Belfast Telegraph

How local refs are showing the Premier League way forward

By Steven Beacom

So, Howard Webb is going to this year's World Cup finals in Brazil.

Clearly those recent high profile mistakes of his in the Chelsea v Liverpool and Manchester United v Spurs Premier League games didn't bother Fifa, who have selected him.

Mind you, I guess it would have been difficult for football's governing body not to appoint Webb  given that he was their referee in the 2010 World Cup decider.

He sent off Holland's Johnny Heitinga in their 1-0 defeat to Spain and booked 12 other players – dishing out more cards than One Direction will receive on Valentine's Day.

Okay, not quite, but you get the drift.

Webb, like all Premier League referees, does not speak to the media after matches, including when he hasn't made any mistakes.

That's a pity, as we could understand their decision making and thought process a little more, such as why exactly did Mike Jones disallow what looked a perfectly good Cheick Tiote goal for Newcastle against Manchester City on Sunday?

There aren't too many areas where the English Premier League could learn from the Irish Premier League, but this scenario provides us with one.

I'm not saying our referees are better – far from it, and they've had their own controversies to deal lately with reference to family connections and previous affiliations with clubs – but at least this season some of them have been explaining their decisions to the media after matches.

That is to be welcomed and encouraged.

I remember speaking at a referees function in Banbridge many years ago.

They were keen to ask me lots of questions.

In turn I asked them some of my own and it was interesting to hear their answers on how they dealt with certain situations that cropped up in games.

Having been highly critical of them at times down the years, they gave me a different perspective on their role.

Everyone says it is a difficult job, but I'm not sure everyone knows how difficult it really is.

I tried my hand at being a ref once in a kids match and some of the abuse I took from the parents on the sidelines was horrendous... and you wonder where the children get it from!

By the time the match was over most of them had calmed down, though there was one dad who grilled me about a particular decision that had gone against his boy.

I told him how I saw it and although he was not totally convinced, I think he appreciated me explaining my reason for the call.

That's generally been the feeling amongst media and fans any time Irish League referees have gone public post match this season.

In England, the refs fear they will be hung out to dry if they hold a press conference like managers once the final whistle blows.

It doesn't have to be like that. Pundit Gary Neville came up with a clever idea on Sky Sports Monday Night football when he said that to get this ball rolling referees should be allowed to speak about their decisions without being questioned on them, say, by making a statement about any major calls.

That would be a start and a whole better than the stony silence we encounter now.

Belfast Telegraph

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