Referees, Rage Or Resources?

Incompetent sometimes, ridiculously frustrating most of the time, but human - all of the time.

I am a referee's biggest critic, and complain on average, twice per match day that the standard of refereeing is not only considerably poorer the lower down the football pyramid you go, but is generally of a very poor standard regardless.

It's very easy to blame a referee for your club losing points, especially when blatant penalties haven't been awarded, or when the rules of the game seem to be forgotten - allowing a goal that has been pinched by a player when it was in possession of the goalkeeper - or giving a red when it's debatable as to whether the challenge even warranted a yellow.
Ref blunder as goal scored after ball taken from keeper
The reason why it is so very easy to express pure hatred at referees is because they get PAID to ensure that the game of football being played, is fair. That's their job. The money they make is made through 'judging' a game of football. It really is exhaustingly frustrating when every week at least one case of abhorrently 'dodgy' refereeing is lambasted in the media.

There are two sides to this. Firstly the argument that has already been presented - a referee is paid to referee, therefore they need to be fulfilling their job to a high standard. A teacher is paid to teach children, therefore they need to ensure that they do so in accordance to regulations and thus in a high quality.  If it was thought that a teacher was proving detrimental to a child's education, they would be reprimanded. If a referee is proving detrimental to a fair and even football game - they warrant punishment also.

The other side of the argument is one I touched on right at the beginning of this piece - they are human. It is a universally acknowledged truth that humans are, in essence, erroneous. That is, they make errors. Mistakes. Get things wrong. One defence I will make on behalf of the referees of English football, is that they're working a very difficult job. To be put under such volumes of pressure week in and week out must be bloody stressful. To be made to feel responsible for the way a game has gone, and to suffer abuse by how ever many thousands of fans each weekend must be something of an unpleasant nature. While they're not always consistent, they do a fairly good job in a difficult situation.

This argument is perfectly valid - and I am happy for referees to justify their mistakes on the ground that everybody makes them. Their job is of such a fast pace that mistakes are inevitable. However - acceptance of this argument is not to say that the FA should not be looking to improve the standard of refereeing and introduce better resources to aid them.

I'm not just talking about goal line technology here. I'm talking about making refereeing badges harder to earn, making it mandatory to be vigorously tested on the rules of the game, and to provide more support and development for the referees of this country. It is imperative that referees have the resources to be able to develop, progress and better themselves consistently. Not only for their own sake, but because otherwise - our game will go to pot.

How can this be done? By investing more money into the training of referees so that they are receiving it at a high quality. By bettering courses for referees so that they come back and actually learn new skills or know that they have taken something away from if. By increasing the difficulty of earning their badges so that the referees that qualify are of the highest standard. By incorporating more effective penalties as punishments for when referees do make unambiguous mistakes. There are plenty of things that the FA can do to ensure that in every game of football played, it will be refereed reliably, fairly and in an unbiased manner.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that the media stop making examples of referees because it needs to be made clear that they do need to be fulfilling their job to the best of their ability, which does mean familiarising themselves with the basic rules of the game.

I'm also not suggesting that we harshly criticise every referee in the game either, because we have to recognise that in their simplest form - they are flawed human beings, just like the rest of us.

What I am saying is that the FA needs to take more responsibility and begin to develop the referees that we do have, and encourage further aspiring referees to work to a flawless standard. This will involve time, money and resources but it is a necessary step to take if we are to develop the standard of our game.

It is fair to say that while referees ought to be kept on their toes, and accept criticism if their performance warrants it (just as a player, coach, manager or reporter would do) we ought to be thinking more of ways they can be supported and developed rather than swearing at them for 89 minutes out of 90 on a Saturday afternoon.

At the end of the day, without referees we would not have a game of football.


  1. Hi Anna, I am glad you have covered this subject because it does need highlighting I believe also the same needs to be implemented for linesmen/women as in some cases they should be helping the referees more and I think given the recent abuse Blackburn rovers players have been subjected to is totally unnacceptable one point in question is the James McClean incident when he stood on the head of Tood Kane was a clear red card offence and that day Wigan Players clearly over stepped the mark it was pure violence the challenges some of their players got away with another point in question was the Burnley away game when their players were regularly kicking the rovers players and playing outside the rules at the end of the day us fans don't like losing but we accept it if the opposition wins fairly but resorting to rugby style tactics and kicking players with the sole purpose of injuring them is unnacceptable and the referees should be made to explain their decisions and totally agree Referees should be made to explain their decisions a classic point in question with regards to linesman is the game vs Burnley at ewood park when a Burnley defender had his foot so high he almost took Rhodes head off it was dangerous and was a clear red card but look at the incident again the linesman that day should have seen it and helped the referee out I believe the FA need to do more to help educate, train Referees & linesmen/women to keep on improving because the last thing English football needs is to resort back to downright thuggery and violence this sort of behaviour needs to be stamped out!.

