STOP GETTING REFEREEING WRONG
Referees are under more pressure than ever, so the story goes.
Roberto Martinez is disgusted; Emmanuel Adebayor has had his dreams ruined. Mark Hughes reckons they’re guessing and hoping, and has lost the faith. But of course, one way to relieve pressure is stop putting it on, and it’s hard not to conclude that the recent kerfuffles aren’t entirely the fault of the whistling jobsworths that spend their weekends carelessly ruining everybody’s lives.
For while a referee’s decision is made on the basis of the event as it happens, the criticism flows from the basis of the event as it’s been reviewed, and replayed. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a problem if we were all self-aware enough to admit, to ourselves and to one another, that a criticism based on a replay is in several important ways unfair, but we’re not. That wouldn’t fit into the most important thing, which is the documentary proof that reinforces the prevailing narrative that reads: I, by which I mean the corporate entity that holds me in nothing in contempt, have, from a certain angle, if you zoom in a bit and close one eye, then close the other, possibly been denied a throw-in.
A replay is very good for getting a second look at an incident, and so assessing whether or not a refereeing decision is right. But they’re not very good for deciding whether or not the decision was a bad one, from the referee’s position and without the benefit of a second look. A bad decision is not simply one that the referee gets wrong, it’s one that they get wrong but both could and more importantly should have got right. You can have ostensibly good decisions that turn out to be wrong; that’s what a convincing dive is. You can also get bad, right decisions, where a referee guesses but happens to guess correctly. (Fans of the tripartite theory of knowledge will be nodding at this point.)
Regardless, mistakes that happen in a world with replays are endlessly pored over, frame by frame, enlarged and enhanced, modelled and manipulated, until we end up looking at a contentious moment as though we were the Terminator. Yet referees, who have the significant disadvantage of not being mad-eyed assassin robots from the future, are berated on this basis — how could you not have known his clothes and his boots didn’t fit? How could you not have known he doesn’t have a motorcycle? While they could all be corrupt, the FCF have used up the entire investigative journalism budget trying to breed a cow small enough to actually fit inside a football, so we’ll leave that one for the moment. Let’s assume that the majority of refereeing mistakes are just that: mistakes, made honestly, by people who are trying to do as good a job as possible (and Howard Webb). How can we protect these poor, put-upon creatures from the pelters and brickbats that follow?
We ban replays.
Here’s how we’ll do it. Live broadcasts of a game will have no replays: not of fouls, not of penalty claims, not even of goals. We can call this the Sky Sports Match Day Experience, or something equally vile. Premium subscribers can supplement it with a bloke coming to your house to charge you £6.50 for a poorly-warmed pie. On the red button will be Ref-Cam, which will show you the entire game through a lens placed slapbang between the official’s two eyes. This will also have no replays, but you can add a colour filter according to your opinions of the referee in question.
Replays of contentious incidents will only be shown after the next round of fixtures. This will have three major effects. Firstly, by the time we find out whether or not Ashley Young dived last week, we’ll already be wondering whether he dived this week, and so the potential for frothing ourselves up into a lather of self-righteous outrage will be neatly ameliorated. Secondly, anything controversial happening on the last day of the season will be un-replayed until the following season begins, which means a long glorious summer of not really worrying about things. Thirdly, watching Alan Shearer struggle with the idea of highlights from this week but replays from last is going to be excellent television, and may cause his head to explode.
More important than any of that, we’ll have had a week to calm down. After that, and in the spirit of how television should be, anybody who then goes on to express an opinion based on a replay will be required to hold up a large R next to their head, so that the listener is aware that their view has been reached with the assistance of outside forces, that they have deliberately taken onboard evidence unavailable to the referee, and so while their version of events may be more accurate, it is significantly less relevant.
There are some logistical issues, I’ll grant you. This being the future, people can “record” live television and then place “clips” of this onto something called “the internet”; some deterrent will obviously be required. The removal of a hand, perhaps. But fundamentally, unless we’re all happy to grow up a little bit, then it’s the only way we’re going to extricate ourselves from the endless, lifeless, airless cycle — pause, rewind, carp — that follows every single mistake. If we can’t behave like adults, and not only acknowledge the imperfections but respect the implications of the system we’re dealing with, then it’s time to take the toys away. Be kind: don’t rewind.
You can follow Andi on Twitter here.