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Don't shoot the referee, shortages and system to blame for mess


Referee Mervyn Smyth tries to separate Linfield and Glenavon players

Referee Mervyn Smyth tries to separate Linfield and Glenavon players

Referee Mervyn Smyth tries to separate Linfield and Glenavon players

What are we to make of the curious case of Mervyn Smyth?

The Northern Ireland Football League has disciplined the official and issued a statement which actually opens a can of worms with regard to how the game here is run.

Smyth has been stood down for two weeks after a critical report from a Referee Observer following Saturday's Glenavon v Linfield fixture.

But in their statement, NIFL appeared to indicate the Belfast ref would have been nowhere near Mourneview Park if they'd had someone else to do the job.

Only eight of the senior panel of referees were available on Saturday and Smyth got the gig because he's a Fifa referee, they said. The clear inference from all this is that refereeing appointments can be influenced.

Fans, players and Lurgan Blues boss Gary Hamilton were asking why Smyth was at Mourneview Park just a few weeks on from an embarrassing episode when he misguidedly congratulated himself on getting a decision right that led to a Glentoran goal by shouting 'Yes'?

Setting aside the daftness on all sides, the answer to this question is the most worrying aspect of this whole issue. It's clear there aren't enough senior refs around and the danger is that young, inexperienced officials are being fast-tracked through the system to take charge of big matches.

Meanwhile, Smyth will be one of the Additional Assistant Referees at the HJK Helsinki v Torino Europa League clash on Thursday.

In another development, a new initiative - trialled throughout next month and January - allows clubs to comment on referees' performances by filing reports after matches. It's all very well giving 'our clubs a voice' through these reports, but we cannot have a situation in which clubs influence the selection of officials for matches.

The question is also being asked whether the NIFL stance contravenes Uefa guidelines which stress the importance of confidentiality and remaining free from the influence of leagues.

And let's not forget players' responsibilities. The contribution of players on social media cannot be ignored, with Glenavon duo William Murphy and Shane McCabe having their critical say with regard to what went on in Saturday's match.

Relations between officials, players and managers could be a lot healthier.

As far as I am concerned, this isn't rocket science. The managers and officials, or at least a few senior representatives including NIFL Chief Refereeing Officer, David Malcolm, need to meet regularly to ascertain how they can make life easier for each other.

The managers need to be involved because they are often in direct confrontation with officials and it's their jobs that are on the line when referees get it wrong.

What do managers want from referees? Respect, consistency, accountability and a willingness to explain decisions and, if necessary, apologise when they have made an error.

What do refs want from bosses? Respect, support, appreciation when they have had a good game and a commitment from managers that they will instruct their players to show restraint and be professional at all times on the pitch.

What do managers dislike about referees? Any displays of arrogance. Yes, they need to have authority on the pitch, but the best refs talk to players in the appropriate manner and explain decisions. Even a little humour can defuse a tense situation.

Referees should also be encouraged to explain any controversial decisions after matches. If they are brave enough to make big calls in a big game they should be big enough to back up those decisions with explanations afterwards.

'No comment' isn't good enough. Fans, players and managers have a right to know the reasoning behind decisions, especially when the margins between success and failure can be so small.

Referees at every level will make bad blunders, but I suppose we should all look on the bright side.

At least none of our boys are racing off to an Ed Sheeran concert after the final whistle.

But this is serious business.

Put simply, if our referees can't get the big calls right in the big matches then our game will not be worth watching.

Belfast Telegraph