  2. Anna, Savio.
    Firstly my views are mine only, not The FA, Parent County FA or Referees Association.
    Referees are there to officiate a game between two football teams in accordance with the laws of the game, we apply the law in the correct manner on how we see it, we have different interpretations, but we do go by the laws of the game.
    Your views on referees being reprimanded does go on but not how you want it to be, each week a Select Group and National List Referee will be assessed, they will be marked on various sub headings like Application of Law, Teamwork, Match Control etc, the mark they receive will be logged into a merit table, this is to determine performances of the referees (assistants have this as well) if you fall into the bottom of the table, you could possibly be demoted.
    Your points about being paid to do a job to a high standard is right, they do that, but it goes along with you other part about being human, of course The Select Group get paid an annual salary but the local park referees don’t, they get £30 for giving up their spare time to officiate a game of football, I can tell you a fact, we don’t do it for the money! The Select Group are professional, they get coached, they train on a regular basis so yes they should be able to do their job to a high standard, but still only human!
    The training that we receive is adequate, it is sent from The FA. If you want to be a referee, you will have to pay £130 for the course, which consists of 5 modules and an exam at the end, during this period you will officiate games, having a mentor assigned to you to help you through the games, this is normally 3 -5 games. Now once you have qualified you are a Level 7 referee and can officiate games, if you are a certain age i.e. 14 or 15 you can only referee you age group or under. The more games you do the more experience you will get.
    Promotion, once you have completed a season as a level 7 you can apply for promotion to level 6, the criteria for this is attending a seminar about promotion, taking a laws of the game test and being assessed on 5 - 6 games, in which you need to gain an average mark out of the 5 - 6 assessments if you meet this, you are then considered for promotion, no fitness test is required at this point
    Once you are promoted you can apply again to go to level 5, the criteria for this is the same as for level 6 but what the assessor is looking for is a performance that reflects the level you want to achieve. Still no fitness test is required at this point.
    Promotion to level 4 (Contributory Match Official/ Supply League) is completely different, first of all the level of commitment needed for this level is huge, you will need to attend regular seminars/meetings, midweek games as well as weekend games, training - a very good level of fitness is needed to be able to perform at this level, therefore a fitness test is required and to pass it you will need to run constantly for 12 minutes covering a distance of 2,600 metres, you will then have a break, then complete X2 50 metre sprints in less than 7.5 secs, to go along with this you need to be assessed on 4 -5 games, the assessor will be looking for the attributes needed to become a level 4 referee. If you would like to keep going for promotion you as a level 4 referee will be regularly assessed and marks will be put into a merit table where it is monitored regularly.
    Last one – We do not have to answer any questions about our performance after the game, The reason, the media are not interested in how we performed, the fans/supporters are defiantly not interested!! So there is no need for us to come out and explain our actions/performance.
    To close the response: Your views are based on you watching games of football at various levels and not backing it up with fact and research. I have giving you an insight into refereeing. Everybody has a right to an opinion but judging a person or persons/system without knowing the full facts is wrong.


    1. I don't think you understand my point. I'm suggesting the FA offer more support.

    2. The FA offers plenty of support to us, as do our County FA's and also our Referees Asscoiation. You cannot expect us to be 100% right all the time, it’s not human, just doesn’t happen.
      You and other people who watch a game whether its Non-League of The Premier League expect us to get decisions right all the time, we see it once and only once. We make a judgement call on what we saw; we then process it and come up with a conclusion that is within the laws of the game.
      I watched the highlights of Tottenham vs Hull and the handball incident, Now the referee was in a good position to give it, no-one obstructing his view, he saw the defenders hands above his waist and saw contact was made, he thought about it and gave it….Now using the replays I saw that he could have been in a better position by running more to the left and getting a better angle, looking diagonally towards it, how close was the defender to the winger? Could he have got out of the way of it? I don’t think so...... I could go on….you can see where I am going with this; we have to make a quick call, in accordance with the laws of the game, the answer….. What sold it was that his hands were up above his waist and trying to make himself bigger to stop the cross.
      You will get inconsistent decisions week in week out and no amount of extra training; coaching or support will make it better. Experience is the key and always will be, I am still learning and I am a level 5 and been officiating for 10 years.

      One last thing.... Please find out more info on refereeing, follow a referee, what he does, when he does it, speak to a Referee Development Officer for your County, get his views, if you do this you will then have a different story to what you have already put up, trust me!


