Fans of most teams will feel they’re hard done by with refereeing decisions, but it’s a problem that is impacting all of our enjoyment…

 

‘TUBE Strikes Imminent.’

In the days when the London Evening Standard used to put boards up outside Tube stations (they might still do this, I’m not sure) there would sometimes be a headline which read as above.

Often as not, there’d be no such thing, but it was usually a safe bet that there’d be one on the way soon so it sort of fit. On slow news days this would become a Godsend. If there was nothing plausible to capture the city’s attention then that would do.

From a football writing perspective, the same can be said of articles about referees. Everyone feels aggrieved about refs in the same way that everyone thinks there’s a Tube strike in the offing, so anyone with a team can read a thousand words or so and have their views backed.

All referees hate your side. We all know that. They’re going to give everything against you. You can’t go wrong with that setup.

There’s a golden rule about them too. Never write one when you’ve lost. No. It looks like sour grapes and lessens any point you’re trying to make. You’re only saying that he was poor because you lost.

So with that in mind. Liverpool 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 1. Thank you, Mo Salah.

Another rule is to accept that all clubs feel as you do. A glimpse at a rival fan’s social media will tell you will think that they too feel aggrieved. If anything, we’re apparently doing pretty well from the refs. See ‘LiVARpool’ and other such hilarities. How dare Liverpool complain about decisions.

In 1993, I had my first article published in a Liverpool fanzine. Since then I’ve polluted websites and pages alike with millions of words in hundreds of articles. That’s 30-plus years spanning Graeme Souness to Jürgen Klopp, and in all that time I’ve never felt the need to lean on the easy option. The ref piece. The Tube strike variant.

Oh, I’ve come close. Phil Dowd at Tottenham in 2009. I still find myself stopping dead in the street, thinking back to the time a Spurs full back sliced a clearance high into the stand at White Hart Lane only to see Phil point towards our box. Even their team had to ask the ref if he’d got that one quite right.

Likewise, Jon Moss and his “I’ve no idea if Lovren touched the ball, to be honest,” followed by “I’m giving the penalty”. Of course you are. I mean, of course you are.

Obviously, the Luis Diaz goal at Spurs drew comment but that was a game-wide issue. I’ve never gone solely after one referee.

This needs saying. David Coote did not wake up on Sunday morning and think ‘I’m really going to ruin Liverpool’s day today’. I know we’d like to think that was the case, but it’s unlikely. He’d be found out in minutes. Ask me to referee at Old Trafford next weekend and watch how it’s done. Booked for losing the coin toss may seem harsh, but what could I do? Fernandes was asking for it.

Refereeing takes courage and it’s difficult to remain impartial when the home fans are shrieking at you from the first whistle. The problem is the propensity to show how impartial you are by giving as much as possible to the other side. That’s a ref who ‘stands for no-nonsense’. ‘A strong ref’. David Coote.

If David Coote did one thing on Sunday it was tell the world that he was in no way a homer. Those colours are nailed firmly to the mast.

It’s hard to know where to start. I only saw it at the time so may have missed something, but I think Cody Gakpo was booked for touching a man’s arm in a part of the ground and during a passage of play where no one was on the break or anything like that.

Hatchet man Cody must have been on the pitch for a whole five minutes before he saw yellow. I could be wrong there, but it seemed to me that he was booked just because it was his turn.

Alexis Mac Allister’s booking, though. I mean… Some refs give them (and he definitely would), particularly the more myopic, but not all. And that’s the main problem. Consistency.

Look at Curtis Jones’ red card at Spurs. There must have been half a dozen similar challenges since then which have gone unpunished. I can see both arguments. Curtis himself immediately put his hands up in a gesture of ‘I know what that looked like, but…’ so it’s easy to see why some would give it.

Ultimately, it’s about human interpretation and if a ref is out of his depth anything can happen. That’s the problem. Anything can happen.

It’s easy to criticise the PGMOL. They’re a faceless body and they stay silent under the guise of neutrality until they wheel out Howard Webb to defend them to the most compliant of TV hosts. See also: “Let’s bring in Peter Walton here”. Why? So he can tell me what my eyes saw and then defend his mate? No thanks.

This isn’t just a Liverpool issue. It really isn’t. Every club shares this glow of disdain for the officials. Guardiola and Arteta in particular. Maybe we’re highlighted more because Jürgen has named Paul Tierney as a particular problem which means, of course, that he won’t be too careful about his future 50/50 calls. That’s human nature.

It’s difficult to know where to put the line. Do you make the refs more approachable or do you hide them away? It’s hardly the same thing, but I play on Friday nights and one of our refs once answered the usual cacophony of shouts with “alright, I’ll get the next one right”. We all laughed and got on with it. It was defo a corner, though. It came off Jamie.

But Sunday was just another example of a referee out of his depth. What’s more, he’s got previous. This is the same man who failed to do anything about Jordan Pickford assault on Virgil van Dijk and was fine with Martin Odegaard playing basketball in his own area at Anfield last December.

I honestly don’t think he does this on purpose. I don’t think it’s corruption, but you have to call it out when, at 2-1, many saw him as Brighton’s biggest threat.

And Brighton fans booed him too. Quite right. The yellow card he gave Pascal Gross was ludicrous.

We bang on about this being the greatest league in the world, but the standard of officiating is so far off that. Equally the self-importance of the PGMOL when justifying its poor performances is atrocious. It will always back itself. A one-week ban is the worst a ref can expect.

And it’s hard. Refereeing is hard. That needs to be said too but the game — and every club in it —  deserves better than this lack of consistency.

I know. We won and that’s the main thing, but one day someone will lose a title because one set of officials did one thing where others would do the opposite. Such as, I don’t know, clapping each other on the back to reward a good process when a perfectly good goal has been ruled out in a tight game.

It’s not done on purpose. It’s not corruption (Though maybe don’t referee matches in oil states, eh? Not a good look, that.) and it’s not done deliberately, but there has to be more scrutiny and repercussions to the sort of nonsense we sat through on Sunday rather than leaning to the whims of a body that sees itself as infallible.

We just want to have a match official going all jazz hands when there’s a massive game on.

That’s all.

Karl


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