Date: 5th November 2009 at 3:52pm
Written by:

‘Everybody’s Problem’

Buying a season ticket shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. It should be an occasion that you look forward to – as each year goes past – one which leaves you in anticipation for the forthcoming season, with the belief that this year it will be ‘our year’ to upset the apple cart.

That didn’t happen this year. The stop-maybe-stop-start nature of action in the transfer window followed by the dismal end to the season for Villa was something that really disheartened me.

I look back at that now, and I’m actually really glad I did make the purchase. The signings we made wouldn’t have been my first choices, but I don’t support Villa just when decisions are ones that I agree with. And in the case of James Collins, I’m happy to admit that my initial thoughts were completely, utterly wrong.

But that’s not what really the point of this.

Amongst the Villa concern, there was another nagging thought. And whilst the worries about Aston Villa have faded ten fold that ‘nag’ has become an ‘annoyance’. And over the past few weekends it’s really become clear this problem could really strike the final nail in the coffin for me.

We all may disagree about the manager in charge, the person being picked to play in whatever position or the what the music should be when the players run out. But we are all at the ground – all fans I’m talking about – not just Aston Villa fans – to watch a game of football.

The problem I’m finding is that all too often when I watch games – be they Villa ones or otherwise – referees and their assistants are getting key decisions in games incorrect time and time again and it’s getting to a situation now where I’m looking at games and thinking that we aren’t watching games of football anymore because simple rules just aren’t being kept to.

I appreciate that referees and their assistants have a hard job to do. 40,000 people screaming for the decision in their favour is going to make it difficult. But this is their job – to get the decisions right. They know this is the case when they take the cash – there is no surprise that this is the case.

It wouldn’t be so galling if it wasn’t the simple things that they were getting wrong. Everybody in the ground could see that Gabby Agbonlahor had been fouled in the penalty area by the last man against Chelsea. Yet it was ignored. Not only should it have been a penalty, but it should have been a sending off of the player too. Chelsea go straight down the other end and put themselves in the lead. It’s not fair, and it shouldn’t be happening – and whilst decisions like this are still made, accusations of favouritism towards the ‘top lot’ will continue to be made – with good cause.

To be fair to the referee, it’s not entirely his fault. He’s got two assistants who are meant to be there to help him too. And yet neither one of those could see this either.

The sad, frustrating thing about that incident is that if you had explained what happened before the game began most fans would probably suggest that no penalty would be given, despite it being clear cut.

I’m not complaining about decisions which need interpretation on the rules. That, is the job of the F.A and FIFA to sort out. Rules should be black or white – either it’s a foul or not – and it is a foul if x, y or z happens.

But it’s not these things which are frustrating me so much. I’m talking about Stephen Warnock being given a yellow card when it was Petrov who actually fouled a player. I’m talking about Carlos Cuellar being sent off against Sunderland when a player does something very similar on the same night, for the same team and the referee doesn’t even scare his whistle.

It’s easy to complain about decisions against Villa, and I’m sure we Villa fans, and fans of other teams can talk about match changing decisions that have been incorrect.

You only have to look at Liverpool’s defeat to Sunderland a couple of weeks ago for another example. How on earth could the referee and his assistants believe that a ball colliding with a beach ball is a legal goal? I don’t know the rules inside out, but I do have common sense, which would lead me to believe that there must be a rule about outside influences on a football pitch. Which appears to be true after reading the fall out from ‘beach ball-gate’. So why couldn’t these professionals?

And the punishment for the referee? To miss a week before taking charge of a Premiership game the week later. The same referee, managed to make another poor decision ruling out a Hull goal in that game, by the way.

So how long must we put up with it? And what are the answers? I don’t know. But what I don’t think is right is to ‘punish’ referees be demoting them. If they aren’t good enough – sack them. Why would it be fair for lower league sides to have to put up with referees who clearly have no common sense? No understanding of the rules.

I’m not talking of hanging referees who make decisions incorrectly. I’m talking about removing officials who are constantly making mistakes.

Is technology an answer? Not for the common sense issues such as the beach ball, the penalty decision or Cuellar’s sending off.

Top level referees are already professional. They get paid a decent amount of money to keep fit and on top of the game. Clearly, just making all referees professional won’t work. It doesn’t work in the Premiership.

My immediate thought is perhaps referees and officials should issued with a cleaner, straight forward rule book. They need to know exactly what a foul is, and what it isn’t. More direction needs to be given on the basic rules for them. And if silly decisions are continued to be made – whether a ‘big team’ is involved or not – then after a number of poor games in which they have affected the result they should be brought in front of a panel – and it decided whether they are to retain their position or not.
I also think that perhaps it might be a good idea for referees to be taking part in all professional divisions of English football. Mark Halsey can end up refereeing at Walsall one game, and Manchester United the next. I think this might improve the standard of refereeing throughout the game – and that’s what needs doing.

All teams should be playing on an even level, and at this moment I don’t think this is happening. That’s what is so frustrating.