It’s never a good sign when you come out of a bustling weekend of Premier League action and the biggest talking points are all about refereeing decisions.
Certainly, the most discussed (and viral) example this week comes courtesy of a livid Charlie Austin, whose wrongly disallowed goal cost Southampton their first home win of the season.
His furious rant about the quality of refereeing is something we imagine every professional player has wanted to unleash on more than one occasion. Indeed, it was virtually identical to what’s said by fans in pubs up and down the country.
Although we must admit this particular mistake was probably worthwhile, just to see Austin inadvertently sing alternative lyrics to Parklife:
The original version PARKLIFE ? pic.twitter.com/Lw5ApT7KBe
— Ryan Butterworth (@RJButterworth11) November 11, 2018
Then there was Shirtgate over in the Welsh capital. After notching a 90th minute winner against Brighton, Cardiff’s Sol Bamba wheeled away in celebration and instantly whipped his shirt off.
Like it or not, the rules say that’s worthy of a booking: just ask Leicester City’s Demarai Gray, who was cautioned for unveiling his tribute to their late chairman last week.
Except Bamba managed to escape being shown a yellow card. How? Well, we’ll leave the explanation to the man himself: “The ref said to me ‘Did you take your shirt off?’ I said ‘No I didn’t’.”
Even wily gaffer Neil Warnock seemed perplexed: “I don’t think Martin [Atkinson] will have done that on purpose, if he didn’t see it that is what linesmen are for isn’t it?”
Well yes, Neil, that is what linesmen are for. And it’s all the more damning they need to go to Specsavers too.
As well as a host of other dodgy calls and dubious timekeeping at the Emirates, these two incidents in particular rounded off a week of mistakes from men in the middle.
Wednesday night saw a truly farcical incident play out during Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk, when Hungarian ref Viktor Kassai inexplicably awarded a penalty after Raheem Sterling kicked the ground and tripped himself up. It was one hell of a howler.
Despite their professional status and daily training, the decline in referees’ ability appears to be terminal. Something must be done and quickly to stop the rot and give them the help they so desperately need.
Everyone is already well versed on the pros and cons of VAR following its high profile trial at the World Cup in Russia, so it’s time to think of fresh approaches to add to it.
To make life easier for the powers that be, we’ve scratched our heads and come up with some game-changing suggestions which would instantly improve football’s terrible refereeing standards.
1. Assign a referee to every player on the pitch
UEFA’s distrust of technology led to their introduction of “additional assistant referees” – more commonly known as “those useless blind idiots who stand behind the goal and do absolutely f*ck all whilst waving a toy wand” – almost 10 years ago. But, it’s not been enough to make things better.
The natural progression of this policy would be to increase numbers further. Specifically, flooding the pitch with 22 referees in total, each tasked with following a designated player around for the entire game.
It’s indisputable that 22 pairs of eyes are better than one, so with all that immense extra focus on every player’s actions, we’re bound to see correct decisions made far more often.
Just make sure they don’t have to wave a pointless stick around, please.
2. Don’t let Mike Dean referee
Well, this one’s obvious, isn’t it? The average ratio of bad decisions would plummet across the Premier League and fans’ attentions would be exclusively on the game rather than the attention-seeking ref.
3. Introduce Refbot
When elite competitors at the very top of their field put it all on the line and go at each other hammer and tongs in the pursuit of victory, only a respected, strong, authoritative referee can maintain order and serve out justice.
We are, of course, talking about Robot Wars here; just think of the carnage that would have entailed in that arena had those battles taken place without Refbot!
There’s no reason why football can’t follow their futuristic lead and install a robot referee to manage proceedings on the pitch.
There’d be so many benefits: it would be ultra-fast to keep up with play; it wouldn’t tire late into the game; you could beam footage from its cameras straight to a watching panel who would rule on decisions instantly; and, best of all, if players became unruly other Robot Wars alumni could be brought on to dish out some rough justice.
The fear of having a chainsaw on wheels chase you around the pitch would likely put a stop to all that imaginary card waving nonsense and diving, wouldn’t it?
4. Have substitute refs and actually punish them for bad decisions
As things stand, when a ref has an absolute shocker he still finishes his duties and is barely held accountable following the game. Only if they have been really atrocious are they demoted for a week before normal service resumes. Hardly punishment, is it?
So why not implement a new incentivised system instead?
Each match could have a selection of roll-on/roll-off referees – and for each terrible decision they make, they would be hooked for a replacement and docked a chunk of their wages.
You just watch the quality of their game take an upward turn as soon as it starts to hit them where it really hurts.
5. Coach and trust players to be honest and not such cheating b*stards
Pah! This one is so farfetched it’s laughable. What are we thinking?!