Sam Royden’s reflection on current refereeing standards

Author: . Published: at 6:34pm

Written by @SamRoyden

Standard of Refereeing

Refereeing is a hard job, regardless at what level you are as a referee, and I don’t think anybody in their right mind would disagree. Even at grassroots level, that I officiate at, you still have to deal with players, managers, abuse, tough game-changing decisions, game management, player interruption but at a smaller scale. For officials in the Premier League, its accelerated but all Premier League referees are not only well trained at St George’s, they work on fitness, review decisions from past games, learn as a group but like any other referee in the world, they would have been through the promotion to become a Select Elite Level official.

In the past five years alone, the way that we consume our favourite sport has only become easier. Top broadcasters like Sky Sports are allowing customers to watch highlights during 380 Premier League games via their app, BT Sports have a sponsorship with Twitter which enables users to watch BT Score for free in their feed and more PL games are being televised each week due to increased television rights. Refereeing decisions are being broadcasted universally and opinions among football fans are being posted across the internet even before the match has finished.

If you read my performance analysis’ for The West Ham Way, I rarely sympathise with referees when on occasions I should in fact consider all the factors. However, for the last couple of West Ham games I have become incredibly frustrated with, in my opinion, what are textbook decisions. I wanted to review a couple of decisions from the Boxing Day game at Bournemouth of a prime example of how basic decisions are being missed among professional, elite referees:

Bournemouth vs West Ham

Simon Francis high foot on Cheikhou Kouyaté

Within 90 minutes of football, Bobby Madley became the Christmas Grinch among West Ham fans during Boxing Day’s 3-3 draw away at Bournemouth and will continue to be criticised for his woeful decision making during this fixture. The game on the south coast was full of controversy and Madley was the man in the middle who failed to get those decisions correct. The first big talking point in the game was when Simon Francis’ high boot caught Cheikhou Kouyaté in the face and he only received a yellow card. When I saw this in real time, not even on replays, my gut said red card and I believe 95% of referees would come to the same conclusion.

Simon Francis high foot on Cheikhou Kouyaté

During this incident, regardless of whether Simon Francis did or didn’t have eyes on the ball, Francis showed a lack of regard for a players safety and in my opinion is serious foul play and warrants a red card. I do not understand how Madley came to the conclusion that this foul only an cautionable offence. It’s a complete lapse in judgement and this will set a precedence for the rest of the season with high foot challenges. Bobby Madley is a FIFA Referee – members of the FIFA list are qualified to officiate at international level. These referees are to be considered at the top in Europe, even world football, how can a FIFA listed referee miss a very easy, simple decision like this?

Bobby Madley awards controversial Callum Wilson goal

I thought Simon Francis’s was a bad decision but then in the 90th minute of the game with West Ham leading 3-2 after coming back from 2-1 down, Simon Long made an unbelievably, brilliant decision to flag Callum Wilson offside – what came afterwards was a complete disaster. When the ball was played towards Callum Wilson from Nathan Ake, Wilson was in an offside position. The law of the game states that ‘any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent’. Callum Wilson’s right boot was beyond Aaron Cresswell’s left boot.

Callum Wilson’s controversial handball for 3-3

Simon Long correctly raised his flag for offside and what should have happened next was Madley to award an indirect free kick to West Ham where the offside occurred and continued to play the rest of the additional time indicated by the forth official. Instead, Bobby Madley went over to speak to Simon Long and continued protests from Bournemouth players during their conversation, he overruled Simon Long’s original decision of offside and awarded the goal to Bournemouth. For me there are many issues with this decision:

1) Bobby Madley was not in the correct position to see whether Callum Wilson was on or offside. Madley took up a position on the opposite side of the penalty area and wasn’t directly in line with the second last defender to make that decision unlike his assistant referee Simon Long.

2) Bobby Madley was actually in the better position to see Callum Wilson use his upper arm to deflect the ball into the goal – Simon Long would have been able to see this as well but Madley was better placed.

3) On what grounds has Madley overruled his assistant on this decision? I assume Madley overruled Simon Long’s decision as he doesn’t believe Callum Wilson was interfering with play but as we all know and it’s obvious that this is incorrect. Wilson was interfering with play and was in an offside position along with the handball. As a team of officials, Madley should trust his assistant referee and it’s disappointing as all officials have open communication on their headset and only working as a team will they get to the right conclusion. Former referee Howard Webb said in his autobiography that he relied on his team as much as his own ability to get the best results, win as a team and lose as a team.

David Moyes was incredibly diplomatic during his post-match press conference about the standard of referees in the league and contrastingly Callum Wilson protesting his innocence on the field of play saying he didn’t touch it, to then admit touching it in his post-match interview suggesting in was a “a touch of magic”. Will there be any retrospective action for deceiving the referee? I very, very much doubt this will happen.

What needs to change?

The standard of refereeing over the past 3 or 4 years has been subject to many discussions and I honestly feel that it’s not getting any better. I won’t name the referees but throughout this season, I’ve branded some referees as ‘the worst in the league’ and ‘incompetent’ and I do stand by my opinions. The calls for VAR to be installed in the Premier League is becoming desperate with human error continuing to be the ultimate game changing factor. The amount of mistakes happening week in and week out and with so much at stake in the Premier League, referees and assistant referees need help. Look, human error is inevitable, it happens in all professions but for me basic decisions like Simon Francis’ red card should be the absolute minimum we expect as football fans and even as fellow referees. I feel that The FA, Premier League and the PGMOL need a complete overhaul and referees need to be reviewed under a microscope by PGMOL like players are retrospectively banned for deceiving a referee or violent conduct which a referee has missed. I firmly believe that giving a referee a weekend off, changing fixtures to lower profile games or dropping them to Championship, League 1/2 is not enough when, on occasions this season, their decision has dramatically changed the course of the game.

VAR being used in the Confederation Cup

Whatever happens during the rest of the season, there will be continued strain on the referees to perform well in the second half of the season and start to bring back some integrity and positivity to reputations of referees in the Premier League.

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