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|
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.