At every Barclays Premier League televised match there are at least 22 cameras catching all the action, from all angles. For the professional referee its impossible to hide and mistakes are immediately picked up by so call experts, and the millions of viewers,world wide.
A few days ago I joined a well dressed group of spectators in a lecture room at Sheffield Hallam University to listen to ex referees and pro players give their distinguished views on officiating The Beautiful Game. We were asked to dress up in soccer jerseys but I probably could be accused of being 'over dressed' We had people in replica kits from Wednesday and United, Rotherham, Barnsley, Chesterfield, York City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and City, Liverpool, Newcastle, West Ham and more.
I wore my sky blue Azerbaijan cap, orange and blue CDF Libolo of Angola scarf, Bayern Munich red shirt and waving my multi coloured Vuvuzela which I picked up at FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010. I was going to blow it if the speakers were boring us...but thankfully it was not needed,,, but I got lots of curious looks leaving the Cross Country Express at Sheffield Station, just a hundred yards away..
Up on stage we had former FIFA referee Keith Hackett and Mark Halsey plus David Hirst and Kevin Davies- experienced players( Kevin still plays for Preston North End). Also moderator Steve Evans and referee soothsayer Angus Loughran. Questions had been pre-selected by the audience and there were some interesting comments from those on stage, after a Liverpool comedian had 'warmed us up' beforehand.
One memorable topic was that of the current crop of Barclay's EPL referees. The panel thought that the standard had dropped, and that the PGMOL and its leader Mike Riley were somewhat to blame. Keith Hackett, the former top man says that during his time in charge £5 million a season was spent on developing top officials. Now it is £10 million a season but there has been no progress. All would agree that under the TV cameras that mistakes are made but that there as no 'BENT' officials unlike the sensational news that we see in other countries, and even in the lower leagues in Germany.
One of the big problems in this country is the pushing and shoving in the penalty area, and the over-the-top simulated diving. There is only ONE way to combat this, even if we get down to 9 v 9. More aggressive refereeing, more red cards and massive fines. It spoils the game for the players and for the fans who pay good money as admission fees have multiplied ONE THOUSAND FOLD in a couple of decades.
I must watch 120-150 matches a year at all levels, from World Cup to EPL and top European leagues down to 8-9th tier in England, plus women's leagues and youth leagues. EVERYWHERE I travel I see highly motivated, well dressed officials working with pride and dedication and a high standard, although you will always get the loudmouth on the sideline. Professional officials are well paid, over £100,000 a year, but sometimes less than top players earn in one week. We have 4th officials. assistants at the side of goals and technology on the goal line.
YOU ARE THE REF www.you-are-the-ref.com is the Sheffield based organization putting on this event, and this was their first attempt. Led by Keith Hackett he and his sidekick, illustrator Paul Trevillion (The Tottenham Cowboy) with his brilliant artwork, they produce the weekly YOU ARE THE REF series from 1957, and now in 'The Guardian', and many books, and we now have the YATR MAGazine, REF CAM and Hackett's BLOG. His 10 years as a FIFA referee, UEFA instructor and pioneer of Elite Referee development has shown the way world wide.
A few months ago I heard a tape of the continual conversation between a top grade referee and his assistants where offside, foul play and general periphial awareness was discussed during a match. Rugby League and Rugby Union often broadcast that chatter to the public, but it's not allowed in association football. I believe that more information to the paying public would be a better way, although I am against the Blatter idea of giving managers one or two chances to challenge decisions per half.