In recent weeks, perhaps even more than usual, it seems that the spotlight has been centred firmly on British referees – or to be more specific, their mistakes. The main point of contention seems to be the ruling on dangerous tackles, with Vincent Kompany’s sending off against Manchester United sparking much debate over what exactly should constitute a straight red card. The masses call for both clarity and consistency from our referees – which on the surface seems simple enough. The reality of the situation however, is a little murkier.


Take Kompany’s much discussed dismissal, awarded for a somewhat overzealous, if largely successful tackle on Manchester United’s Portuguese winger Nani. This was no Diego Maradona handball, a glaring mistake of the sort to unite an entire nation. This was simply a contentious decision, one that collective fandom found it tellingly difficult to classify. Again, consistency is called for from officials, from a body of fans who have themselves struggled to come to a collective decision. Referees should of course be operating on a level above the average fan, but they are only human. Some decisions will always be ambiguous and this does not reflect on the quality of officiating.


It seems glaringly obvious that those calling out Kompany’s dismissal as somehow ‘spoiling the spectacle’ would be the same supporters crying out for more protection were their team’s star player to be damaged by a similarly crude challenge. Had Nani himself not so deftly sidestepped Kompany’s lunge, the nation’s best supported club could have been without one of their brightest talents for, potentially months.


Had that been the case it seems likely that those calling for clarity and consistency would shuffle quietly to one side – quite possibly to join a baying mob calling for Kompany’s head. Situations like these often seem to require a villain – the problem being that fans often forget that without the referees that they victimise there would be no football at all. It now seems an instantaneous reaction to question refereeing decisions, a clear sign that their authority has been heavily compromised in recent years, with the figures that were once seen as all powerful overlords of the game reduced to little more than sounding boards for the frustrations of fans, players and managers alike. Football is not in need of any more scandal, and for order to be restored referees must regain a power that seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. Clarity and consistency? I think it is perhaps more important that you practise what you preach – an adage that the football fans who barrack officials would do well to keep in mind.

Words by Josh Tait