  3. T that is all well and good and I do understand referees make mistakes and they only see things once but surely when a team goes out to blatently kick an opponent and injure a fellow professional that is outside the laws of the game there are plenty of incidents rovers players have had to put up with that have been pure thuggery for instance is it acceptable for a Wigan player to actually go and stamp on Todd Kane's head and subsequently get away with such violence and is it acceptable for a Burnley player to punch Ben Marshall in the face and not get punishedwrong decisions as fans we accept might not like it but we know over a season they even themselves out but going to kick,punch and injure an opponent is outside the rules of the game and the offending player should be sent off and you say Your views are based on you watching games of football at various levels and not backing it up with fact and research. You say it is not backed up with fact or research you really should watch the the videos it is fact James McClean on loan at wigan has clearly stamped on Todd Kane's head I have seen the video that fact CAN'T be argued you should watch the incident before saying I am making it up it is as clear as day no grey area he clearly stamps on Todd Kane's head at the DW Stadium and the incident vs Burnley at Turf Moor is also clear on the video it clearly shows the Burnley man punch Ben Marshall in the face you should seriously take a look at it because it is very clear and both were red card offences and you say Refs are makred on score for their performances can you then confirm this happens at all levels of football and whether refs get scored at Skybet Championship level because I can say now the referees Blackburn Rovers have had have been appalling and should be demoted or is it just for the top level & the Skybet championship they are not bothered with? to close at the end of the day as fans we can accept refs get decisions about the game wrong from time to time but what we as fans can't accept when an opposing team steps outside the laws of the game to kick and injure a fellow professional that is unnacceptable and deserves a red card every time.

  4. Savio.
    You clearly are angry at things that have gone on in the matches you have mentioned and I can probably sympathise with you that some of those incidents were probably missed by the referee or/and the assistant referee. Of course it’s not acceptable to stamp on somebodies head or punch another player, there are sanctions within the laws of the game that control that, they are breaking the laws rather than doing it outside the laws of the game. To ease your mind, if nothing is done about unseen incidents by the referee on the day and doesn't appear in his match report, the club can complain to The FA and The Football League, it will be picked up and dealt with accordingly.
    Now I have just checked on both games that you mentioned and I am sorry to say that you failed to mention a couple of things that may be important to you opinion/argument. In the Wigan game, you had Hanley sent off for a possible elbow, at least an arm raised in Nicky Powell’s face, if the referee’s interpretation of the arm raised as violent conduct he will sanction in accordance with the laws of the game, also your manager admitted that it changed the game, ok a bit unlucky to lose the game at the death. There was no mention of any stamping.
    I also checked the Burnley game and again you had a player sent off for denying a goal scoring opportunity, the report says "Lee Williamson was caught out for pace, with the midfielder cynically hauling down Ings to possibly save his team a point", so it was injury time and he was through on goal and could have scored, which means you would have lost the game, within the laws the referee acted correctly. Also there was nothing about a punch being thrown at Ben Marshall.
    It is clear to me that you are passionate about Blackburn and football in general, however the examples you have given me seem to be either unfounded or clearly missed and that you need to blame someone or something for the performance of your team, it’s not uncommon to blame a referee for everything as he is the one making decisions at the end of the day but there are 22 players on that field and somehow they don’t get as much blame as the referee.
    I can tell that looking at the facts of those two games, specially the Wigan game; it is your players performance you should blame and not the referees in question.
    I give you a bit of advice, go and watch a local park football match, where a referee is officiating on his/her own and see if the amount of abuse he/she gets is justified, I can tell you now.... it won’t be, he/she is doing for £30 or less and giving up their spare time to do it, because they enjoy it, they want to be involved in football.
    TRUE FACT - Football is the only sport where it is deemed acceptable to verbally and sometimes physically abuse referees.


    1. I do appreciate your feedback - I do also understand where you're coming from, and I did think that in the blog I made it clear that I thought being a referee was an extraordinarily difficult job - I'm sorry if that did not come across.

      The main point was that there is always room for improvement and I feel the FA owes it to referees to offer more support - rather than as you pointed out - "deem it acceptable to verbally and sometimes physically abuse referees".

      Thanks again for your feedback.

    2. T, Anna,
      I can see the argument from both sides here. I pay to watch football and am left frustrated and regrettably angered on occasions where I feel my team has been penalized by a lack of diligence, bad timekeeping and what I perceive to be 'knee-jerk' decisions on the part of the referee. As a paying supporter I share Anna's views to some extent however I also coach a mini soccer team at grass roots level and have been called upon to officiate at various times. As a result I can empathise with you. I think in order to even consider a career as a football official takes character, confidence, determination and above all else a deep love of the beautiful game. Anna is correct, humans make mistakes. Footballers make mistakes week in week out throughout league and non league football but don't come in for anywhere near the same criticism and worse still the vitriole of the football fan.
      A professional footballer is part of a team in every sense of the word. From an early age they are supported, coached and advised by a huge network. Is this the same for referees?
      I see and hear verbal abuse to the referee not just at grass roots but in professional football also. I lay the blame for this fairly and squarely at the door of professional managers, ex managers, TV pundits and commentators who are given the luxury of analyzing a referee's every move post match. Until these overpaid and highly philistine people cease their wanton and invasive incessant criticism I fear the status quo will unfortunately prevail.

      Great blog Anna!