It’s easy to blame the referee for the poor performance of your football team. He’s got scapegoat written all over him. Or perhaps he walks around with a notice saying “Kick me” stuck on his back. It’s a thankless task, especially at non-league level. I’m reminded on one of those wacky “Far side” greetings cards where two stags are having a chat and one has a target emblazoned on his chest. “Hell of a birthmark, Hal”. That’s referees – walking targets.
Why would you do it? For a start, you get called all the names under the sun by supporters, and at non-league games, these echo around empty stadia. Your parentage is called into question. Your off-duty hobbies. Your integrity. Your honesty. You name it, the man in black gets it thrown at him.
And then there’s the players and managers. Non-league players’ interaction with the officials is quite appalling at times. I cannot believe the way players talk to the referee. If I was in the middle, I would card anyone who spoke to me the way some players do. But they largely ignore it, maybe because it’s not worth the aggravation, or maybe they genuinely fear for their well-being. We haven’t sunk to that level yet.
It’s all the more galling to hear the wisdom of the man behind the goal when his knowledge of the game is certainly no better than that of the referee. In fact, there is no way a man behind one goal can see what’s going on at the other end with any degree of accuracy. Unless, of course, he has a telescope.
It goes a little like this. A losing side’s supporters will, inevitably, blame the referee for the poor discipline or performance of their team. Often the two go hand-in-hand. Disciplined teams make for happy teams. Poorly disciplined teams are rarely successful. That’s not to say that over-physical teams cannot be successful – they nearly always know how to use it. A young team is often ill-disciplined, not because they go out of their way to be dirty, but because they have short-fuses, lots of testosterone and don’t know how to play “cute”. They learn.
The other factor, that sends losing fans searching for the name of the home town of the referee, is the need to use the “homer” accusation. I recently saw comments that a referee based in Ely was biased towards Cambridge City because of the proximity of the two towns. Total nonsense. Most people are not particularly interested in their local non-league team, so it is extremely unlikely that there’s any allegiance to Cambridge City, or indeed any other team, from someone who lives in a town some 20 miles away. In fact, there might even be rivalry that colours opinion! The authorities have to juggle these appointments, so the occasional poor mapping is always a possibility.
Referees are rarely wittingly biased, but I would wager that comments received from a set of fans or players may influence a referee more than any other factor. Would you feel inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to a team that has hurled abuse at you all afternoon or evening? It might be worth considering that the next time someone cries out, “ref you *****?”. Take a leaf out of rugby’s book, perhaps?