It was March 22nd last year, when Andre Marriner got all confused and couldn’t tell the difference between Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and sent off the wrong man during Arsenal’s humiliating 6-0 loss to Chelsea.
A year has passed and two more incidents of mistaken identity have occurred in the top flight of English football. Roger East pretty hilariously couldn’t tell Wes Brown and John O’Shea apart when Man United beat Sunderland back in February, and just this weekend Neil Swarbrick incorrectly sent off Gareth McCauley instead of Craig Dawson just two minutes into their clash with Man City.
Now, we can all sit here and laugh – as most of us did – as these incidents, but at what point do we decide that enough is enough and its time that referees and officials are given some help? Provide them with some backup, a little support to help them get the decision right when they have an element of doubt in their minds.
The first thing the majority of the media will say is that the official needs to be punished, to spend a week or two working in a lower league, to shame them and essentially “teach them a lesson”. Personally, I think that just adds to pressure that the officials are already under. Make one mistake and you will be punished, will surely make some referees less likely to make the tough decision.
Referees have an incredibly tough job, I’m don’t for one second believe that I could do better. I don’t want to add to the list of people calling them idiots and mocking their ineptitude; I’m merely saying that they need some help.
There has been a million ideas put forward on how to improve the situation, ranging from managers being allotted a certain amount of “challenges” per game right up to stopping the game and using video technology like most other sports would.
The simplest solution in my eyes, would be to put the pointless 4th official to good use and have him communicating with the referee throughout the course of the game. The 4th official can be watching the game live on a monitor and communicating with the referee and assistants through an ear-piece. Its not groundbreaking new technology I’m talking about.
One of the main gripes with this kind of idea is the idea that stopping the game for this kind of consultation would result in slowing the game down, but I reckon it would speed the game up. How long did it take the three aforementioned referees to sort out the arguing and protests when he was incorrectly sending the wrong player off? That time would surely be shortened if the 4th official was in his ear saying; “Em, you’ve sent the wrong one off. It was actually Dawson.”
The idea that I have floated above, isn’t my idea at all. It’s actually being trialed (or a variation of it) in the Dutch League this season. Instead of the 4th official watching the game and being wired up to the ref, it’s just some guy in a production truck all on his own, insulated from opposing managers and and fans trying to sway his opinion. He largely stays quiet and he isn’t constantly trying to over rule the referee; more provide assistance in the more awkward moments that present themselves.
This 5th official, in this case, doesn’t get involved in any decision that is opinion based, like decision on fouls, throw in’s, corner kicks etc. That certainly would lead to the game being slowed down. Too many cooks can spoil the broth when it comes to that kind of thing. The rules of football, regarding fouls and tackling, are more a set of guidelines that can and will be interpreted differently by different people.
Not everyone is going to agree on what is a foul and what isn’t, so you have to let the referee make a decision on his own for that kind of thing. I watch many, many football games with the editor of this very website, and we often disagree on whether something was a foul or not. There is always going to be a certain grey area and an interpretation when it comes to how much contact is a foul.
I don’t think there is much doubt that the overall quality of referring in the Premier League has dropped drastically over the last couple of years, but if the FA and football as a whole don’t react quickly and try and provide the necessary assistance, the situation is only going to continue to get worse. Football as a general entity dragged its heels for years over the use of video technology, again citing rubbish fears about it slowing the game down, but nobody would claim that the introduction of the Hawk Eye technology has hampered the game in any way. So why would helping the referees make the correct decision – in an instance where the game is already stopped – be any different?