Home Global Game Europe Scottish referees standing up for themselves — and they’re right to do so

Scottish referees standing up for themselves — and they’re right to do so

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The referees are on strike in Scotland. They have had it. They’ve had it with the criticisms of coaches and players. They’re tired of being made the scapegoats whenever a close decision goes against a fiery manager with an axe to grind.

Good for them.

They’ve gone on strike, leaving the Scottish FA scrambling to find refs for this week’s matches. Polish and Portuguese refs who the SFA thought it had secured to officiate this weekend’s games have gone back home. Scotland did find enough foreign refs to keep the Premier League going, so fans could be treated another weekly instalment of Rangers, Celtic and Everybody Else.

As technology advances, fans, players, coaches and the media are judging match officials much more harshly. Coaches are taking task with officials after going into the tunnel and seeing super slo-mo replays from a variety of different angles. Fans judge referees without thinking that the official only sees the play once, at game speed.

It is the cruelest of practices.

In January, in a piece I wrote for Soccer 360, Hector Vergara, the Winnipeg ref who officiated at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, spoke of the dangers of using technology to judge the job the ref is doing.

“One of the easiest things to do is criticize the ref,” he said.” “But people have to realize we are human. We only have one shot at it, and it’s a split-second decision. Really, it’s a game of angles. If you don’t have the right angle, it’s really hard to make the calls.”

Case in point: Earlier this year, referee Marlon Mejia was lambasted by Toronto fans after sending off midfielder Nick LaBrocca in a CONCACAF Champions League game in Panama against Arabe Unido. Yes, once viewers had looks at the replay, it was clear that Arabe Unido goalkeeper Jose Calderon was feigning injury. It was clear that the contact was minimal.

After seeing the replay. Stress that.

When I watched that game —as I was writing my column for the Toronto Sun — I remember that, on first glance, thinking that LaBrocca’s challenge was surely a red card. He slid in late, both legs were out, and he went into the keeper — a massive no-no in the world of soccer.

I changed my mind after seeing the replay.

But the ref didn’t have one. So his gut instinct was the same as mine.

In Toronto, the name of referee Baldomero Toledo, who got the assignment to take care of MLS Cup and was widely criticized for leaving his whistle and cards in his pocket after a series of nasty, physical challenges between FC Dallas and Colorado.

Toledo’s position was similar to that of World Cup final referee Howard Webb. He doesn’t want to be showing cards or sending players off to decide a championship game. Webb was blasted for not red-carding Dutch players after it was clear that they were only on the pitch to hack and disrupt the Spanish ball-control game. Nigel de Jong got away with a flying kick to the sternum of Xabi Alonso. But what was Webb to do? Turn the game into an 11 vs. 9 match? This was a World Cup final, not a simple league match. So Webb did the best he could, produce a bunch of yellows, hoping that the warnings would slow the carnage. Finally, in extra time, the red was shown and the Dutch were down to 10 and, deservedly, lost.

And Toledo deserves a bit more leash, too. Again, why would he want to decide a Cup final by reaching for red? When the shoving matches started, he did the right thing by talking to the players.

Wonder what would happen if we could go back in time to look at calls made before the advent of instant replay? Not only would it allow us to obsess even more about the famous controversies — the 1966 World Cup deciding goal, or whether or not Ferenc Puskas was offside or not when the Hungarian superstar’s equalizer was ruled out by linesman’s flag in the ’54 final against West Germany — but it would probably allow us to see that some calls that were never thought to be that heinous back in the day were actually dead wrong.

Coaches, managers, media and fans: Want to judge the refs? Then don’t look at the replay. Write about the games without looking back on the monitors. When a guy yells down the press box “did you see who made that pass to De Rosario?” don’t help him out. No stat sheets. No going on the Internet. Don’t look at a replay to see if the tackler clipped the attacker’s shin or got the ball first. Just watch the game in real time. Because the second you watch a replay, you are judging the official by a different set of criteria than under which (s)he operates.

Scottish referees are reminding us of this folly.

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