People generally go to football matches to be entertained and to express their support for their team. They want to enjoy the skills of the game, see the best players show off their talents, witness good scores and the occasional “strong tackle” If their team manages to win they will of course head off in ebullient form looking forward to the next game in a positive frame of mind. Win, lose or draw however, hopefully they will have something to talk about on the way home and at work the next day.
Unfortunately on far too many occasions lately the talking points have been more about the performance of the man in the middle of the park than the men in the middle of the field. Referees and their decision making is once more the hot topic of conversation among supporters.
People should not be too surprised about this because every year in the early stages of The National League we see the same thing as many referees attempt to officiate a game by applying literally all the rules of the game.
Apart from ensuring that the game is far from free-flowing this causes no end of bemusement among players and supporters. In complete contrast by the time the league comes to an end it seems the rules, or the application of them, have changed. Transgressions that would merit a yellow card in the opening rounds of the league would barely earn a tick in the last round of games as the overzealous approach of the early part of the season is replaced by a more common sense approach to the application of the rules of the game. It would seem that referees as well as players begin to turn their thoughts towards the championship and as a result the “confetti” approach to yellow and red cards disappears.
It might be interesting to tally up the number of yellow and red cards used in the first half of the league and compare it with the second half just to see if there is any noticeable difference.
Last Sunday Fermanagh entertained Wicklow in a Division Four National League game. The game was, by all accounts an entertaining, close affair between two evenly matched teams and finished in a draw. The reasonable sized crowd were well entertained but at the final whistle the talk was more about the eighteen yellow and three red cards doled out by the ref than the quality of fare on show. Anyone I have spoken to about the game said it was anything but a dirty match yet to look at the stats you would imagine it had been a very physical and tempestuous affair.
The idea that we can make our games more attractive by literal application of the rules is wrong. People enjoy good old fashioned physical football as much as the finer skills and our games are the better for that. Referees should be encouraged to adopt a common sense approach to the games, allow them to communicate better with players and assess them on how well they control the game overall while still allowing it to flow instead of marking them down for every foul they miss. Match officials are human and can make mistakes just like the rest of us. Unfortunately the assessment driven culture of refereeing in my view is not helping to improve the quality of our games. In fact it would seem that it doing the opposite.