Refereeing Rant

Last updated : 09 December 2009 By Stand Free Ed


Another week goes by in the SPHell and yet again the talk is all about refereeing. Ironically, we have no complaint about Aberdeen's fifth red card in as many games against Celtic, but this actually amplifies the problem of bad refereeing in this country.

The governing bodies (someone remind me why we have three again?) all laugh off supporters' legitimate complaints. "They would say that", they sneer as fans moan about bad refereeing against their team. But this is different; Dons fans are angry about the refereeing in the Hamilton vs Hearts TV game on Sunday, just as many fans of other SPL teams are, and have been while watching the atrocious officiating every week, up and down the country this season in games not even involving their own team.

Fans are intrinsically biased towards their own team, of course. But when you watch a game not involving your team descend into total farce, and find yourself getting angry about it, then this is clearly something different. The Hamilton vs Hearts debacle is just the latest in a long line with the Kilmarnock vs Rangers game on September the most obvious precurser, and games involving Hibs, Aberdeen, Dundee Utd and Hearts coming under fire for dreadful refereeing decisions subsequently.

Fans know that if the man in the middle is making mistakes or applying the laws too rigidly, then what the players actually do on the park has had had most of its relevance to the outcome of the game taken away from it. And this is not fair, and it is not sport.

But what is actually being done about it? Nothing. We have Hugh Dallas completely dismissing the earnest misgivings of thousands of people every week, backed by the SFA. And while we look at our governing bodies with disdain, their obstinacy is just mirroring the higher powers of UEFA and FIFA, most recently demonstrated with the (lack of) repercussions from the referee in the France vs Ireland game's inability to spot the second-most obvious handball in the history of the game. Sepp Blatter had the perfect opportunity to make a statement about what football plans to do about these errors on the biggest stage of all, but instead made what turned out to be a hugely depressing statement: "there will be no change in the officiating of the 2010 World Cup."

This statement emphasised, underlined and italicised the current thinking in global football: they are happy with mistakes being made. Yes, they have the means to reduce the instances of mistakes being made, but they are choosing not to use them, and that is final.

Not only this, but referees are protected more fiercely than mafia informers. It is incredible that someone with so much power to influence results in a multi-million pound industry are completely unaccountable and, it seems, unpunishable when they make mistakes. They don't speak to the media after games, they don't explain anything, and they are ALWAYS RIGHT. When you think about it, this is absolutely preposterous.

It is now abundantly clear that football is the most backward, Luddite sport in the world. We used to mock American sports for being too TV-focused, but they were trying things at least - not all of which worked, granted - and other sports watched on with interest to see what worked and what didn't, so they could poach the ideas to make their sports more fair, enjoyable and no less exciting for the fans.

But look at three sports that are generally thought of as being prim, prissy, upper-middle-class and traditional to the point of old-fashionedness: cricket, tennis and rugby union. All three of these sports have embraced what the footballing administrators and even the football media embarrassingly calls 'technology', like they're still in the pre-microwave oven age of mechanical household aids and it's some sort of weird sci-fi futurism they are talking about. TV replays, and even the dark art of computerised reconstructions via Hawk-Eye, have been embraced and help make the aforementioned sports better for the paying public.

Yet football, once the strutting, forward-thinking sport amongst stick-in-the-muds, sticks its head firmly in the sand. Oh, but these will interrupt the flow of the game, they say. Sorry, but where has this idea that football is a seamless sequence of uninterrupted fluidity come from? The game is interrupted all the time, for fouls, throw-ins, free-kicks, penalties, injuries, goal-kicks, corners, drop-balls, half-time, to hand out bookings and red cards, and more. And with players staying down injured for innocuous knocks before getting up to play on becoming more and more frequent, the game has never been more interrupted. Football is no more or less interrupted than rugby union.

There is such a deliberate stonewalling of 'technology' in football that it is hard to see past suspicions of those in the higher echelons of the sport's motives. What do the game's governing bodies have to gain from decisions being wrong during games? From fans being frustrated week in week out? From a game that they themselves spend vast swathes of time, manpower and money on administrating and regulating being reduced to a farce by a single elementary and easily rectified error from an official during a game?

The only people I see benefiting are the newspapers, radio, TV and messageboards, which have ultimately fruitless debate about officials' incompetence to fill the week with. But wouldn't it be better if they were discussing football?


See the condensed version of this article and those from other SPL clubs' fans at:, and in The Scotsman newspaper every Wednesday during the season.


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