There is no doubt that all referees make a mistake some time or other, as any referee will admit, so why do they happen? Let’s start with the amount of information that referees have to absorb and react to on the field of play.
The present Laws of the Game book, extends to over 300 pages, quite a lot to take in. Take cautions for instance. The number of offences where a yellow card should be shown, amount to nearly fifty. and the referee is expected to remember them all and take the correct action when committed.
Another cause is of course the constant changes to the Laws. Handball is a classic example as one that has several changes in recent years. The last change was to clarify it to everyone. There were however, two clauses which appeared previously, that are not in the Law now. Do they are still apply?
Then of course we have the difference in interpretation of the Laws. If for instance a player unfairly charges or trips an opponent, the referee has to decide whether it is careless, which is a direct free kick, or reckless when the player should also be shown a yellow card, or using excessive force which warrants a red card.
I assure you that if you showed videos of tackles to a room full of referees, they would give different answers because they have different interpretations on what is careless, reckless or excessive.
One reason not often recognised is getting promoted. There are six levels of referees, starting with Youth, where referees under 16 can only take games where the players are at least two years younger than them.
After 16 they can referee men’s games and you can imagine the difference. The referee who I suggested in last week’s column had made a mistake, was taking his first game in League Two. As you go up the leagues the play gets faster, the players more devious, which can affect your decision making.
That brings me to cheating, I’m sure you know the sort of thing, falling over and claiming they were tripped or pushed, exaggerating their injuries, making out they hadn’t pulled an opponent’s shirt.
I remember a player knocking the ball down with his hand and then kicking it in the goal. When I disallowed it, he said ‘well it was worth a try’. The spectators though, still thought I had made a mistake.
Having said all that, the number of mistakes made by referees at any level, are far less that most people complain about, including those coaches who claim the referee had cost them the game.
By Dick Sawdon Smith