I’ve been involved in football match officiating in some capacity or other for 50 years. Yes, I said 50 years.
From carrying the flag and later the whistle, to coaching and mentoring, I have done it all. I also worked in the administrative area when I was general manager in charge of refereeing in the PSL.
During that time, I’ve seen many changes to the Fifa laws of the game – some for the better and others not.
I have also heard and read about certain referees who favour one team over another, either for money or out of a sense of loyalty. Both are disgusting and disgraceful, and the perpetrators should receive the ultimate punishment – a lifetime ban from the sport.
Many of my current and former colleagues do it for the love of the game. They get a real sense of enjoyment out of giving their best, on a Saturday or Sunday and, in some cases, also during the week.
Incidentally, many of these match officials do it for little or no reward.
But the question is, are some refs biased? The reason I asked is because a great friend of mine, who is not a referee and has no connection with referees, asked me that same question.
He’s a big Manchester City supporter and he was worried about the referee who took charge of the Uefa Champions League final last week between his favourite team and Chelsea in Estádio do Dragão in Portugal.
I assured him that the referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, was one of the best and that he would give a five-star performance. He mentioned a simple fact that bothered him greatly.
City manager Pep Guardiola is from the Basque country of northern Spain, while referee Lahoz is from central Spain.
Señor Lahoz has been around a long time, and it was reported that he was in tears after the final whistle.
Many people had speculated about why he was so emotional, but it later turned out that this was his last Champions League match as he announced his retirement a few days later.
It was another master class in match officiating and my friend came back to me after the game and, although disappointed that his team had lost, was completely happy with the ref’s performance.
It highlights the difference between the UK, in particular English referees, and their European counterparts.
It hurts me to say this, but there is a yawning gap between the calibre of English and European match officials. I personally feel that there is far too much personal contact between English referees and the players.
Their attitude and approach sometimes comes across as patronising. The players seem to get away with a lot more play-acting than they do at continental level.
The amount of cheating and diving that goes on in the Premier League is nothing short of disgraceful, and there seems to be constant complaining and questioning of decisions that are obvious to one and all.
I have said many times that players will try every trick in the book to get that all-important decision for their teams. And if that means lying, cheating and diving, then “so be it” seems to be the order of the day.
Referees are not cheats. Sure, there have been occasions when it has happened, and I am aware of some who have taken money to sway a game towards one team or another.
Thankfully, these are few and rare.
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