon used to lambaste the man in black, the job of a ref is a thankless task.

JOSH WARWICK reports.

SIR Alex Ferguson's barbed tongue was in overdrive after Manchester United's FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Portsmouth.


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The scathing Scotsman, never one to conceal his emotions in defeat, was bubbling with rage at referee Martin Atkinson who had earlier dared to award a penalty to Old Trafford's visitors.

The knight of the realm's rants were supported by his assistant, Carlos Queiroz, who labelled Mr Atkinson a “disgrace” and referred to him as a “robber”.

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It is perhaps a sad indictment of 21st century football that such public abuse of a referee is worthy of only a few column inches.

And more depressing still, the United boss' bawling is replicated on an almost-weekly basis by his professional peers.

Pick up any Sunday sports supplement and the list of managers lamenting an official's “match-changing decision” is endless.

Ipswich Town's very own Jim Magilton is no shrinking violet when it comes to voicing his displeasure at referees.

The Northern Irishman is currently in hot water for the third time inside a year after arguing with Mick Jones over the multi-ball system employed at Stoke City.

As Magilton succinctly put it: “There will be managers up and down the country who would have behaved in the same way I did.”

But the repercussions of the decline in the levels of respect shown to officials are being felt lower down the food chain.

The volume and severity of the criticism regularly thrown at referees in professional football has left the grassroots game facing a major shortage of willing whistleblowers.

Suffolk-based former Premier League referee Kelvin Morton believes it is the responsibility of the multi-millionaire players and managers to set an example.

“There is a shortage of referees and the numbers have gradually declined over the last three or four years,” he said.

“There are a number of reasons for this. Some don't want to go through the palaver of having a CRB check, which is costly to them.

“And then there's the ongoing problem of the lack of respect shown to referees. It's actually worst in youth football because of the parents.

“The drop-out rate has always been quite high in the first two years. If they get over that, they tend to stick at it, but if they don't like the flack, they'll quit.

“The referees have the answer to the problem in their own hands, of course. If they feel the players are abusing them, they must deal with them.

“The example should be set from the top, though. If you start at the top, it sends the right message because these players are role models - or at least they should be. They are highly-paid professional athletes and if they were to show referees more respect it would quickly filter down.

“I'm hopeful England manager Fabio Capello will set high standards in terms of discipline. For example, he has said he wants his captain to be an ambassador and a role model on and off the pitch.

“I hope he sticks to hat because it's like music to my ears.”

Mr Morton, who famously awarded five penalties in a 1989 Second Division match between Brighton and Crystal Palace, accepted that fewer youngsters were drawn to refereeing.

But he said an initiative in Suffolk between the county's referees and Ipswich Town's academy system had proved particularly successful.

“I want to be positive about it because I got a fantastic amount of pleasure from reffing,” he said.

“We should remember that it's only a minority of players who are the problem, but if people see the top stars respecting referees every week, it would set the standard.”

Recently released Football Association statistics show that in some areas of the country, 20 per cent of games are played without a qualified match official.

And in Suffolk, a handful of senior SIL games were this season played without league-supplied linesman.

While bosses believe the shortfall is in part due to a growth in the popularity of football, particularly among women and children, the problem is being taken very seriously.

The FA has launched a national drive to recruit 10,000 referees a year to ensure that every game has a qualified official.

Former international referee Graham Poll believes the poor treatment of referees is an issue peculiar to this country.

The 44-year-old, best remembered for showing Croatia's Josip Simunic three yellow cards before sending him off at the 2006 World Cup, said the abuse of referees was not mirrored on the continent.

“A referee's standing is far higher in Europe than it is in England - referees are treated much, much better abroad than they are here,” he said.

“You become almost like a little celebrity if you like.

“I'm not saying you want to be famous, but you treated with that respect. You are revered when you go abroad.”

FOLLOWING a number of refereeing gaffes, there have been repeated calls for the introduction of technology in football.

To beleaguered match officials, the idea must be like owning a Ferrari but not having the keys.

The assistance of goal-line technology or video replays, for example, could have saved the blushes of Mark Clattenburg whose howler prevented Tottenham winning at Manchester United two years ago.

Then Spurs midfielder Pedro Mendes' speculative shot from the halfway line was fumbled by an out-of-position Roy Carroll, who only pushed the ball out after it went way over the line.

But the officials missed the 'goal' and the match finished 0-0.

Other futuristic ideas which have been mooted include the introduction of a series of sensors attached to players, referees and managers which would be hooked up to global positioning systems to eradicate human error.

Even impact sensors, embedded in players' socks and shin pads, could be used to send messages to the referee in a bid to expose cheats and divers.

Don't get too excited just yet though - football's world governing body FIFA have poured cold water on the plans to drag the beautiful game into the 21st century.

Experiments into goal-line technology have been abandoned and, according to FA chief executive Brian Barwick, the idea is now “dead in the water”.

A dejected Barwick said: “We are very disappointed. We were in favour of goal-line technology. But it is dead in the water.

“There will be no more experiments and it will not be back on the agenda next year - or in the foreseeable future.”

Two technological systems have been trialled - a 'smart' ball with a microchip developed by Adidas, and a camera-based system developed by the Hawkeye company, whose system is used in tennis and cricket.

Controversial FIFA president Sepp Blatter has long been against using technology, though.

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