It doesn’t matter what level of the game you are at – it is a challenge that there must be fewer and fewer queueing up to take on each year.
At the top of the tree, you have matches with a myriad number of cameras staring at you and watching your every move and decision, for those with the benefit of a thousand replays to berate and debate. “No hiding any more”, we are told on countless phone-ins. “Top-flight referees are now professionals and so should be held accountable for their mistakes”. (So should the bankers of the world, but that hasn’t happened).
Still, although professional players will charge the ref down, swear and gesticulate aggressively at decisions where they think they have been wronged – those cameras are on hand again, perhaps like in a late-night town centre, a cctv-like deterrence to any of said actions going too far. (perhaps not - see last summer's English riots).
Further down the food chain, to local Sunday leagues and the like, the referee is not afforded such security – whether or not heated moments progress to anything physical, the intimidation must be real.
Back at the top it’s one, usually ageing, bloke in the middle of a very large pitch, trying to keep up with a new breed of footballing and athletic machines and making instant decisions to incidents as they perceive them. This last week alone has given plenty of ammunition to all those in the game and led us once again to everyone’s favourite debate. Video evidence and goal-line technology.
The Chelsea-Spurs game last weekend obviously harbours the major talking point and the reason why our red-tops are in overdrive again. The goal that was that wasn’t. That was. or something.
The problem at that time was that Martin Atkinson was so sure in his own mind that the ball crossed the line, that he decided he did not need to speak to the assistant on the line. These "Refereeing Assistants" are employed to "assist" - hence the enforced name change from linesman, no? Why did he not just do that? It may have saved us from all this brow-beating.
Was it because the Spurs players were surrounding him, pleading with him to do so? After all, he can’t be seen to be swayed by a swarm of players in to casting doubt on his own decision – however, if that is the case, I wonder just how much was he swayed by Juan Mata’s reaction, celebrating the “ghost” goal?
[one other thought springs to mind. The Chelsea players were very quick to come out and say it wasn’t a goal after the match (how could they say otherwise?) - poor Frank Lampard must have been having nightmarish flashbacks to the world cup - hey, don't fret, Frank, this time it worked out in your favour.
It is, however, still sad that common decency and the old corinthian spirit is so lacking in the game that no-one held their hands up at the time it happened. (a la Di Canio or Fowler). True, no-one would really have expected anyone to do so, how could they face their team mates should they lose - in the argument for technology, we are always being told there is too much at stake in today's game - therefore, whilst human frailty exists, it is ripe for exploitation. Win at all costs).]
No vast amount of money needs to be spent on a “hawk-eye” system or Ice Hockey-style red light on the goal - surely it is not such a frequent occurrence to warrant that, is it? (I’m happy to be put right on that – my thinking is that it is over-hyped so much when it does happen, that it is highlighted with a bright yellow Stabilo Boss marker and trumpet fanfares - but I am sure there will be tabloids printing lists titled "why we need goal-line technology - NOW!" which will prove me wrong.)
For better or worse, we have now gone so far that the modern professional game exists in its current form because of television – perhaps television can be used in this instance to help the much maligned man in the middle.
How long would it have taken the fourth official to see, with the help of 23 cameras and instant replays, and to indicate to the Mr Atkinson that he called it incorrectly? Seconds? The free-flowing game of football would not be hampered too much - the players would still be arguing amongst themselves in that time. Rugby League has elevated a similar situation with regards to tries to a whole event in itself as part of the game. That might be a tad too far, though and makes me shudder at the thought of goal celebration music.
I believe it is right for the authorities to take their time on this, and I am not just being a luddite. Once the pandora’s box is opened, it will release numerous questions and cause all sorts of ramifications. The game is played at many various levels and the beauty of football is its great simplicity - top to bottom. Once you stop using jumpers for goalposts, the game works on the same principles throughout. At what level of the game is a decision made to stop the use of technology or cameras?
Where does this leave the lower leagues referees? Once the cameras or tech disappears, will the game be governed and refereed in a whole different way?
UEFA have experimented with extra goal line officials in the Europa league, of course - something that many mock - but they are in the perfect position to assist and are in constant communication with the referee - they have helped with decisions on penalties and more in the past, also. Hawk-eye can’t do that part of the job. So do the cameras have a say on other decisions on the game? Which ones?
Gordon Taylor at the PFA had this to say, echoing most people’s views: “In this day and age, the technology is available and we should use it. We’ve got to do all we can to ensure that, in sport, justice is done.” True on the last part, but presumably that will then mean that all the rules are re-written so we can go back and punish those players properly that are seen to be cheating, diving etc. and that red and yellow card offences can be revisited more easily?.....(more on “cheating” to come at another point!)
As mentioned earlier, with every opportunity taken to try and fool the referee and win penalties, free-kicks, and take advantage of one man being in charge of the game - it is getting more difficult with each passing match.
As you can read above - as a humble grumpy old fan, I don’t have answer to this - sorry Sepp and Michel. Good luck with that. However, neither do I have an answer to why anyone would still want to be a ref...(answers on a postcard)