Football feature: Why do referees get such a hard time?

Michael Symons examines the thankless job of the modern-day official and asks why referees are seemingly always to blame

When did referees become such a hated breed?

I’m no apologist for the men in the middle but I can’t help but think they’re getting a raw deal.

A fortnight ago, Neil Warnock had this to say, after QPR were cruelly denied a second goal by Ceri Richards’ most heinous of offside decisions.

“I just wonder how much it hurts you when you see it on Match of the Day, if you’re an official. I’d love to know that,” he sulked.

What exactly is Warnock getting at? Does he think Richards dances around his living room delighting in replays of the said offence?

Or would he rather the linesman sat sobbing in the corner of a darkened room watching the monstrously marginal mistake over and over again?

Let’s be perfectly clear. It was an incorrect decision but nothing more. This was not a howler. It just so happened Shaun Wright-Phillips went on to score.

The fact Warnock thought it appropriate to question the professional integrity of the official says something for the hysterical response that referees and linesmen provoke.

Warnock of course is by no means the only culprit. Alex Ferguson has famously had a thing or two to say about referees over the years and our beloved Harry Redknapp apparently broke a 30-year silence to have a little moan about Chris Foy.

Former Scunthorpe and Northampton Town striker Jamie Forrester said: “Everyone in the game appreciates just how tough it is for referees to get every decision right.

“But for far too long it has just been a free for all. I can tell you from my own experience that the language you hear directed towards officials isn’t particularly nice and players know they can get away with it. It’s just the culture we live in.

“I’m sure if you asked Neil Warnock the same question now, you would get a very different reaction,” he added.

“It’s very difficult for managers when they are interviewed just minutes after the final whistle. The media have to understand that the decision could cost QPR millions.”

So why is it, with the game quicker than ever and players more adept at throwing themselves to the floor, that we seem to have even less sympathy for Keith Hackett’s merry men?

I suspect in many cases it’s simply more convenient and significantly more satisfying to blame the referee than indulge in some post-match soul-searching.

Managers seem to be under the impression that the delicate egos of their players are such that they cannot tolerate public criticism and so vitriol is directed elsewhere.

Sports Tonight Live producer Josh Landy said: “If players started to show more respect to referees on the pitch, like you see in Rugby, then you’d expect the fans to follow suit.

“We have come to expect as the norm players hollering towards the officials when a decision fails to go with them – I don’t think most fans can tell you what has changed as a result of a supposed ‘Respect’ campaign.

“Human error, for all the frustration it causes, is ultimately what initiates much of the conversation between fans and therefore the sports media. That seems unlikely to change.”

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