What is it that really gets under your skin in football? The striker who refuses to track back? Those perennial divers and sneaky time-wasters? Or maybe it’s the sickening greed in the game; the outrageous levels of money that are poured into the pockets of the rich in the Premier League, while grassroots continues to feed off the scraps at the bottom of the pile?
You probably won’t admit it, but for all the imbalances and for all the injustices, the single biggest villain is the referee.
He – or indeed she – remains the enemy to all. For players, managers and most notably fans, the ref is the focal point of almost every contentious debate. I am sure we all deny it, but collectively, football has little patience or appreciation for the job they do.
Over the years, whether playing (rarely), watching or reporting, I have seen some horrific treatment dished out to officials. Verbal abuse seems par for the course, but there has been violence, a referee being spat at, and in one case, a player – following a sending off – breaking into the officials’ room to urinate on their clothes.
It’s a constant fight for a referee, and what disappoints me most is the way they are ‘represented’ in the media. This very paper, like many others, rates refs for their performances. But perhaps it’s something we should consider not doing anymore. Some of the marks I see on the reports just baffle me. There may be no mention of a litany of bad decisions, but refs rarely get a score of more than seven out of ten and fours and fives are commonplace.
On Sunday, our men at Gateshead and Wrexham gave Karl Evans and Peter Gibbons 8/10. It was an eye-opener and a refreshing change from the norm.
Maybe we are just too long in the tooth, but we must give refs more of a chance, whether watching from the terraces or reporting in the press box.
I know standards, especially in the National League, have come in for serious questioning from more respected voices than mine who watch a lot more football, but I think there is a rolling bandwagon now, and we just can’t wait to jump on it.
*This article originally in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday.