Enough of the ref bashing

by Ben Somerford on Oct 31, 2012

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I don't know if I'm alone here, but I've had enough of the referee bashing this week and I applaud the FFA for sending out a press release yesterday regarding the record-breaking TV numbers just to get some fresh and positive news out there.

That's a move the AFL would be proud of!

But it's been a funny old week in the A-League with two significant incidents involving referees generating widespread debate.

Curiously, back in Round One, it went largely unnoticed that the referees set a record of their own, making an all-time low for errors with less than one per cent.

In Round Four, though, two dubious incidents grabbed the headlines and elicited some forthright opinions from Wellington skipper Andrew Durante and Perth coach Ian Ferguson.

I, for one, don't mind players or coaches speaking their mind in the heat of the battle, as long as it doesn't get personal towards the referee. Often these rants, creating talking points which is good for the game.

I didn't mind Perth skipper and yellow-card-accruer Jacob Burns coming out and stating refereeing standards need to be improved in Australia, because that's constructive criticism.

However, the Wellington situation has all gone on a little too much as they struggled to come to grips with the FFA's decision not to overturn Ben Sigmund's red card before coach Ricki Herbert labelled referee Jarred Gillett “not competent”. At that point, it had turned ugly.

I don't want to dwell too much on the Sigmund red card, but I personally felt it was a foul, I felt Jeronimo Neumann had dived to exaggerate the contact to ensure he got a foul and I also felt the ball was always going to be collected by the goalkeeper so therefore it wasn't a goalscoring opportunity and shouldn't have been a sending off but it was a free-kick.

However, I came to all of those conclusions with the aid of TV replays, and even now, there's still debate despite it's consultation, much like last season's A-League Grand Final. Gillett, on the other hand, only had one chance to make a call.

Gillett was the unfortunate judge in both of those aforementioned line-ball scenarios and he made the calls as he saw them. Given their debatable nature, there was always going to be someone feeling aggrieved.

If Gillett turned down the penalty and Brisbane gone on to lose, we would never have heard the end of it. If Jeronimo had have been sent off for 'cheating' (as Durante put it), Reds fans would have debated there was contact.

Clearly they are very difficult decisions to make and to label this referee as “not competent” is out of line.

It's curious in the context of this debate, which has raged since Durante's comments post-game on Saturday and was further fuelled on Sunday when Perth didn't get a penalty for a handball, that the Chelsea-Manchester United clash in the Premier League in the early hours of Monday (AEDT time) showed that refereeing mistakes weren't isolated to the A-League.

Even in the most professional of leagues, where the referees have been full-time for almost 15 years, these mistakes pop up with Fernando Torres harshly sent off for diving and Javier Hernandez's winner coming from an offside position.

EPL refereeing programs are far more developed than the A-League's, with the FFA Referees Department still trying to learn how to best educate and identify talent, as well as prepare them for the pressures of the A-League.

In this context, you can understand why these mistakes happen and arguably forgive Gillett (if you're not a Phoenix fan that is).

But Herbert's comments about not being competent don't help.

However, this whole episode must reiterate to the FFA the integral importance of putting resources into the Referees Department to help reduce the number of officiating errors per game to a standard the game deserves.