Monday, 20 October 2014

Is It Time to Give Referees a Voice?

After the weekend’s fixtures, and particularly the game on Sunday at The Britannia Stadium where Stoke beat Swansea, referees again came in for criticism for their performance.

Swansea manager, Gary Monk, was extremely severe in his condemnation of Michael Oliver’s officiating in the game.  Monk was incensed by Oliver’s decision to give Stoke a penalty after Victor Moses appeared to ‘go down a bit too easily’ in the area under challenge from Swansea defender Angel Rangel.  Rangel definitely made contact but it seemed far too soft to be able to force the 11st 8lbs striker to the ground.  Monk called Moses ‘a cheat’ and believed the decision was the sole reason Swansea lost the game.  The incident occurred in the 43rd minute and given there were 6 minutes of injury time in both halves, there were a further 53 minutes of the game to go. 

BBC pundit, Danny Mills, accused Oliver of ‘cheating’.  He wasn’t silly enough to use the actual word, but he claimed Oliver had clearly given the penalty to ‘even things up from getting an earlier decision wrong when he gave Swansea a penalty’.  He argued that ‘refs won’t admit it, but we all know they give decisions to make up for earlier errors’.  He didn’t like the Swansea penalty decision, which was given against Ryan Shawcross for holding Bony at a corner, because if you’re going to give that then you’ll give about six or seven penalties each game.   Personally, it’s still remains a mystery how so many referees will stop the game every time players bump into each other anywhere else on the pitch, yet go surprisingly blind when there’s pulling and holding at set pieces.

Consider the offence Crystal Palace’s Damian Delaney was sent-off for, when he grabbed Remy after the striker had turned and got past him.  Delaney received a yellow card, his second and subsequently a red, yet one wonders if he’d made that challenge in the area at a corner he may have got away with it.

Press Conference

Anyway, this article is not to debate these decisions but to suggest referees are now so out in the cold when debates occur that this may be doing them more harm than good.

How about a referee’s press conference before a match where they can give their views on how they intend to officiate the game.  As far as we understand, refs often go into dressing rooms before the match to let the players know what’s expected of them.  Then after the game each referee has an opportunity to give their view on the game and why they made certain decisions.

At the moment every manager knows they can simply blame the referee for his team losing.  Monk, for example, conveniently ignored the fact Peter Crouch had his shirt pulled in the area stopping him heading a cross.  The incident was worthy of a penalty yet all officials missed it.  Monk also conveniently ignored the chances his players missed.

We seem to have settled into a position of accepting a manager cannot, or should not, criticise a player after the match.  Therefore, their only alternative to portioning blame is to single out the referee.  This cannot be good for the profession and must make it difficult for him and his family for the coming week.

Of course, we may well find the referees’ defence is simply “that’s the way I saw it” as many clever journalists point to having seen the incident several times from different angles and deduce the official did, in fact, get it wrong.  If you’ve read some of my stuff in the past you should find this a particular angst of mine in many sports as pundits can often wait until they’ve seen a replay before declaring the referee/umpire has got a decision wrong, despite the fact the pundit didn’t give us his decision before the replay.

If we are to accept no use of technology for checking decisions then we have to accept the ‘referee’s decision is final’, yet football, especially, seems to revel in the constant barracking of officials from players, managers and fans.  Maybe this is an example of the breakdown of respect for authority in this country as nearly every profession is criticised these days for being self-serving, inept and/or biased.

Personally, I don’t buy this “the referee changed the game” as there are 11 players on each side who can change a game.  If all 11 players are going to react to any decision with “there’s no way we can win now” then they really need to have a look at their attitude.  That’s the sort of reaction people watching have.  Most of us never made it as footballers due to our lack of desire to win no matter what, and so we have every right to believe those who have made it to the highest levels of their profession have an inner drive which spurs them to overcome anything put in front of them. 

It Takes a Second to Score a Goal

Now I fully appreciate going  a goal down gives your opponents the advantage of being able to close out the game, making it very difficult to break them down, but surely you have the belief a goal is not very far away.  We see late goals all the time in the Premier League, especially if you’re watching Liverpool at the moment, and often when the 4th Official’s board goes up for time added on, there is a rejuvenated air around the ground that something could happen.  So you’re rarely out of a game if you’re only a goal down.  Which means to blame a large part of a match on a decision which didn’t go your way is just poor.

