Peace & Goodwill To All Men … including referees.

RENFREW FC – Match Programme

League –December 28th 2018 – Cumnock.

PEACE & GOODWILL TO ALL MEN … including referees.

Renfrew forward John Horne, had been sent off for some innocuous infraction; the team had lost a contentious and feisty match and the players had made their way up the steps into the Pavilion at Western Park. The home team had been consoled by several home spectators as they passed, each muttering something derogatory about the evening’s referee.

One fan however, was more concerned to share his feelings directly with the man-in-the-middle. And share he most certainly did. Actually, ‘offload,’ would be more accurate.

It took only about thirty seconds for the poor ref to shepherd the last of the players off the pitch and then head to the dressing room himself. But the amount of expletives the spectator managed to fire off in his direction was blinding; disgraceful, actually.

What can I say? I was an angry young forty-something.

No – actually, I wasn’t even what you’d term an ‘angry,’ person. I was more than content with my life. Other than the immediately preceding half hour or so, that is. Which is why, when I got home and calmed down a tad, I was genuinely ashamed of myself. That poor referee!

And yes – he was ‘poor.’ Abysmal, if I recall correctly. But there simply was no excuse for my behaviour, and I have to say that I learned a lesson that night. I’m glad to say that there has been no  such repeat.

Worse, though, was a match at the old Petershill Stadium a few years later. I was stood along the far-end touchline with a group of pals. One, who I have to emphasise no longer attends Renfrew matches, took a real personal dislike for the assistant referee running the line only a few feet in front of us.

Now this ‘lino’ (not pictured!) was an experienced official. In fact, he is still active despite his previous ‘promises,’ to quit. He’s a real character of the Junior game and I’m sure many of you will know who I mean.

Anyway, the tirade this poor man had to endure was like nothing I’ve heard in fifty-one years of attending football matches. The touchline was so close, every word must have slapped him around the head like a wet fish.

His self-control was admirable. Had it been me on the end of that snash, I’d have willingly given up my ‘career,’ taken a police caution, maybe even a fine, and laid the abuser flat out.

My point is that I have utmost respect for the men and women who give up their time, in most cases for very little, if any, financial reward. I couldn’t do the job. I did try a couple of times, when I was still playing the game. It was a nightmare. And I suspect I was a nightmare, too.

Sure, referees make errors of judgement. Some will go against us – like the penalty against Beith, and some will go our way, like, erm … the penalty against Beith. See? There you go – proof of the old adage that what goes around, etc, etc.

At our level, Juniors / Non-League, I just don’t see any inbred or subconscious bias on behalf of the refs. It’s also most unlikely at Senior level too … but you know what it’s like, even today, being born and bred in the West of Scotland. Anyone who may not specifically ‘like,’ one team over another, WILL dislike one over another. That’s just the way we roll in this neck of the woods.

But they’re only human, at least most are to the best of my knowledge, and there remains the possibility that teams whose players constantly give the referee grief of the ear, will not receive much sympathy in fifty / fifty decisions.

And that’s where the sport has to make inroads if the match officials are to receive the same respect as those in rugby, basketball, handball etc..

You see, with the very tribal nature of football and its followers, if a player / team feels aggrieved at a decision, so will the fans; if a player / team shows disrespect to the referee, so will the fans; if a player / team shouts abuse, etc, etc.

It’s the gang mentality. And there’s nothing wrong at all with the ‘all for one, one for all,’ spirit. It’s what playing a team sport should be all about.

But fans are infamously blind in their loyalty, and that staunchness means we can be easily led. So maybe the time has come for players to bite the bullet and set an example to the supporters of their respective teams.

Players of other sports seem to manage ok, generally speaking. And so, therefore, do their club’s supporters. Why not football? Why should our sport be different? Our players are no more passionate, have no less desire to win than any other sportsman. Why can’t we show more respect to the men and women without whom we’d have no game to play or watch?

How many reading this piece would turn up for work knowing that your judgement, as well as you parentage will inevitably be questioned?

We all now live in this so called ‘snowflake society,’ where it seems everyone and their granny is compelled to bouts of communal hand-wringing and moral outrage on social media. I have to say, I personally find much of this extremely nauseating: endless numbers of people bleating on about not being able to have a good night’s sleep at the beginning of November, and that fireworks should be banned; that the school janny should be tried in the High Court for missing a small patch of ice in the playground on which some parent’s little precious slipped and skinned their knee, etc, etc. And everyone sympathises. Everyone is frightened to just say, “grow up, you imbecile.”

So why is there no similar outpouring of empathy afforded to the referee and assistants? Why not just accept that it’s human nature to commit errors of judgement. Indeed, in the mood of the previous paragraph, it’s most likely everyone’s ‘human right,’ to make mistakes.

Of course match officials will not always get it right. And yes, they could certainly do with some help. So what are good old FIFA going to do? Increase the roll-out of VAR at the top level of the game, that’s what.

I don’t want to open a whole new can of worms at this point, as I’m rapidly running out of word-count, but … do me a favour!

Other than goal line technology, is VAR really going to help the credibility of a ref if every little contentious decision is passed back to a studio? Is the ref not going to encourage more abuse from the crowd should several referrals reveal he missed a striker’s ankle being offside by an inch or so? Are the hecklers in the crowd not going to feel justified in their shouts? Surely the ref’s level of competency is going to be further questioned?

Of course, a slow-motion review of any border-line decision will be more definitive than an instant human decision. But I do worry that while the game and supporters may benefit from more ‘accurate,’ calls, the officials could be made to look like muppets. Sorry –  I mean, less efficient.

For me, the help the refs need most should come from the players. Show more respect; don’t try to con the man-in-the-middle and your opponents. Set an example to the fans.
Let’s give the referees and linos a break. Let’s appreciate what it must be like to walk in their shoes. Let’s consider how we’d feel with all that abuse flying in our direction.

Come on! It’s the Season of Goodwill after all … though I have to say, I’m not holding my breath.

(Truth be told, come the first dubious decision tonight, I’ll probably not be holding my tongue either.)

But hey, the sentiment’s there.