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Consistently inconsistent

One of the problems that the FFA is experiencing at the moment is one whose existence they haven’t yet acknowledged. In the Victory v Adelaide match on Friday night, it was made even more abundantly clear that this problem is not getting better, and that if anything it’s getting substantially worse week-by-week. And if it’s an issue that is frustrating for the fans, those that pay to go and watch their A-League team each week, then it must be so much more frustrating for the players themselves who are victim to a lack of it during each game, and in fact a lack of it over each season.

That’s right, it’s refereeing consistency. Or more to the point, a severe lack of it.

The Victory v Adelaide game on Friday night was, as I already stated, a clear signpost as to the existence of this issue. Ben Williams, who has proved himself in the past as a quality referee in his 84 A-League appearances, made some quite baffling errors in judgement; giving free kicks to one side and not to the other for identical indiscretions, not doling out cards when it would’ve been appropriate and generally not making a call when he should’ve. To be fair, it is not just Williams who has made inconsistent or non-existent decisions this year – it’s been a problem for most, if not all, A-League referees.

And I’m not even just talking about the consistency that one referee makes over the course of a single game. The problem seems to be that with such a diverse refereeing panel, both in terms of refereeing background, age and nationality, that there is also no consistency on a week-to-week basis. Why is this such a problem? Well, for instance a player may receive a booking during one game for a sloppy studs-up tackle, yet in the next game they get off scot free. Or in one game a player has a few ‘words’ to a referee and no action is taken, then the next week (in the case of Kevin Muscat on Friday night) he can get booked.

If the FFA wants to be pragmatic about this issue, and actually acknowledge that it is a real problem in the current A-League season, then they need to take a leaf out of the book of some other professional football leagues in this country. Namely, the AFL. Normally, I am the first to say that the A-League should forge it’s own path in the Australian (and New Zealand) sporting landscape, but sometimes I can admit when opposing codes are onto a good thing. That good thing is to establish a Director of Refereeing position.

What the AFL did a few years ago was to install a Director of Refereeing (or Umpiring in their case – for the purposes of this comparison, I will stick to using the word ‘referee’) to oversee the refereeing quality on a game-by-game as well as week-by-week basis. Then, the following week after all the weekend’s games have concluded, the entire refereeing panel sits down with the Director and they review footage from each game, discuss what they did right and what they did wrong, and establish consistent judgements that all the referees will adhere to. What this means is that, even if the decisions their referees are making are wrong, they are at least all getting it consistently wrong. And if decisions are being made consistently, be it right or wrong, at least the players know where the line is and how not to overstep it, and the fans can have some semblance of knowing what the decision made was actually for.

Now I could throw names out of former A-League and NSL referees who could quite easily fill this position (I’m looking at you, Mark Shield), but it should be up to the FFA to recruit an appropriate candidate who is both respected by the current A-League refereeing panel, and also has been touted as a quality referee in years gone by. And with so many young, rookie referees being ‘blooded’ this season (such as Kurt Ams, Chris Boyle, Jarred Gillett, Matthew Gillett, Kris Griffiths-Jones, Gerard Parsons and Ryan Shepheard just to name a few), this is an issue that could be quickly nipped in the bud now, and would provide a more consistent refereeing landscape for the next decade. However, if like so many other issues in Australian football it becomes one that the FFA ‘love’ to ignore, then we’re going to see many more discrepancies in decisions each weekend – further frustrating and alienating an already dwindling football fan base.

About the author

avatarJustin is a passionate football fan, and the Editor-in-chief of Ultimate A-League.

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