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Still not up to standard

Almost exactly one year ago, in a blog piece far far away, I was writing on the issue of refereeing inconsistencies in the A-League, and how they were hurting the image and perception of the league amongst the community. At the time, I suggested the FFA appoint a Director of Refereeing, preferably former A-League and NSL referee Mark Shield, to oversee the entire refereeing group and try to dictate a set of standards and interpretations to them. Call me Nostradamus, but we fast forward exactly one year to where that precise arrangement is in place. But the problem is, the issue of overseeing the refereeing group, dictating standards and ensuring consistency is one that is still a problem. And a significant one, at that.

It’s taken only four weeks of A-League action this year to get A-League fans of nearly every club up in arms about a particular unjust, or seemingly unjust, refereeing decision. For your quick reference, I’ve compiled an abbreviated list of highlights lowlights:

  • A red card to Nick Ward in the Wellington v Newcastle game for professionally fouling an opposition player as the last defender, despite the fact he clearly wasn’t the last defender. This red card was later rescinded by the match review panel.
  • Wellington’s Tim Brown being sent off on a second booking on a very dubious time wasting charge in the same match.
  • A decision to award a corner to Sydney in their game at AAMI Park against the Heart, where it was clear to everyone at the ground and those watching on TV that it was nothing of the sort. Sydney equalised from the resulting corner, forcing a 1-1 draw.
  • Archie Thompson scoring Melbourne’s third goal against Wellington at Westpac Stadium, only for it to be flagged for offside by the linesman. Studies of the footage have since shown that Thompson was roughly 5 meters (!) on-side when the ball was played through.
  • A linesman (the same one, in fact) raising his flag for offside on Carlos Hernandez in the same match, despite the fact the ball was put through to him from a throw in, when it is impossible to be offside. Thankfully, the controlling referee decided to ignore the linesman.

Now, as much as the AFL and NRL-loving sets would like to say otherwise, the A-League is a professional league, with professional clubs and professional players. But, I think it was put best by @CGassieFootball on Twitter at the conclusion of this past weekend’s Phoenix vs Victory game, when he tweeted that “it’s season seven but we’ve still got season one referees”. And, unfortunately, it’s a view shared by the many, rather than the few.

Yes, I can acknowledge that there are mitigating factors in play, and that there is unlikely to be a panacea to this issue. This new crop of referees (the two Gillett’s, Ryan Shepheard, Gerard Parsons and Kris Griffiths-Jones) were always going to take time to adapt to the level of the A-League, but the majority of them have been refereeing in the A-League for the past few seasons. And it’s some of the older referees, such as Ben Williams, Peter Green and Chris Beath, who are doing just as poorly. And, yes, I understand that these referees are only part-time referees. And, yes, I can accept that poor decisions are part of the game and they will happen every so often. But four weeks into a new season, that ‘every so often’ shouldn’t have transformed itself into ‘often’.

With fan frustration reaching boiling point at times last season, due to a abundance of poor and confusing decisions, one positive move that the FFA have made this year is to allow their newly appointed refereeing director to front the media. Mark Shield has been turning out to front the press this year in order to explain decisions, point out examples of good refereeing from the past weekend’s action, and also pointing out glaring errors made by his referees. But, really, this is just treating the symptom, not the cause.

So what is the solution, or solutions, to this issue? It’s not as if there is a pool of cloned Strebre Delovski’s that can be allocated to each of the five A-League fixtures of a weekend. Technology, and scientific ethics, simply won’t allow it.

The challenge for Mark Shield, and the FFA, is to develop this refereeing group to a point where they are all preaching from the same hymn book. There will still be the occasional poor decision, and the rare howler, but the general decision making process of each referee should consistently flow from one game, and one referee, to the next. If they can develop this group to a point where the referee becomes nigh on unnoticeable, then it will be a job well done by all. But currently, the refereeing this season is standing out like…well, you know.

About the author

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

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Comments

  • Anonymous

    While I agree to most of your points I think one of the more major issues hindering what you term as refereeing from the same hymn book, is that they all hail from different federations with different interpretations. These disparate federations train there referees differently if at all with most not having regular training. Until there is a more unified structure for referees this will continue to be a problem. Of course I can’t explain why the FIFA badged assistant referee flagged for offside from a throw in, absolutely terrible and I know the assessor on the day would have chewed him out.