The underfire refereeing fraternity has found an unusual ally — a football manager.
While the men in the middle have been on the receiving end of much criticism from several quarters of late, Warrenpoint Town boss Barry Gray has jumped to their defence.
On the first day of the new initiative where managers fill in a comment form on the referee’s performance, his own task was made doubly difficult at Ballymena United.
Referee Keith Kennedy left the action at the interval due to a leg injury and was replaced by fourth official Tony Clarke.
“I thought today both referees weren’t centre of attention and I always say when they’re not centre of attention, they’re doing their job well,” said Gray afterwards.
“The referees would be the first to say that they’d like to see more support for them, not support from us, but in general, because they need to be better.
“We all need to be better and they have to be given the tools to get better.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, so we need to support them.
“We all get frustrated with them and decisions can be right, wrong or indifferent, but I think the unfortunate thing for them is that everything is televised now, so not only can you see it first hand, you can see it second, third, fourth and it’s splashed all over social media.
“I say to myself ‘it’s great being a manager because they don’t record me’ and you’re thinking if someone was flashing a recording of me every week you’d see a lot of flaws there too.
“At times we have to cut them some slack and say what can we do to help them? We can’t compete without them.”
As for the feedback forms, Gray admits he is a little confused as to how they will be used.
“I did welcome it, but then I was made aware last week that the referees don’t see the feedback,” he added.
“I don’t know if that’s right, wrong or indifferent, and maybe they see it in a different format, but surely if we’re going to encourage feedback on any of us, unless they see the feedback there’s very hard to do anything with it.
“It’ll give lots of people an opportunity to vent a lot of nonsense. Everyone keeps saying ‘referees are this, referees are that.’ Let them walk out and see if we can play next week with none.
“We all get frustrated but it’s a very small band of people that officiate games and I wouldn’t do it for love nor money. It’s bad enough being a manager, but a referee...”