It’s become too easy to blame the referee as he never has a right of reply.  He has become inanimate and therefore you are blaming the title rather than the man.  But if that man had a presence and was due to give his view after the managers’ maybe they wouldn’t be quite so quick to pass the buck.  Perhaps we would hear a referee question a manager’s tactics or suggest he look at his own players before criticising the performance of others.  It’s debatable whether that gets us further than where we are, and I feel many fans calling for the referee to “explain himself” are hoping for a bit of a bun fight where they can ‘grill’ the guy and hope he someone caves in and demands the authorities reverse his decision.  You could argue without having the referees point of view there is simply debate about what he was, or wasn’t thinking.  Whereas having the actual version allows people the opportunity to ridicule and rip apart his words.  In today’s social media world with a record of who said what, it is perfectly possible for a referee’s words to be used against him when he claims to have given a decision one way for one reason and then another way for a different one.


What we do have with all the talk following matches is an increasing lack of understanding of the official’s job.  So many pundits are ex-players and often they are as exasperated with a game as they were when they were playing.  For example, both Danny Mills and John Hartson accused Oliver of being “influenced into making a decision by the crowd”.  Now he wouldn’t be the first referee to have been affected by the vociferous support at The Britannia, yet whether this influenced him into making a decision he might not have made otherwise is not certain and only he will know.  The irony of both Mills and Hartson complaining of a referee being influenced by outside intervention is certainly not lost on this author.  Both were players always in the ear of the referee and the only reason they were doing that was to influence him to give things their way.  It goes on, no one should be under any illusion it doesn’t, as it goes on in every other sport.  To then accuse the referee to the extent you’re saying he’s soft, is crass.  He’s human and has one view of an incident which is often happening at a furious pace.

Umpire Strikes Back

One other factor around giving the referee more of a profile is they become more human and therefore easier to understand why and how they make certain decisions.  Some people may worry about referees becoming celebrities but they’re more recognised than they have ever been so this is probably inevitable.  But maybe it’s time for the “umpire strikes back” and perhaps we can get a fairer view of a match from managers than simply to blame one man.  If I had my way we would get rid of the post-match interview.  It delivers nothing other than an adrenalin-fuelled view of something you have just watched.  How often have you come away from a match fuming at what’s gone on, and then with the benefit of calming down and thinking things through you have been able to see things in a better light?  Better still, next morning you are certainly able to view things on a more even keel.  But the TV companies will not sanction this.  The move is for more immediate reaction throughout sport as athletes are interviewed almost as soon as they cross the finish line, and even tennis players are asked for their opinions when they have barely finished signing the balls.

In my view this change would alter the direction we have been going in with regards managers and pundits opinions and would certainly give referees more of an opportunity to back up their decisions.  You never know, some players and fans may get to understand the rules of the game better too.

Whatever else happens, you should never call an official a cheat unless you have very good reason and evidence to back it up.  These guys train for years and years and are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny each and every day.  This trickles down the leagues to grassroots level where every touchline ‘Shearer’ thinks they can question every decision made by “the man in black” purely on the basis he’s heard plenty of others doing it.

FA Won’t Allow

Despite the fact referees are harangued more than ever before, The FA appear unconcerned.  Their stance is to allow referees to give their reasons for decisions they’ve given could prejudice any appeal against dismissals.  Perhaps the concern is if a referee admits he may have got things slightly wrong this could result in clubs demanding cards are rescinded.  Which brings us back to ‘what does this add?’  Well it probably doesn’t add anything but neither does the post-match interview, other than TV companies praying for another Keegan/Atkinson/Dalglish moment.  Yesterday, Gary Monk gave the TV companies another moment for their festive ‘when managers lose it’ DVD.  I just feel a little sorry the referee isn’t able to put his side across and defend himself.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Would Rooney Add Colour?

Anyone who watched football in the 1970s and 1980s will know what racism in football is all about.  They were the decades of ‘firsts’.  First black player to do this, first black player to do that.  Yet there have been very few instances, other than one or two high profile incidents, occurring since then.  The issue still exists on the terraces and in the stands, but clubs have moved on.  The 2011 Census reported 87% of UK population to be white, yet approximately 25% of players playing professional football are black or ethnic minority as clubs have long since given up worrying about the looks of a player, preferring the value they might bring.  Which is why it is difficult to fully believe football would be able to completely ignore a person’s colour when they’re playing, only to have a block on them when they finish their career.

