Thursday, 10 February 2011

Officiating - NFL V Premier League

For a while now referees in The Premier League have gotten away with far too much, without having to even explain their decisions. I started writing this up after the Everton game last week which saw us on the wrong end of an awful offside call but what happened after that goal was scored just showed how communication could have quickly resolved such a situation.  So i'm going to start with a look into the a sport where communication is generally excellent.
In the NFL they have 7 officials. They all have their designated positions on the field and if they see a foul or irregularity they throw a flag which may result in play stopping immediately or running its course before seeing what penalty occurred. When the play is stopped the official who flagged the play will explain their call to the referee and he will speak to the stadium to advise of the call. Now there are occasions where multiple fouls occur and complex decisions arise but whatever happens they will discuss and the stadium will be left if no uncertainty about the call made on the field (That’s not to say the fans will agree with it mind.)
After the games, all matches receive a fair amount of coverage and usually broadcasters such as NFL Network. They will get the vice president of officiating on the show to discuss calls and he will justify them if they are correct but he’ll also admit that they are wrong .  This clears up any decisions and fans can begin to move on. FOX also come prepared with Mike Pereira (Former Vice President of Officiating from 2004 to 2009) live at their main game to further clarify decisions and give additional insight.
In the Premier League, we have 4 officials who all communicate via headsets but yet still communicate extremely poorly. I go back to our game v Everton.  Everyone in the stadium knew that Saha was offside, except the man that mattered (the assistant referee). Perfectly demonstrated in this clip , as we all know Lee Mason awarded the goal and everyone was perplexed. During this time, in an NFL game the head coach (manager) would challenge the call and that would see the referee review his decision via TV replays and if he has indisputable evidence, the decision would be overturned. Now I know fans in some quarters are keen on TV replays and others think it would hold the game up for too long, but our game was held up and we didn’t get the right decision. This decision itself would have been rectified in seconds, it wasn’t and we could have lost that game on another day.  There are plenty of sides around the bottom half of the league who will be victim to a poor decision and that could be one of the contributing factors in their relegation from the league, only as recently as Blackburn v West Brom when Mark Clattenburg missed a clear penalty and awarded a free kick outside the box . Another example recently involving Arsenal was the 2nd penalty awarded at St James’ Park. The assistant referee flagged immediately, placing his flag across his chest and awarding a penalty kick. Did Phil Dowd go and speak to the assistant, No. He merely demonstrated arrogance and would probably lay claim to the fact that his assistant had spoken to him via his cheap Xbox headset, although this was all going on with 48000 hysterical Geordies in the background.  Why do officials feel the need to speak to their fellow colleagues at some times and not others? Inconsistent is what it is. After the game players such as Wilshere and Szczesny posted remarks about the referee on twitter but would they do the same thing if they knew that officials would explain themselves?  They probably would in truth.
Now as Sky Sports host the majority of games what do they do? Well you might get Dermot Gallagher on to discuss a decision the following day on SSN but what does that matter to a former referee who no longer has any involvement? You get Graham Poll on a podcast on a Monday and he might just comment if it’s controversial enough. They need to increase their coverage to suit and not give such tasks to Jamie Redknapp. We need the people that matter.

It’s time our officials stood up and took the plaudits for correct decisions and took the flak for those that were incorrect.  The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB)  are tasked with developing excellence in officiating and they are responsible for training, development and monitoring of referees. Their words, not mine.  Wouldn’t they get more respect if Mike Riley or one of his minions decided to appear on MNF or SSN and explain their decision making?  Would it really harm their profession if they actually acknowledged their misdemeanours? If they took a look at the NFL they’d see a game ran well (in terms of officiating) and one that adapts to mistakes. Sometimes it even results in rule changes.
If you look at the background to PGMOB you will see that referees attend fortnightly meetings. They are now professionals and yet they can’t discuss performances after every game. Then it mentions that the assess performance via prozone. So in their eyes as long as the referee is in the right position to make a decision it must be right? How naive. So as we know it at present Mike Riley has the tag of The General Manager but what does he actually do? He picks officials for each game every week and people wonder why Howard Webb always gets the Old Trafford games.
Moving forward
Clearly the game is getting too quick for the referees and assistants and they can have all the fitness programmes and prozone analysis they like but they need more help. They need TV replays (for certain calls) and the need additional officials in effective areas, maybe one in the stands. Instead we get the UEFA version with an additional official on the by-line afraid to make a decision. These suggestions are years away but in the mean time just hold your hands up if you got it wrong once in a while. Then maybe the likes of Mike Dean and co wouldn’t be so bloody arrogant.


  1. Have said for ages that the EPL needs replays. The fourth official (or shock horror the FIFTH official) could be stationed in a box with all the camera feeds - they can replay etc instantly and then signal to overturn. Also love the idea of coach/ manager challenges... what would they sacrifice though (to prevent abuse) - obv in the NFL it's a time out.

  2. I love American Football and have been saying for a long time that Football (soccer) could learn a lot from other sports. I think simply adding officials is not the answer (as demonstrated by the extra officials behind the goal-lines in the Europa League, who regularly either make serious mistakes themselves, or simply don't flag). The biggest single thing they could do that would make a difference is the 'call review', where the ref is not only allowed but encouraged to check his call with another official who has replay technology.
    Good blog.

  3. I think extra officials could work but the need to have better positioning. We need to get decisions right and if that takes 30 seconds then so be it. Agree entirely with the review system. Although if Harry Twitcher had a flag to throw it could get out of control. Ha.