Belfast Telegraph

Listen up refs, it's good to talk

By Graham Luney

Referees – don't you just love them ... No? Okay, but you do respect them?... No?

Alright then, but you do have sympathy for them right? No again?

Have you ever tried to do the job? Many years ago I attempted to referee a Boys Brigade match and lost the plot with the players so I guess I was never destined to officiate at the highest level.

Just imagine having to put up with all that constructive criticism, all delivered in a calm and controlled fashion.

If the manager isn't on your back, the players will give you a piece of their minds.

Then there's the supporters who won't keep their opinions to themselves.

If you're really unlucky, a manager will come onto the pitch at the end of a game and give you the hairdryer treatment.

Surely you have some sympathy for referees who have to run a gauntlet of abuse... No?

They are working under more pressure than ever before because there are camera angles everywhere you look and everyone is waiting to pounce on their next blunder.

And they all deserve a round of applause for trying to understand the offside rule.

Still no sympathy?

We like a good moan in this country – gurning and golf are our two national sports.

Irish League fans have certainly done their fair share of moaning about our whistlers.

We all accept that refs will make mistakes but the frustration comes when an official gets a really big call wrong.

From the opening day of this season, our officials have taken flak. Ballinamallard United were unhappy at ref Raymond Hetherington for sending off Andy Crawford following a tussle with Colin Coates.

Then David Jeffrey was baffled with the decision making of Mark Courtney at Portadown and Colin Burns at Windsor Park when the Blues had two penalty shouts rejected against Cliftonville.

Interestingly, Burns didn't referee a top flight game the following weekend.

Ballymena United boss Glenn Ferguson was the latest manager to aim a verbal volley at a referee when he blasted Hugh Carvill on Saturday.

In my view there are two big issues surrounding referees in which there is plenty of room for improvement – accountability and attitude.

First, accountability. For too long there has been the belief that referees can't be disciplined themselves. If they make a howler, it's simply swept under the carpet with a big brush.

David Malcolm, Chief Refereeing Officer of the NIFL, says that referees and assessors will have to pay a price for short-changing fans.

Supporters' money goes towards referees' wages and while it's none of my business what they are paid everyone recognises that clubs pay a significant amount to the officials.

Let's hope refs will be held accountable. There's been a well documented Respect campaign focused on refs in the game, but respect has to be earned from a job done well.

This brings me to the 'attitude' point which is also a communication issue – the way referees speak (or in many cases, don't speak) to players, managers and the media.

How many times have you heard a referee come out and apologise and admit they made a poor call? They would gain more respect if they did.

Players and managers question officials all the time, but they are often dismissed as if their opinion is irrelevant.

I don't like to see managers confront refs on a pitch, but I do understand it must be difficult for them to keep a lid on their anger.

Some referees might adopt an arrogant approach which is unnecessary. They could communicate more effectively with players and managers without their authority being undermined.

Refereeing isn't an easy job, but if their performances improve so would the health of our game.

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