Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Ronnie is right, let's blow the whistle on ref justice

Seeing red: Referee Ian McNabb is confronted by Glentoran players at Solitude
Seeing red: Referee Ian McNabb is confronted by Glentoran players at Solitude

By Billy Weir

There were two of the less surprising facets of Irish League football displayed at Solitude late on Saturday afternoon.

The first was a goal by Joe Gormley, no great shock in that, as it was his 175th in Cliftonville colours, but the aftershock and recriminations that followed were just as commonplace.

When Robbie McDaid was flattened from behind on the halfway line, Glentoran committed the cardinal sin of waiting for a whistle from referee Ian McNabb that never came.

As they fumed, the Reds zoomed up the pitch, and when the ball found Gormley at the edge of the box there was only going to be one outcome. Cue celebrations for the home side and pained protestations from the visitors, waved away by the official, and to rub salt in the wounds he then red-carded Ross Redman for taking his protests too far.

It must be in the genes, as his uncle, Ronnie McFall, a man who has witnessed one or two contentious refereeing decisions in his long and illustrious career, was more than happy to pick up the reins.

On television he didn't miss the target and hit the wall.

"We've got a problem with referees," he began. "This is the third match on the trot that some of the decisions that have gone against us are unbelievable.

"Against Glenavon there was Herron's sending off, a goal that was over the line and a throw-in from on the pitch; against Coleraine there was an offside goal and a penalty kick.

"There's a problem with the referees and they've obviously got a problem with Glentoran."

Typically strong and forthright words from Ronnie, and hard to argue with the examples he outlined, and when he had mellowed, not very much I grant you, when talking to the written media later, he elaborated on his concerns and, before anyone could just pass it off as sour grapes, offered a solution.

"For us to be consistently on the wrong end of these types of decisions... you can understand if you get a poor decision in one match but it's consistent horrendous decisions.

"Anybody who knows anything about football at all will see these decisions are horrendous.

"Maybe it's a case of referees knowing the laws of the game but not the actual game itself.

"That's always been the problem. We are the ones who are suffering. These decisions are costing us.

"I think the club will have to take some action about the current situation because everyone is suffering. We have to have a meeting so these decisions can be explained."

And before anyone thinks this is just an attack on Ian McNabb, not for one moment is anyone suggesting that he set out to put one over on Glentoran. He made a mistake, but he isn't alone.

A couple of weeks ago in this column I wrote a piece after Glentoran's game with Glenavon where I said Mark Sykes was going to become a target of all teams because of his unbelievable ability, and if that was done legally, or punished if not, then fair enough.

A Glentoran fan wrote in to complain that I should have been talking more about referee Keith Kennedy's display at The Oval (below), where he not only sent off John Herron but three other players too and, as Ronnie outlined earlier, he 'disallowed a Glentoran goal when the ball was kicked out of the back of the net by a defender but allowed Glenavon's winner from a foul throw clearly seen on BBC's coverage of the game.'

Well Eddie, you asked for my thoughts, but really it isn't my place or shouldn't be my job to try and defend the indefensible. I said then that I thought the ref had got it wrong and it was the same on Saturday.

Two of the local game's leading figures, David Jeffrey and Chris Morgan, on the Irish League Show were adamant that McDaid was fouled, and a number of camera angles seemed to confirm theirs, Ronnie's and just about everyone's view that it should have been a free-kick.

And that is now a part of the problem. With the BBC covering every game, it is only natural that more mistakes are going to be picked up.

Elsewhere at the weekend, Ards should have had a penalty waved on by Evan Boyce, while Tony Clarke also didn't award a spot kick for Newry when Mark McCabe looked to have been brought down by Howard Beverland against Crusaders.

These were just as crucial for the teams in question and I am sure any referee reading this will be saying 'yeah, but what about all the decisions that we get right?'

And they are correct. It is a job that most of us would run a mile from, but that is not an answer.

What we need is consistency, common sense and communication, something that former whistler Norman Cowie picked up upon in a piece in the Sunday Life a fortnight ago.