On the face of it with Chris Powell (Huddersfield) and Keith Curle (Carlisle) the only black managers currently employed at the helm of any of the 92 league clubs, this would suggest a problem.  However, this also highlights some people’s continuation with trying to divide people based on their colour.  In a true equal society there would be no ‘black or white’, just people.  We don’t single out ginger haired, bald, or beardy managers so should we really try and find a problem with lack of black-skinned managers?  There are plenty of people finding it hard to get a coaching job in football, yet we are only to have sympathy for those who are black, apparently.

If we go by 2011 Census information then only 3% of UK population is registered as Black or Black British.  So following that through 3% of 92 is 2.76 and therefore it would appear black managers are only slightly underrepresented according to the population ratio.  However, if you consider how many black players there are then you could easily argue against those statistics.

One factor which is being ignored is the focus is on how many black managers there are, yet no one is considering how many black coaches, scouts and other important staff members there are in the League.

The Rooney Rule

One suggestion is to implement ‘The Rooney Rule’ which currently exists in American Football (NFL).  The rule was named after Dan Rooney, owner of Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league’s diversity committee.  The Steelers have a long history of giving African Americans opportunities in leadership roles within the franchise.  The aim of the rule was to make sure minority coaches were considered for positions within the NFL teams.  There is no compulsion on teams to employ a black coach, yet they must interview at least one for any coaching position.  The rule was implemented in 2003 and supporters point to statistics which suggest there was a real problem within the sport for ‘not trusting a black person for such an authoritarian role’.  Prior to the rule there had only been 7 coaches employed by any of the teams from the first man in 1921 to 2003.  Since the rule has been in place there have been 13 coaches employed.

However, on closer inspection of these statistics you must bear in mind USA barely allowed black players into the sport until the end of the 1960’s, so to try and look back over 80 years gives a misleading slant on the statistics. 

There have been a number of football people who have called for the rule to be implemented into the game.  Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA, said recently the sport “has a hidden resistance preventing black managers getting jobs”.  Seems odd he’s never voiced that opinion before, but maybe he hasn’t been asked the direct question before.  Garth Crooks, former player and now tv pundit/interviewer, went further by accusing The FA of ‘lacking courage’ and especially singled out Greg Clarke, Chairman of the Football League, accusing him of ‘bottling it’ when Clarke revealed he had tried to get the matter discussed within a committee meeting but found the only director who was sympathetic to the idea lost his seat on the board when his club was relegated.

Another former player and now radio pundit, Jason Roberts, has also been particularly vocal in his incredulity of a lack of motivation within the game’s authorities to change the status quo.  In fact even Dan Rooney himself has said “English football has nothing to lose” by implementing the rule.  But is The Rooney Rule the solution to the issue?  Is there an issue at all?

With so many of England’s league clubs having foreign owners can you really suggest English football chooses managers based on the colour of their skin?  Are there many black managers throughout Europe?  At the recent World Cup how many nations had black managers?

My problem with The Rooney Rule is you automatically single people out for the colour of their skin, whereas there may not actually be that distinction at the moment.   The rule is racist as it singles a man out for the colour of his skin.  It says

“You, you are different cos you is black. So we’re going to treat you differently and ignore everything else about you, your attitude, your intelligence, your ability to plan and motivate.  We’re singling you out because of the colour of your skin and we’re going to interview you.  There, that’s nice for you isn’t it?  You see, we’re giving you a real opportunity here and if and when you get a job, you can thank us because you wouldn’t have got this job if we, as the white man, hadn’t stepped in and changed the rules simply for you.  Oh, and in 10 years’ time we can review this and you can look back and will now owe us white folk as you wouldn’t have had this opportunity without us.  Now, run along little black fella, and don’t forget who’s in charge.”

There you are, job done, everything in the garden is rosy.

But is it? 

For every coaching position in NFL there has been a black person interviewed, yet barely one a year has been successful in their application.  Does that mean the problem has been eradicated?  Can the NFL truly claim there is no racism within the selection of their coaches?  If it is the rule which has allowed black coaches to come through, why do they still need it after 10 years?  If they didn’t before, surely the franchises all now believe in the ability of any coach, no matter their colour, and so removing the rule would mean every coach is selected on merit, wouldn’t it?  But then that’s my problem with the issue.  White people can feel they’ve sorted the problem by giving the black man an opportunity and the black man must feel continually thankful for it.  So much so, that there are no calls for the rule to be relaxed, presumably for fear it would take the sport back to “the bad old days”.  Racism is something which is learned and so can equally be unlearned.  Surely franchise owners now want to employ the best candidate and if they did have a problem, no matter how conscious they were of it, they will now be aware of the need to show they’re inclusive not exclusive.?

