As I enter the 20th year of my footballing journey as a player I can look back over the years with some satisfaction. It all started back in primary school, being the lanky kid I was the ultimate centre half, although the height counted I think it was my ability to miss time tackles and head the ball regardless of how hard it had been kicked, that pushed me up the pecking order. The present day has seen a transformation into a goalkeeper of which has been my preferred position for the best part of 15 years…… Why? Well the youngest of a pair of brothers meant I always end up in goal in the garden. This was not a problem as I actually loved being in goal and the challenge of protecting the windows from my brothers shots was a challenge I rose too. Plus I became pretty accomplished in doing it, 1 window in 5 years was a pretty good statistic and of course it was my fault for not saving it when it did smash. During those 15 years have seen a varying level of football from the Sunday league to Semi-pro, during which I think my team mates throughout all of my teams will confirm my commitment of both body and soul to the cause. I am my first critic in my performance and whilst I accept I am no Joe Hart, I like to think more often than not I contribute to the game in helping my team….
So during these 20 years of playing football there has been a consistent question in my head that I have never had answered, why would you choose to be a referee? Now this is not a dig in the slightest, I fully respect that if it had not been for the countless referees that turn up week in week out that football as we know it would not exist. Yes over my years I have had the odd clash with the man in black and more in my youth than now have been issued the yellow and red card . I for one acknowledge that they have a thankless job and all 22 players on the pitch do not make it easy. In my pursuit to answer the question of why, I have tried to referee a few games in my time. Not something I particularly enjoyed and whilst mostly at youth level the interaction with the players was honest and respectful. Add a few years into late teens and early twenties and these respectful players can turn into a foul mouthed assassin that provides 90 minutes of torment for no apparent reason.
My biggest gripe is consistency if the decisions and game, I myself found it hard and it can quickly turn it a situation where control and respect from the players quickly diminishes. However, I do find it confusing when a large number of referees are not players of the game. I find it hard to comprehend that someone enforcing the rules has not played to a level that warrants an understanding of the game.
I think the main issue is culture around the role of the referee in the game of football. The man in black is often made a scapegoat for poor performance or player mistakes. As with anything that is dictated by man, human error happens and it goes both ways. I like to think that over the course of the season the good and bad decisions weigh up and come out equal. Ultimately I am a true believer that you create your own luck, if you happen to get 2 penalties in a game because your winger is brought down twice whilst charging through on goal. Take a step back and analyse it, yes the opposition might call it a disgrace and hard done by but he was in a position to cause issues for the defence. It was unlikely that this was his first venture into that part of the pitch and the continuous offensive push is likely to reap these types of reward. Then look at the flip side how many fouls are not given, probably a lot more than are given. The referee in my eyes is part of the game, just like the wind, rain or snow. You play the referee like you would the elements and each man is different in their approach. I am the first to stand up and say I play a physical game, I play hard and I enjoy the competition. I expect nothing more than a competitive but fair return from my opposition, at the end of 90 minutes it finishes there hands are shook and it is left on the pitch.
So every referee, is a person most commonly but not exclusively male like you and me and majority of footballers. They are human beings and should be treated like one. So why does it means that a small proportion of footballers think that they can treat a referee so badly. If you meet a referee in the street or in a pub he is no different to anyone else. So why is it that once in the black outfit that he can be subjected to a torrent of abuse and intimidating behaviour. I have heard things said to referees in games that are unrepeatable, why that is deemed acceptable in any culture dumbfounds me. Referees deserve a level of respect and in return they will give you theirs. Rugby seems to have the right balance, the referee is a figure of authority and respect. Maybe because of the physical nature of the game a risks of significantly injuries means they it is adopted fully. There has long been the discussion around the social classes within the UK and who traditionally played which game and I do tend to agree on that discussion. However, poor treatment of referees is deemed acceptable by some in the game of football and that is what lets us down. I have often thought that some behaviour would not be acceptable in form of society so why allow it on the football pitch?
In my eyes referees are essential to our game and they deserve the respect that comes with that. Greater protection needs to be provided at lower levels, we as a nation and social democracy need to provide the discipline and guidance with the youth to rid the minority that think treating a referee badly is acceptable. If we don’t we might find that in years to come the grass routes of football in England struggles to progress as who would want to be a referee? Not me, I am not a glutton for punishment.