Premier League: On A Weekend Of More Poor Decisions, What’s Happening To Our Referees?

I’ll jump straight to the point. The last two weekends of Premier League action have produced some quite frankly shocking refereeing decisions. Referees are inadvertently becoming the centre of attention far more than they should ever do and this is clearly a problem that needs to be eradicated. If the referee does his job properly, we should not notice him at all. But there has been far too much headline-grabbing from the men in the middle recently – allow me to demonstrate and refresh your memory if need be.


Two weekends ago, West Brom comfortably led 2-1 at Stamford Bridge against a lackluster Chelsea side – who have flattered to deceive at points this year – before they were given a helping hand by Andre Marriner. In added time, Steven Reid stepped across Ramires in the penalty area as Chelsea finally sustained some pressure on the Baggies’ goal and there was no hesitation by Marriner in pointing to the spot. The slightest, minimal contact. But not enough to make a man go down. Eden Hazard slotted away the consequent penalty and the travelling support’s hearts were broken whilst simultaneously letting Chelsea off the hook. Such was the extent of the error that it warranted a phone call from referees’ chief Mike Riley to apologise to West Brom boss Steve Clarke earlier this week. That says enough in itself.

Then there was Robert Madley’s self-implosion at the Liberty Stadium for Swansea against Stoke. Again in the last minute, a shot towards goal was deflected out for a corner by Wayne Routledge. Madley inexplicably decided that the ball had come off Routledge’s hand despite being 30 yards away at the time and it having deflected via his upper body. Therefore, another penalty was given, subsequently converted and yet another match’s result fell victim to refereeing incompetency. Stoke escaped with a draw which again was not entirely deserved – and it was safe to say Swans boss Michael Laudrup had a few choice post-match words.


Fast-forward to this Saturday and they’re at it again. Phil Dowd decided to only yellow card Kevin Mirallas in the Merseyside derby for an extremely high, undeniably late ‘tackle’ above Luis Suarez’s knee, drawing blood in the process. Mirallas was nowhere near the ball, which itself was long gone, and he was extremely lucky to remain on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes. I will go as far to say as it was the clearest red card I have seen all season. Given the amount of time Dowd had to make that decision, afforded to him by the long break to attend to Suarez (which itself should have said something), his incorrect reading of the situation is inexcusable.

In stark contrast, later the same afternoon, Kevin Friend bizarrely sends off Wes Brown for a perfectly legal and excellently timed (studs down) slide tackle in which he made minimal contact with his opponent and full contact with the ball. One of the best tackles you’ll see in the game is not worthy of a red card and I am still at a loss to explain why Friend made such a decision. Brown’s tackle could not even be claimed as hazardous or as one that endangered the safety of anyone on the pitch. Surely referees cannot award fouls on the premise of what might have been, rather than what actually happens and is seen?

And it didn’t stop there either. Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie saw red from Anthony Taylor for a highly questionable foul on Jake Livermore late into the Palace-Hull relegation battle at Selhurst Park. Admittedly, unlike the other incidents, this decision actually had no effect on the final score as Palace rallied with 10 men to take home the three points. But on another day, Bolasie would most certainly have remained on the pitch for his robust, but widely deduced as fair, challenge.

The worst element of all this controversy is the consistency, or rather, lack of it. The FA and Select Group of Referees need to work harder at levelling the playing field and standardizing the refereeing more closely so that incidents are treated at face value and not influenced through a referee’s uninformed perception, poor positioning or a victim’s playacting. Whether something happens in the first minute or the 90th minute, a bad tackle is a bad tackle and a dive is a dive. A penalty is a penalty. I could go on.

Then there’s ‘big game’ fever. No matter if it’s a title decider, relegation six-pointer or mid-table clash – there should be no difference. The grey areas are too large currently, and although it may be impossible to eradicate these altogether, more has to be done at either end of the spectrum to produce clearer black and white ends of the scale that are not only clearer to referees themselves but to fans, too. Subjectivity has to submit to wider objectivity.

But more worryingly, a couple of the aforementioned incidents don’t even come down to that. They were simply incorrect common sense decisions which even in hindsight are unexplainable; indefensible, even. Safe to say, I would not be shocked to see Madley or Friend in particular reduced to Championship or League One duty for a few weeks. If I can call these decisions from the comfort of my armchair or sofa without a replay, they must be able to do better on the pitch. They have to. Surely?

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