Why Does Everyone Hate the Ref?

Rob CarlisleContributor IJanuary 31, 2009

There is no figure more hated in the world of football than the referee.

Whatever decision he makes, in the eyes of one team, he is wrong.

This year, amid much fanfare, the FA launched their new "Respect Campaign," a programme designed to retain and train 8000 more referees than there are at present. Moreover, it is a campaign designed to stamp-out the culture of anti-social behaviour that follows football, and curb the level of abuse directed towards referees.

The England vs. Portugal game at Euro 2004 is a prime example of such abuse. Following the disallowing of a goal in the 89th minute by Swiss referee Urs Meier, England went on to lose in a penalty shootout and were eliminated from the competition.

Instead of the national media berating England's inability to progress in a major international competition and their woeful record in penalty shootouts, they instead proceeded to publish Mr Meier's email address and phone number, and launch a hate campaign against him.

This led to over 16,000 abusive emails and even death threats against him from the public, ultimately resulting in the need for police protection for him and his family.

On Wednesday of this week, Premier League official Mark Clattenburg was sacked following an investigation into his financial problems. The loss of one of the country's brightest and most promising young referees is a blow not only to the current crop of referees, but also to those at lower levels aspiring to greater things.

The example of Mark Clattenburg highlights the scrutiny which follows top-level referees. Following the 2007 Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton, over 3,000 fans signed a petition to have Mr Clattenburg sacked.

Even today, following the sending off of Rory Delap in the Stoke vs Manchester City game, Stoke manager Tony Pulis still managed to somehow blame the referee. Whilst he condemned Delap's challenge, he maintained that if the referee had given a free kick just before the incident, it wouldn't have happened.

Whilst his assertion is undoubtedly correct, it epitomises the blame culture in football. Instead of people accepting what happened, they try and shift the blame on to someone else, normally the referee.

The fact remains that if Delap hadn't clattered into Shaun Wright-Philips, he wouldn't have been sent off. What happened before is immaterial, he is responsible for his actions.

People seem to forget that the referee has one view of the incident, in real time and has to make an instant decision. There is no video replay system to help him, he does not have the benefit of 15 camera angles and super slow-motion to aid his decision.

Anyone can give an offside decision in commentary box with freeze-frame replays. To give it instantly and at full speed requires not only a huge level of skill and concentration, but also determination and courage to do it in front of 75,000 screaming supporters.

Whilst the Respect Campaign is undoubtedly necessary, isn't it a sad indictment of our game that there is the need for such a campaign? The fact that thousands of referees quit every year due to the bullying and abuse they endure should be a source of national shame.

Instead, it's seen as "part of football".

If people feel so strongly about the standard of refereeing in this country, instead of hurling abuse at the referee, wouldn't it be better if they actually went out and started refereeing themselves?

Surely the only way to improve the standard of refereeing is for more people to do it, and therefore drive up the level of competition, so that only the best progress?

I hear people say, "I couldn't be a ref, they get so much abuse". Isn't that half the problem? If people stopped abusing the referee, more people would want to become one and everyone would benefit.

Not until you do it can you realise how hard it is trying to manage 22 angry players and make split-second decisions. Six years ago, I watched a game which I felt was poorly refereed, so I went and trained as a referee.

I challenge the armchair critics to do the same.