Football is an increasingly monetised sport and is evolving almost season upon season. However, it seems that these advancements in the modern game come to a stop when it gets to refereeing and disciplinary measures. After nearly every set of fixtures this season, there has been at least one major talking point to do with either a bad call by an official, or them not even seeing an incident that should have been punished.
This week alone has seen a plethora of talking points regarding the men in the middle. Kevin Friend, who had just come back from demotion to the Football League, wrongly sent off Wes Brown for what was a perfectly timed and executed challenge. The three match ban Brown received has since been rescinded and Friend has been left off the Premier League rota for the next two weeks. Elsewhere, Phil Dowd saw fit to only give a yellow card to Kevin Mirallas for his knee high, studs up lunge on Luis Suarez and Neil Swarbrick dished out the exact same punishment for Wayne Rooney's rash lashing out at Jordon Mutch.
With all the technology and modern thinking available, why are we not helping referees? If other sports have woken up to what can be gained by aiding the officials, then why is football still stuck in the dark ages?
The first thing to look at is surely referees being allowed to explain their decisions. One just needs to look at rugby or American Football where the men in the middle are mic'ed up. By watching these sports you can see just how much the referee's decision is respected and accepted by players compared to football. You seldom get a pack of rugby players surrounding a referee, screaming their mouths off about a collapsed scrum and trying their utmost to intimidate the man in black to reverse a call. If they even tried, then they would be quickly sent off from the pitch. No, the majority of players are calm and even call the referee sir, something that would never happen in football at the moment.
In American Football, the referee is mic'ed up to a Tannoy and tells the crowd precisely what the infringement has been called for. The crowd don't then have a go at the ref for the penalty. They boo and jeer their own player for committing the offence in the first place, it's his fault the team are suffering and not the referee who is merely doing his job to police the game. A system like this being implemented in football would also do wonders for the 'Respect Policy' that seems to have stalled recently.
It's also time to bring back referees facing up to the cameras after a game to comment on the game they've just had and put an end to the constant speculation we see in the newspapers for days after. This has been done before in the past and it seemed to work well, as explanations for decisions often helped educate in the finer points of the law and the occasional apology issued after games humanised referees. However, this was cut short in 2007 following what appeared to be referees believing themselves to have become celebrities. Examples, as noted by Gary Neville, include Uriah Rennie, Graham Poll and Jeff Winter, who liked to consider themselves as stars of the show and looked to make their decisions and actions as flamboyant as possible to garner attention. It is not unsurprising that two of these have gone on to work in the media, probably to satiate their own egos.
But these referees have gone now. This has been the result of 10 years of professionalism and better training and the referees wanting the exact opposite to Poll and co - not to be in the spotlight.
The next item on the agenda would be to bring in more technology to the proceedings. We have made the first step with goal-line technology, but there still needs to be more. I'm not talking about having replays for everything that merits a blow of the whistle, but the important stuff. For instance, after the game in disciplinary rulings. If a call is spectacularly wrong, like the Mirallas one, then surely it is in the interests of the game for him to be given the three match ban his action deserves, rather than just the yellow he got because the 'higher ups' don't want to undermine a referee's integrity? I would much rather a referee admit he was wrong and swallow his pride if it meant Mirallas was to be punished accordingly.
Video referees, however, are a much larger area of debate, but it wouldn't be all too difficult for the fourth official to have a monitor he can check, would it? A referee, like in rugby, would ask if there is any reason not to give a goal, the video judge can assess all that went on, such as fouls or handball etc, and then give his opinion. This should also be branched out to penalties. It would make the Andre Marriner Chelsea-West Brom situation a thing of the past. The official would clearly see Ramires's dive and no penalty would be awarded. It equates to no media and manager backlash and this means that Mike Riley doesn't have to rack up a phone bill calling everyone up to apologise.
Referees do what they do to the best of their abilities, but if we want to see more correct calls and justice on the pitch, then things have to change. Everything already exists to make that happen, other sports show us it can be done, but those in power need to be brave enough to make it happen.
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