In Defence of Referees: Why Arsene Wenger can bugger off

There are two things that annoy me most about football. The first is when Arsenal fans (and Arsene Wenger especially) seem to think they are entitled to success simply because they have a nice way of playing football.

It’s become less of a footballing philosophy and more a moral crusade. It’s like arguing that you should vote for the politician that has the smartest suit. Yes, you played prettily, but lost 1-0 because you tried to pass the ball into the net. Jog on.

The second thing that really annoys me is people blaming the referee for costing their team the match. As you can imagine, events this week mean that these two happenings have merged into one inglorious avalanche of piss:

The Arsenal manager called into question the Swiss official’s “attitude” and claimed that his team would have won the tie if Van Persie had not been sent off.

He called into question Busacca’s approach and confronted him twice in Italian – in the tunnel and then a second time just as the Arsenal bus was departing more than an hour after match.

Wenger said: “It’s not a surprise the referee didn’t book a single Barcelona player. I just spoke to Uefa people.

“They are shocked as well. He killed a promising, fantastic football match. What for? If it’s a bad tackle it’s a second bookable offence but the way he did it is embarrassing, if you love the game.

I have no sympathy for this kind of argument.

For a start, I’m a fatalist, and believe that the amount of good and bad decision your team gets even out over the course of a season. Complaining about the decisions a referee makes is like whinging about the weather.

Also, in this specific case, saying that Arsenal would have won the game otherwise is daft. Counterfactual history, as E.P. Thompson said, is “unhistorical shit” anyway. Look at the match statistics. Barcelona had 76% of the possession, 12 shots on target to Arsenal’s 0, a 90% pass success rate to Arsenal’s 71%, and completed 738 passes to Arsenal’s 199. Yet Arsenal lost all because of the referee?! Yeah, whatever Arsene.

Also, the TV coverage of refereeing decisions instinctively makes me want to stick up for them. Brian Clough nailed it years ago in this interview with John Motson (from about 4 minutes in):

I think that what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal. I do, honestly. And I think that the standard you feel that should be coming from referees at the moment is absolutely incredible…He makes a decision in 5 seconds, or 2 seconds, or one  second or whatever it is, in the heat of the moment, with 22 players and 30,000 people shouting and bellowing. All I’m saying is that you don’t make that point strongly enough. It should be over-emphasised how hard it is to referee a match.

I don’t really care hugely about football. Cricket is my only true first love. When Channel 4 covered cricket on telly, they would show footage of the umpire’s decision in “real time” as well as showing some slow-motion replays. Whenever they showed such a “real time” decision of a disputed catch, LBW or whatever, Mark Nicholas would then say something to the effect of “well, you can see why the umpire would have given that decision.”

You never see that happening with TV coverage of a decision made by a referee or one of his assistants. Instead, you’ll get three or four slow-motion replays of, say, an offside decision, and they will pause the action at the moment the ball is passed to the striker, and they’ll say something like “the linesman has made a terrible decision there”.

What they never do is show the decision in real-time and say “well, you can understand why they made that decision”. Clough was absolutely spot on: TV pundits seem to assume that referees have the ability to pause live games and slow them down.

It’s no wonder referees like Mark Clattenberg feel the need to take a month off to cope with the stress and constant scrutiny that he has to endure as a referee. The Henry Winter article is well worth a read, and shows that referees clearly feel they have very little backing from footballing authorities.

All this whilst managers like Wenger, who have more claim to be role models than footballers themselves, undermine referees’ authority. He’s supposed to be intelligent and should know better.

It’s demeaning for football, and all those involved should, quite frankly, grow up.

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One Response to In Defence of Referees: Why Arsene Wenger can bugger off

  1. shaz says:

    I could not agree more. What annoys me is the pure hypocrisy of the managers. ( not just Wenger) When an opponent gains an advantage due to an error, the referee deserves to be crucified, but when their team gains an advantage there is never a problem. Wenger and his ” i did not see it” routine never fails to anger me. Having said this, the problem is not just consigned to Wenger.

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