Former FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce has urged the Irish Football Association to appoint an experienced and respected referees’ chief to improve the standard of officiating in Northern Ireland.
There’s no sign of the Irish league refereeing storm passing following another weekend of controversial decisions.
At Seaview on Friday night, Crusaders were angry after referee Jamie Robinson sent off midfielder Jude Winchester and manager Stephen Baxter while ignoring penalty appeals when Ben Kennedy was challenged Paddy McClean.
Glentoran also felt decisions went against them, with manager Mick McDermott arguing that some Premiership referees needed a “personality transplant”.
Managers have raised their concerns about refereeing this season and Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) chief executive Gerard Lawlor said that without crucial support, refereeing is a threat to the league.
Referee Lee Tavinder has pleaded for more support and investment to improve the standard of officiating.
Boyce, who was president of the Irish FA for 12 years from 1995 until 2007, feels the Association needs to appoint a referees’ boss who commands respect.
“Gerard Lawlor and Lee Tavinder made balanced points when referring to the officiating, but this has to be sorted out because everyone can’t be wrong,” said the former Cliftonville chairman.
“So many bad mistakes are being made and in my opinion.
“Alan Snoddy was previously the Referee Development Officer at the Irish FA and I feel the Association now need to bring in a development manager who is respected by players and managers.
“There has to be more communication between referees, managers and players but that is only gained by respect.
“It’s now time that referees have better training and the Irish FA can bring in someone to head the refereeing department from outside Northern Ireland to oversee it.
“In my opinion the Irish FA referee’s chief should be someone who has done it at a very high level, is respected by referees and has been a Fifa and Uefa official.
“I’ve watched Irish League football for 70 years and there’s no doubt the officiating is a big issue today.
“There’s far too much arrogance from some referees and that’s not good for the game.
“We’ve seen some fantastic games and some good refereeing performances but the refs need help and a head of refereeing in Northern Ireland who they have great respect for, allied to better co-operation with managers and players.”
Trevor Moutray is currently Head of Refereeing at the Irish FA who say they are committed to helping officials.
Boyce, who is honorary life president of the Irish FA, served as chairman of the Fifa referees’ committee and he reflects on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as a shining example of officials performing to a high standard following the right preparation and training.
“I don’t get involved with the Irish FA since I finished but I was appointed chairman of the Fifa referees’ committee which I held for 18 months,” added Boyce.
“I was chairman of the Fifa referee’s committee at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. There was no VAR at that World Cup but after the finals, the president (Sepp Blatter) told myself and Massimo Busacca, head of the refereeing department at Fifa, that it was the first World Cup held where teams went home not complaining that decisions cost them the games.
“In my opinion, it didn’t happen by chance because of the amount of preparation.
“Swiss official Massimo Busacca was referee the famous night when Northern Ireland beat England. As soon as the panel of referees for the World Cup was announced, there were various intensive training sessions over a seven-month period before the tournament began.
“There was significant analysis conducted and myself and Massimo also agreed that irrespective of where the referee came from, the best referees would take charge of the knockout matches.
“The final of the 2014 World Cup was Germany v Argentina and the referee was Nicola Rizzoli from Italy who had the top marks in the tournament.
“I accept refereeing is a very difficult job but the training sessions were crucial and the praise for the refereeing was a direct result of the hard work that had been put in.
“I’ve seen how refereeing works and how officials respond to someone they respect and that needs to be addressed here in Northern Ireland.
“I want to encourage young people to go into refereeing but they need a lot more help and guidance.”
Boyce believes some officials are too quick to book players and others could be more approachable.
“It is imperative that referees understand the important of communication and that not every tackle should be a yellow card,” he argued.
“One example was in the under-18 Development League when one head coach said that six young players were booked and one was sent off.
“The coach why the experienced referee and booked so many players and sent one off and his replay was ‘that’s how I referee in the Irish League.’
“In my view there are far too many cards being flashed, when players could be given a warning.
“Of course dangerous challenges need to be dealt with but referees need help urgently and a respected head of refereeing from outside Northern Ireland will help us move forward. I think that needs to be seriously looked at.
“Mick (McDermott) made a valid point, some referees need to have a more approachable personality.
“Communication needs to be better.
“In my opinion, some of the officials are too dictatorial.
“In any line of work, you will get the best work out of people if they respect those who are at the head of the organisation.
“Something had to be done, we can’t go on in the way we are.”