The challenge for the FA

I wrote last night about my frustrations about the referee from yesterday’s match.

We have all heard about the difficulties the Football Association have in losing hundreds of referees at the moment, and the response that they have made through the Respect programme, which is clearly a step in the right direction.

But to me there are some fundamentals that need addressing.  I am all for encouraging refs to progress, and trying to push younger refs through – as long as they are good enough and can cope with the rigours of senior football.  I don’t see referees as any different to players, some young players can step up into senior football whereas others can’t – this is the same with referees.

That said, I do believe referees need to understand football, understand players and the way the game is played and it must be difficult for younger refs to achieve that.  The best refs have a rapport with players through a game – this is not something you can prove you have through exams.

I have always believed that ex-players might make good referees.  In cricket most umpires are ex county (or even international) professionals.  They understand the game as well as the laws.  Wouldn’t it be the same in football?

Obviously now at Premier League/Championship level with the wages in the game, ex-players probably don’t need to work once retired, but maybe the FA should be recruiting senior pros from the lower leagues/ senior non league levels so that they can stay in the game as an official which could be made as attractive an option as coaching or managing.

This might require money to train and support these people but maybe there are enough mid-30s players looking to the future wishing they could stay in the game but currently not seeing refereeing as an option.

And who can blame them?  From junior level up referees have to put up with criticism and abuse – this is part of what the Respect campaign is there is counter.

Football is a passionate game, a dodgy decision by a ref can change the course of a game, a season or cost a manager his job. Read this report of the Hemel-Chippenham game yesterday (even the report by the Hemel reporter in the NLP agreed this was a dodgy goal) – who knows if dropping these two points won’t cost Chippenham promotion at the end of the season.

In no other sport or way of life can someone be so powerful yet so unaccountable.  Whether it is technology, third umpires or tv replays officials are given additional support in most sports but only in football does the opinion of one person mean everything.

In the pro leagues cameras have highlighted how much officials ‘get wrong’ yet in the Ryman League we can’t do that so the ref’s report remains final.  And we will suffer, or our opponents will until we have officials that we can trust to get the big decisions right, every time without fail.

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