x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Referees should be seen and not heard

There now seems to be two types of officials in the game, those who want to be the centre of attention and those who prefer to stay anonymous.

Everton’s Jack Rodwell was shown a red card by Martin Atkinson, right, in last weekend’s game against Liverpool. The card was later rescinded, but Atkinson still refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong.
Everton’s Jack Rodwell was shown a red card by Martin Atkinson, right, in last weekend’s game against Liverpool. The card was later rescinded, but Atkinson still refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong.

There now seems to be two types of officials in the game, those who want to be the centre of attention and those who prefer to stay anonymous.

In my day, I played with some good referees, such as Graham Poll.

He had been in charge of games I had played in from being a youth player at Arsenal to being the centre forward at Manchester United. I respected him.

He knew, like any good referee, that he should try to be anonymous in matches. The best referee for this was Pierluigi Collina - if being anonymous when you looked like him was possible.

The problem with the Premier League now is that there are too many referees who do not want to be anonymous. They have got an eye on a future newspaper column or autobiography. They want to become well known while they are referees, not when they are finished.

The refereeing issue blew up again after the match between Everton and Liverpool last weekend when Martin Atkinson sent off Jack Rodwell and then refused to acknowledge that he was wrong when the red card was rescinded.

When referees such as Poll or Dermot Gallagher made a mistake, they apologised. I can remember a few times when I challenged Gallagher and accused him of having a laugh.

He actually said, 'Sorry'. I went from huffing and puffing with anger to thinking, 'Fair enough', that's good refereeing.

They weren't all like that. Some referees would never say they had made a mistake, the schoolteacher types who give you the curly finger and want you to stand to attention like a naughty little boy. I didn't appreciate being spoken too like an errant child, because I wasn't a child.

Fewer referees are prepared to hold their hands up these days. I know because I speak to players all the time. This is why the relationship has deteriorated, when respect only needs to come from common sense and communication.

Common sense went out of the window in the Merseyside derby. Rodwell was sent off when he shouldn't have been for a one-footed tackle on Luis Suarez.

It was a good challenge, but because of his momentum, he hit Suarez. The Uruguayan's reaction did not help. He went down as if Rodwell had tried to do him knee high and rolled around. If you are genuinely hurt then you don't roll around like Suarez. It is a shame, because he's a top player.

Atkinson, who had been in to see the players of both clubs and told them what he wanted from them before the match, felt that he did not need to explain himself during the game. He was wrong.

It didn't take the red card to be rescinded to know that he was wrong, but why couldn't he admit it after speaking to his linesmen?It would have been brave, but correct. I'm not saying that he needs to do an interview after the game to explain himself. These things should be kept on the pitch, the referee is only human and makes mistakes like anyone.

Referees such as Atkinson want to make a statement, want to be seen to be the absolute power. He probably enjoys being the central character rather than the players and doesn't think that he needs to justify his decisions. But referees do.

Players will listen to an explanation. Players make mistakes and so do referees.

The heat can be taken out of angry situations if the referee acknowledges he made a mistake and says: "I got it wrong, carry on". You'd look a fool if you carried on arguing.

Respect comes to people who can communicate and be sensible, which is what a referee should be.

I would never be the first to criticise referees and I switched off from those who moaned about them all the time.

I also think that referees tend to favour the bigger clubs, something I felt more strongly after I'd left United and played for smaller clubs Fulham and Portsmouth. The weaker referees will go with the big crowd, but players get things wrong, too.

I was at United when my teammates famously surrounded the referee Andy D'Urso. He'd made a mistake and given Middlesbrough a penalty at Old Trafford in 2000. He was soon surrounded by six of my teammates, faces bulging with anger and the veins in Roy Keane's head protruding. The referee retreated into the corner.

Sir Alex Ferguson got every player into a room at Carrington two days later and was even madder. He told us that was no way to treat a referee and accused me of being one of the worst.

"But Gaffer," I remonstrated, "I wasn't even on the pitch! I was sat next to you on the bench!" He ignored that one and I didn't push it, but we all learnt a little. If there's respect then it has to be two ways.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

sports@thenational.ae