As reported by BBC Sport earlier in the week, Newcastle United manager Joe Kinnear referred to referee Martin Atkinson as “Mickey Mouse” after the latter failed to award Newcastle a free-kick shortly before awarding Fulham a penalty.
Kinnear is reported to have said:
“There was a blatant foul prior to the penalty.
“We have got the Mickey Mouse referee doing nothing.”
Earlier in the month, Sunderland manager Roy Keane was charged with improper conduct by the Football Association after questioning the referee at half-time in another game officiated by Atkinson. With his side trailing 3-0 at half time, Keane felt defender Pascal Chimbonda had been fouled by Chelsea’s Joe Cole in the lead-up to the third goal.
Another referee, Howard Webb, has come out to say that while he understands why managers get angry at referees’ mistakes, they are only human.
According to BBC Sports, Webb revealed he gets upset when he makes a mistake during a game and sees the evidence on screen afterwards.
“It hurts when that happens. I will go home after a game where I have made a mistake and I will not be very pleased with myself.
“I will regularly look back at my performances and work out ways in which I could have done things better. I’d hate to think people feel we drive away from games happy with ourselves when we have made a mistake.
“We are only human after all but we want to be as accurate as we can be, as often as we can be.”
A few weeks earlier, another referee, Rob Styles, rescinded a red card he showed to Newcastle defender Habib Beye in a 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City.
“The 31-year-old [Beye] was sent off by referee Rob Styles for a foul on Robinho in the penalty area but TV replays suggested he had won the ball.
It’s all good and well referees admitting they made a mistake, but for a club like Newcastle, fighting to move away from the relegation zone, the damage is already done – important points dropped.
Webb is right, referees are human, but the real culprits are the football authorities.
It is clear that the pace of the game at the top levels, and especially in England, is beyond the human capabilities of the traditional system of one referee and two assistants.
Refereeing mistakes occur so frequently that they are almost impossible to catalogue fully, while occasionally commenting on bad decisions hardly conveys how widespread or serious the issue is.
Rob Styles’ change of mind about the award of a penalty after reviewing video footage was not his first of the season – in September, Styles apologized to Bolton Wanderers for a penalty awarded to Manchester United which resulted in the first goal scored in United’s 2-0 win.
“Fergie’s initial reaction: “surprised, but then he owed us one.”
Not really the way football should be officiated, is it.
For any one club, refereeing mistakes may or may not even themselves out over the course of a season.
However, when the stakes are as high as they are in the Premier League, it is scant consolation for a club at the receiving end of a bad decision that determines the outcome of a match to say that perhaps other decisions will go their way in the future.
The refusal of the football authorities to countenance the use of video technology during a match to resolve highly contentious decisions which are likely to affect the outcome of the game, such as disputed penalties and sendings off, stem from traditionalism and inertia, rather than common sense or the good of the game.
Video evidence would usually resolve the issue, or at least limit the scope of the dispute. By not using video evidence during the match itself, the football authorities allow the issue to drag on well beyond the end of the game. Perhaps that is what the football authorities want – players and managers reacting to bad refereeing decisions, and lots of discussion of such decisions and reactions in the media.
Video technology is used very sensibly in tennis. Increasingly, I’d rather watch tennis than football. In these circumstances, football is better played rather than watched.