Who’s The Bastard In The Black?


Seeing as how I haven’t written anything here for a while, I really should be working on getting that idea for an article fleshed out but instead I happened across a tweet about referees, linking to this article about the terrible standards of refereeing in MLS and how a Designated Referee would be the solution to this self-diagnosed problem.

I read it, and as soon as I could stop by eye balls from rolling around their sockets, I got to writing these words: Please Don’t Talk Such Shite.

Why can’t we have games that are decided by the play on the field with consistent calls?

Why can’t a foul on one end of the field be a foul on the other end?

Why can’t a yellow card offense be a yellow card offense regardless of which team does it?

Why can’t a referee set clear boundaries that apply to both teams and make sense to anyone watching the game?

Gross exaggeration. They are in the overwhelming majority of games.

Because it’s very unlikely that both fouls were identical or seen in the same way by the ref.

See previous answer.

They do, and it does in the overwhelming majority of games, though I may prefer a ref to take a harder/softer line at times.

Obviously there is work to be done on improving standards of refereeing in the States. I’m not going to use this article to excuse refs getting it wrong, but I am getting rather tired of this “ref’s a shit” circlejerk that is launched any time a set of supporters perceive a slight against their team.

You simply aren’t going to fix things by buying in talent, just ask NYRB or Toronto FC management about that one.

How many times do we have to watch EPL/La Liga/Bundeliga/Serie A/SPL/Ligue 1/UEFA Champion’s League/ World Cup/ Euro Finals/MDX/any other league on this planet and think “why can’t MLS have refs like this”?

A lot less often than I watch those leagues and think “man, this ref is terrible” or “that was an awful decision”. Ask fans of those leagues for their opinions on their domestic referees and the conversation there will be much the same as the one we’re having about ours. Besides which, interpretation of the Laws of the Game can vary wildly across federations such that a “good” ref in Brazil might be an absolute nightmare in England or vice versa.

No, the way to fix things is by better training and education so that there is a talent pipeline that will sees standards improve from within. It takes a special kind of person to pursue a career as a referee. The job doesn’t pay particularly well, but demands a high degree of fitness as well as a skin thick enough to deal with the kind of abuse that comes with being the “bastard in the black“. There are few kids growing up who dream of awarding a penalty in a World Cup Final some day, even fewer who have the will to hold onto that dream after taking more than few game’s worth of abuse. No-one likes ’em.

Refs don’t help themselves, of course, with some composing themselves in such a haughty manner as to give the impression that the game is all about them, but I’d rather have a bull-headed, arrogant ref than a weak-willed, indecisive one cos I know which one is the more dangerous out there. And it would be nice if contentious decisions could be better explained, or refs owned up to making mistakes, but they aren’t helped by the fact that their every error is highlighted in unflattering slow motion for the benefit of the watching public.

It’s easy to sit at home, watch a replay and scoff at how badly a ref got it; much harder to spot it at the time, and I will be honest and say that, at a guess, I maybe get 60-70% of as-it-happens decisions correct, and that’s largely thanks to having a nice TV angle which refs don’t get. Oft times there are bodies or legs in the way, and when things are moving at full speed and players are happy to cheat to get a decision their way, the job becomes a lot more difficult than the replays would have us believe.

As an aside, would video evidence be a solution? I’m not sure as I don’t think every decision warrants a call-back, and I wouldn’t want the game becoming any more stop-start than it already is. I can’t imagine many athletic or fitness coaches would be too keen on the game slowing to a halt every time the ref is less than 100% sure or accurate either, nor broadcasters who would find that 45 minute window of (virtually) dead advertising space extended even further (no doubt leading to “innovation” in that field).

The biggest problem the refs face, and it’s one I’m guilty of being a part of, is that we fans think we know more about the rules than we actually do. By all means, go take a test and see how you do, then take that test again while it’s all happening around you at a pace that can only be truly appreciated at pitch level.

Of course referees should be better than Joe T. Public, as this is their job (though you’ll find msot refs, even in top leagues, are part-time) and this is what they’ve trained for and worked at for many years, but much of the time listening to fan’s complaints about refereeing decisions is often like listening to Jenny McCarthy’s brainleaks expert opinions on vaccinations.

So, in conclusion…

Yes, the refs here aren’t great, but…

No, they’re not than much better elsewhere, and in some places they’re worse.

Yes, it should be better, but…

No, buying in refs won’t fix anything in the long term and, as any fan of the game in this country who has even the vaguest notion of its history here would know, short-term thinking isn’t going to get the game anywhere.

These kind of knee-jerk, over-the-top reactions and public flogging of officials aren’t going to do anything except turn more people off the idea of becoming a referee. This is still a pretty young nation in soccer terms, in the modern sense at least, and it is getting better and more assured as it matures. As tough as it is to watch refs blow a call and cost your team we have to understand that, just as the game itself is growing here and domestic talent levels are steadily increasing as, so the funding and training available for potential new refs will see better officials emerging in future.

But, above all, it’s never going to be perfect regardless of the passport of the man in the middle.

5 thoughts on “Who’s The Bastard In The Black?

  1. 1) Does this mean I have to stop making “take another bong hit” jokes? But they’re such low-hanging fruit! I LOVE low-hanging fruit!

    2) This website makes it hard to comment on articles. The damn thing’s always having trouble loading and asking if I want to reload…

    1. Yeah, there’s been some real trouble with it, so I’ve gone to a back-up in the meantime. Or not, I kinda like it.

      And I’ll be the first to bemoan a bad decision on twitter tonight. Maybe even a few marginal ones too! Bad decisions are gonna happen regardless of who is in the middle, or how much he’s being paid and they’re always going to piss people off, and I’m not saying everyone should bite their tongue, but if a shitty decision in a game or two here is as bad as it gets then that seems pretty good to me.

  2. 1. Agreed.

    2. That said, the league really does need to do something about the Salazars, the guys who are clearly over their heads and consistently impact matches either through one or two really awful decisions or just repeated lack of judgement. What I’m thinking of specifically is the Salazar-type referee that can’t be counted on to reliably punish excessively rough play. The league and the fans don’t benefit from seeing skill players injured and the league suffers from a reputation for “physical” play (meaning that almost any time a hockey game can break out…)

    So perhaps a more stringent professional conduct committee? A process through which the players, coaches, and fellow referees rate the refs and the lowest rated get dismissed? Just seems like there should be some way to solve the problem of the persistently-poor ref…

  3. I also wonder if there is a bigger league story here about recruitment and compensation. No one goes into officiating to get rich – and usually not to make new friends either… I am not sure if the league treats these guys as contractors or not, but last I saw the top pay for experienced officials is $1,100 per game. And they likely have to balance another income along with being absent and traveling for the season. Plus we pay much less per game than other leagues. Though I am not sure cross-league recruiting will be an issue.

    But these guys chose to go into officiating at a very low level, get no thanks, little compensation, and might even be assaulted along the way (or worse.)

    To end on a note of praise, I am usually very impressed by Petrescu when he’s officiating.

  4. Great post, but I’m biased (HS ref). [My son’s HS team beefed less about refs after many were hired to ref our recreational YMCA league.]

    We need a development track for refs through the lower leagues, not only giving them games, but ongoing feedback and deliberate training. And pay enough money to help keep them in it.

    P.S. I love the Jenny McCarthy jab

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