About three weeks ago, the name of English football referee Mike Dean was splashed across the back pages of the papers. He had made two contentious decisions in two televised games resulting in the scorn of the pundits being poured upon him. He is, apparently, arrogant and attention seeking. He also apparently wants to be a celebrity.
It is therefore somewhat surprising that his name has not been heard since, even though he has refereed some high profile games. To my knowledge, he has not appeared on television to explain his decision, mainly because he is not actually allowed to but he could have defied his bosses. He has not posted on his twitter account,nor does he apparently have a twitter account. This did not stop people abusing another Mike Dean online. He also has not appeared on any chat shows, he has not done any after dinner speaking and has not become the latest entrant into Celebrity big brother. A cursory check online demonstrates that his other claim to fame is caddy to female golfers, hardly the pastime of an egotist. I also do not believe he has a book out.
It is therefore my contention that Mike Dean is a referee and not an attention seeking megalomaniac. He is guilty of making two errors in high profile games. Errors he made in a split second which were then pulled apart by pundits on the basis of multiple, slow motion replays. His behaviour since cannot exactly be called that of an attention seeker.
One issue Mike Dean has is that he has seemingly been a referee for ever. The longer career you have as a referee the longer you have to irritate supporters and online trolls. Supporters have long memories. The notion of a good referee being not talked about is fatally flawed. As Pierreluigi Collina points out in his book, if a referee has to send off four players and each of those decisions is correct then folk will talk about the referee, despite the fact that he has done his job.
We do not tend to like our referees to be high profile, to become celebrities in their own right and appear regularly on television......unless your name happens to be Nigel Owens.
Nigel Owens is a paradox. He does have his own twitter account, he does appear regularly on television (particularly in his native Wales), he has published a book and you can book him via his agent to appear at your event. He even has his own MBE after refereeing the last World Cup Final, Richard Silverwood's invite to the Palace must have got lost in the post. He seems to epitomize what is not wanted in a referee but seems to maintain a higher degree of popularity.
Part of the difference between the Owens and Dean is that Owens has a story to tell. To his immense credit, he has talked openly about the issues that have affected him and been inspirational to many with the way he has made it to the top of his field. Another difference is likely to be the sport, the endemic attitude of football towards its officials seems somewhat different to that shown within rugby union.
The bottom line is that it is neither Mike Dean or Nigel Owens who are the most important but the men, women and children who will blow a whistle on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It is they who need the protection from the abuse they receive, sometimes verbal but also physical. An often heard cry is where are the good referees? Many of the good referees are likely to have given up.
Sports officials of whatever game are going to make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Some will not be very good, some will be too officious, some not officious enough but they do not deserve the vitriol that is heaped on them. The respect agenda was brought in to protect officials but was questioned on the grounds that mistakes were still being made. "I would lose my job if I performed like that ref did at my job" is another comment that gets aired on phone ins, except you wouldn't though. Your errors, if that was indeed what they were, would be looked at and analysed with a view to learning and stopping the error happening again. Sacking someone these days is actually very difficult!
English referee Mark Clattenberg referred the Euro 2016 Final this year but is apparently still rubbish. Howard Webb referred the World Cup Final in 2010. He was castigated for allowing too much physicality. Of course, if he been stricter and sent off four players (which he could have done) the same pundits would have accused him of ruining the showpiece event and trying to be the star of the show. I wonder what Mike Dean would have made of that?