If NFL is afraid to remove the rule then they’ve hardly dealt with the underlying problem in any way, and rather proves my point of it being a ruse for the ‘white man’ to suggest they have allowed the ‘black man’ to join their party.  You need to deal with the cause before you can enjoy the effect.

The Rooney Rule goes against looking at a person’s ability to manage, motivate, organise and recruit, yet these are all qualities needed for a manager in club football.  Wouldn’t Jason Roberts, Garth Crooks, Sol Campbell or Dwight Yorke serve ‘the black argument’ better by seeking careers in management rather than take the Sky pound? 

Numerous people have pointed to the dearth of black managers in English football but no one will name names.  By that I mean nobody states who the managers are who are not being given opportunities.  Every out-of-work manager will tell you they should be in work, regardless of their background or ethnicity.  Often ex-players will need to take over at clubs in the lower divisions and work their way up, but even that doesn’t guarantee a smooth journey.  There aren’t many Premier League clubs willing to take a chance on an ex-player, especially English ones.  So why should we be surprised if Campbell, Roberts or Yorke aren’t taken on? 

Sol Campbell accused The FA of bias based on skin-colour when not selecting him as captain, maintaining he could’ve been captain of his country for ‘at least 10 years’.  This was then roundly batted back as more viable alternatives had been chosen merely illustrating Campbell may well have had sufficient qualities yet there were others with more. 

In addition to this, is Jason Roberts really saying he’d be happy to be given a management role simply because of his skin colour?  Can you imagine the press conference if he was to be given the recently vacated Bolton job?  How many times could you do that?  Surely if he is unqualified and not as capable as others, then how many clubs really want to take a chance purely because it appeals to some people’s perception of football?


But if racial discrimination exists in football, is it the only form of discrimination?  I don’t believe it is. So if the Rooney Rule sorts out any bias towards and against people on the basis of the colour of their skin what about the discrimination which exists in football in other areas of coaching?  For example, it appears in order to get a decent job in football you need to have been a former professional player.  There are plenty of people who have achieved their coaching badges yet do not get real opportunities because they don’t know club owners well enough.  But even English ex-professional players struggle to get too many opportunities in the Premier League, yet any amount of foreign ex-professionals do.

Let’s take the example of Cardiff City, they got rid of Iain Moody as Head of Recruitment and replaced him with a mate of the owner’s son.  That’s discrimination as you or I wouldn’t have been able to get that job even if we were qualified as we didn’t know the owner’s son.  Plenty of jobs within football are given solely on the basis of ‘who you know’.  This is where football continues to be in conflict with wider society which has moved on from ‘nepotism’ as swathes of employment laws have sought to remove it.  How often do you hear of a club sacking a manager and then it is suggested that “Mr X” is their favourite candidate.  That rarely happens in the business world outside of football as companies have to be extremely careful about whether they recruit externally as well as internally, for vacant positions.

By the simple act of looking at statistics (two black coaches throughout 92 clubs) on their own merits means you are not only accusing clubs of not appointing black people based on the colour of their skin, but equally you are accusing clubs of appointing white people simply based on the colour of their skin and not their ability to do the job.  I would like to see names being named.  Come on, where are the coaches who believe they have been turned down for a job based on the colour of their skin?  There are employment laws in place now to deal with discrimination and plenty of media outlets who would be more than happy to take that one on, yet we never hear of anything.

Football is not an easy industry to get into unless you know the right people and have the right connections.  Take Dean Saunders, for example, he took 7 years to get his coaching badges.  He sent off applications for 25 jobs yet only heard back from 5.  That can happen to black & white people and suggests a greater problem with opportunities than simply to highlight colour.  Talk to any unemployed person in the country and they will tell you of the soulless experience of not even getting a reply.  In the end, Saunders got a job as Assistant Manager to Graeme Souness at Newcastle, which was largely down to their association at Liverpool when Souness signed him to replace Peter Beardsley.  Joey Barton stated when he did his coaching badge there was not a single black or ethnic person on his course.  Nobody is saying black or ethnic people are not interested in becoming coaches and of course there may be some truth in a counter argument which says some black ex-players are deciding to “not even bother trying” for a coaching job as they believe they will be turned down immediately.  It is also interesting to note that one of “the two”, Keith Curle, has publicly stated he doesn’t believe he has been turned down for jobs purely for the colour of his skin.

