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January 1, 2000

Getting into Football (Refereeing)

As this season draws to a close, there seems to me to have been even more talk of referees and the standard of referring than ever before.  The issue has been high on the agenda of clubs, the football press and avid followers of the game down the years of course, but this season there does seem to be a bit of an edge to it.

There have been some refereeing decisions of real note of late like the goal scored by Crystal Palace earlier in the season and then more recently within the last couple of weeks, the allowed goal against Manchester United in a crucial Premier League game at Old Trafford. We have to say that some disagreements with officials are down to bias but when both sets of supporters raise the customary chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” or “You’re not fit to referee” the poor old ref must think that he is having a bad game, as indeed can be expected from time to time since we are all human and decisions do have to made in an instant.

There is a strong consensus that the use of technology should support the human element particularly when decisions regarding goals come into play. I have been consulting the Laws of The Game as published by The Football Association and under the auspices of the World Governing Body, FIFA. As it stands, Law 5 is quite clear and I quote:

Each match is controlled by the referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection to the match to which he has been appointed.”

Interestingly Law 5 goes on to say “The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.”  

It seems to me that the introduction of any kind of technology would bring about a fundamental change to this law. The burning question would be in terms of who makes the decision; would it still be the referee on advice or some other party. The rugby boys seem to have got round this when the ref asks the third party “Can I award the try.” It looks to me by asking this question the ref is still the decision maker but the decision is based on advice which the ref is probably duty bound to accept. 

Questions regarding added time and weather are also fairly common. Sometimes we wonder where the added time comes from at the end of each half or does not come from more like; just ask Sir Alex about this one. Then there is the matter of games called off because of the weather. Law 5 is quite clear on both these issues. The referee acts as timekeeper and keeps a record of the match; final. The decision to start a match rests with the referee for any and all reasons including the state of the pitch and it’s surrounds but the law also states that the ref is not held liable for this as indeed he is not held liable for any kind of injury suffered by a player, official or a spectator. 

To add to all this a the referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.” The duties of the assistant referee, linesmen to you and me, are only to indicate to the ref and not to make a decision. These include when offences have been committed whenever the assistant referees have a better view than the referee (this includes, in certain circumstances, offences committed in the penalty area) So there we are, hence the influence of the assistant referee in our recent away game up at Carlisle. 

There is no doubting referees perform a vital role in the game, and with the growth in the popularity of football, particularly for women and children, the demand for match officials is increasing.  
The Football Association estimates that in some areas of the country, 20 per cent of games are played without a qualified match official. The FA National Game Strategy goal is to recruit 8,000 new referees by 2012 as well as retain the existing 26,000 officials to ensure that in future, every game has a qualified official who is receiving regular training and support from an FA mentor programme and helpline. So, are you interested in getting into football by coming one of noble 8,000? The first stage involved in becoming a referee is to register with your local County Football Association and the second stage is to attend a basic Referees Course.  
Any questions related to refereeing, contact by emailing [email protected] or by calling 0844 980 0621. Happy refereeing!  

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