"Today's referees are under more scrutiny and pressure - they are monitored and judged by television. I'm told they are not allowed to go into the dressing rooms, so how do you interact with managers or get the respect of the players?" he said.

"In my day, I would have gone into the dressing room with my two assistants. Roy Coyle or any other manager would be there. I would say to him 'good luck and remember your responsibilities.' He would come back with, 'you concentrate on what you have to do."

What doesn't help, and it is not just managers and players, I have experienced a fair few brush-offs after games myself when looking to clarify something or other, is that there is very much a siege mentality, a 'them and us' attitude that is threatening to create a huge chasm between two bodies that cannot exist without each other.

Players and managers want common sense and consistency but communication is the real problem. Every game has a referee's assessor, a former referee sitting in the stand filling out his report on the man in the middle and then having a short meeting with him and his team after the game.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in those meetings, and wouldn't it be nice for the refereeing powers-that-be to come out and say 'yes, the referee did make a bit of a hames of that and for that reason he has been dropped this week', just as a player would be if he had a howler.

Or if they felt criticism was unwarranted or over the top, come out and give an explanation as to why they made the decision, not simply stick up a dismissive mitt and shoo people away like a naughty puppy beside a pile of poo.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that Ronnie's protests will undoubtedly mean more pressure on the poor wretch who will be in charge of this Saturday's game against Ballymena United. Jeffrey, with tongue slightly in cheek, laughed that 'the big man is looking to see if he can get some advantage' and, maybe, just maybe, that will play on the mind of the ref. They are, contrary to belief, only human, and will be under enormous scrutiny this weekend.

Let's hope we don't have to mention him, the tell-tale sign of a cracking day for any ref, but there's more chance of a solution to Brexit than ensuring everyone loves referees.

But when the local game's most experienced manager calls for a meeting to try and clear the air, then that is surely something that isn't going to be shown a red card? It's good to talk, as Bob Hoskins once said, and rather than long, good Fridays, let's make Saturdays better.

Out on the wing

It’s back to the future for Blues and Fenlon

It is perhaps the most intriguing signing of this or any other season as Pat Fenlon, a playing hero of the Nineties, has returned to Linfield as General Manager.

 The remit, we are told, will see the former Derry City, Hibs and Shamrock Rovers boss have lead responsibility for all of the club’s off-field activities, both at Windsor Park and at the new Midgely Park. He will also work with the Board of Directors to formulate the strategic direction of the club over the next five to 10 years.

 Interesting stuff. It is a role Fenlon has previously filled at Waterford, and the man himself insists that it is now facts and figures and not formations that are his goal in life.

 That hasn’t stopped social media going into meltdown with rumours that he is being lined up to replace David Healy, who is clearly under-performing if some of the people are to be believed.

 The reality is that after years of having things their own way, financially and most of the time on the football front, there are new challenges and challengers ahead, with Crusaders and Larne moving towards a full-time model, and the Blues, who tried it before, need to move to keep one step ahead of the rest.

 It is a fascinating appointment, and Healy is certainly too much of his own man to countenance any inside interference, but anything that can give him a bigger treasure chest of goodies to splash out will certainly be welcomed.

A word to the wise, don’t mention the title

It has been quite a fortnight for Ballymena United, a 3-0 thumping of champions Crusaders followed by a 2-1 defeat of table-toppers Glenavon on Friday night to move clear in third spot in the Danske Bank Premiership.

 Just don’t mention that the title might be coming to the Braid for the first time to David Jeffrey.

“Catch yourself on. Nobody is getting carried away,” growled the Sky Blues’ supremo.

 “It’s another positive step but it’s only three points. When you have won 32 trophies, 35 manager of the month awards, and nine manager of the years, I’d like to think you know something about the game.

 “If people start writing daft headlines like that, I do take it as a compliment, but we’re not there yet.”

 Is this the wrong time to mention I have put down a deposit on an open-top bus?

Belfast Telegraph


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