If you don’t believe me on that front, consider this.  Graham Rix was Assistant Manager at Chelsea in the late 90’s.  He sent to prison for underage sex with a 15 year old girl.  Yet after serving six months of his twelve months sentence he walked back into his old job.  John Sitton was caught on camera swearing at some of his Leyton Orient players during a documentary in the mid-90’s and has struggled to work in football again.


During a recent discussion it was suggested the answer maybe for clubs to make public their decisions for rejecting applicants.  Laudable though this may be, in practice it is not something which will have legs as employment lawyers will be all over it.  Clubs will be hamstrung to such an extent they will not be able to say anything detrimental for fear of being sued.  It’ll be like employment references where previous employers are not able to say exactly what they think of a past employee as they will be sued for defamation with lawyers arguing the reference has ruined the applicant’s life and they may never get accepted anywhere.

Let’s imagine Dean Saunders applies for the Bolton job and is turned down.  Bolton then make it public that perhaps he turned up late for the interview, was disorganised and just wasn’t as well connected as the successful candidate.  Then when the next job comes up, Saunders doesn’t even get an interview as the next club believes he’s late, disorganised and not well connected.  This could hamper him for years.  Then of course a club saying that about a black manager may well be accused of simply disguising the fact they didn’t want to employ a black manager.  That isn’t progress.

English football may never get past it’s obsession with celebrity and it is undeniable many clubs believe a ‘name’ is better in charge of their players as they can motivate by reputation.  Additionally a nervous owner may feel a ‘name’ will get the fans back on their side.  This is short-term thinking in the extreme but it is one of the things which means football remains a sport rather than a business.


I agree there should be more black and ethnic minority coaches around professional football but we need people appointed to jobs on merit rather than to try and engineer something which makes some people believe the job has been done.  Positive discrimination is still discrimination and it is wrong.  I would rather have people chosen for their ability to do a job, regardless of the colour of their skin.

Instead of a “Rooney Rule” I would like to see The FA work with clubs to discover if there is a problem.  They don’t need to make this public, just instigate an education programme.  But as I have already mentioned, there is bias towards and against certain candidates already, and by simply focussing on skin colour may not completely deal with this.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

World Cup 1982 - Day Twenty-Two

Sunday 11th July 1982
FINAL, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. (20:00)
ITALY   (0)   3   (Rossi 57, Tardelli 69, Altobelli 81)
WEST GERMANY   (0)   1   (Breitner 83)
Italy: Zoff; Gentile, Scirea, Bergomi, Collovati, Cabrini; Conti, Tardelli, Oriali; Rossi, Graziani (Altobelli)(Causio)
West Germany: Schumacher; Kaltz, K-H. Forster, B. Forster, Stielike, Briegel; Littbarski, Breitner, Dremmler (Hrubesch); Fischer, Rummenigge (Muller)

You had to go back twenty years to find the last time at least one of these nations had not finished in the last four, although this was Italy’s first Final appearance since they lifted the trophy in 1938.  For West Germany this was their 2nd Final appearance in the last three.  Italy had been a surprise entrant as they weren’t expected to get past Brazil, but were now bang in form.  The Germans won a controversial Semi-Final against the French and had been efficient rather than inspirational.

The Germans had the better of the early stages but then Italy earned a penalty as Conti was held back by Briegel in the area.  Cabrini stepped up and scuffed his shot wide of the post.  The rest of the half produced few clear cut chances, but several shots from long-range from both sides.  Goalless at half-time, Italy finally broke the deadlock just before the hour as a cross from the right from Gentile bounced awkwardly and Paolo Rossi headed the ball in from 5 yards for his 6th goal of the tournament, all in his last 3 matches.

Twelve minutes later the Italians broke on the counter and Scirea’s ball back to Tardelli on the edge of the area saw the Juventus midfielder change the ball onto his left foot and fired a shot past Schumacher to put his country 2-0 up.  Tardelli’s celebration has gone down in history as a perfect example of what it meant to score a goal in a World Cup Final.  The Italians then made certain when substitute Altobelli scored after a counter-attack lead by Conti, when he received the ball on the penalty spot and flicked it wide of Schumacher before converting.

Paul Breitner then gave the Germans a consolation and had the distinction of scoring in two World Cup Finals having scored a penalty in 1974.  In the end Italy were worthy winners and had equalled Brazil’s record of winning the World Cup three times in their history.  This was remarkable when you consider they were simply awful during the opening Group Phase, yet came good  when it mattered, beating Argentina, Brazil, Poland and West Germany.