Football: Graham blames `Big Brother' for referees

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GEORGE GRAHAM yesterday called for Philip Don, the Premiership referees' officer, to be made redundant to ease the pressure on over-zealous referees who are running scared of "Big Brother" watching them from the stands.

The Tottenham manager was furious with Paul Alcock's handling of Spurs' game at Newcastle on Sunday when six Tottenham players were booked. He called the Surrey official, the man infamously pushed over last season by Paolo di Canio, "the worst I've seen this season" - low praise, indeed, by the manager who is always ready with a rocket for the referee.

But there was some uncharacteristic backtracking by Graham yesterday when he admitted: "I don't blame him [Alcock] - not entirely, anyway. I blame the system in which referees have to operate. They are too worried about having to do things to please an assessor in the stand. It is like Big Brother watching them.

"Premiership referees have had their sense of responsibility and ability to use common-sense taken away from them - they are officiating with fear.

"They seem to feel they have to do everything to the letter of the law or they will get low marks from the assessor and will be taken off the Premiership list.

"This has to change and the first thing I would do is dispose of the role of referees' officer. The appointment of Philip Don was supposed to improve relations between clubs and referees, but I am afraid it is not working. I cannot see what good he has done.

"People will say I'm just whingeing again - and yes I am. I'm also fed up with keep hearing other managers whinge but we will have to keep doing it if we want things to change."

Graham also expressed his fears that players have become easy targets for supporters who want to provoke them into retaliatory gestures, knowing that the Football Association are under pressure to clamp down on those who tarnish the image of the game.

David Ginola and Tim Sherwood were reported to Northumbria police by around a dozen St James' Park fans after Tottenham's 2-1 defeat when it is alleged the players made gestures and used obscene language in response to baiting by the home crowd.

The police are compiling a report to pass on to the FA, and Graham asked: "It is becoming too easy now for people to have a go at players and wind them up, because the police are perfectly happy to report them to the FA for things that may have happened or may have been entirely manufactured."

Graham's former club, Leeds United, were yesterday the victims of another attack by Spartak Moscow officials ahead of tomorrow's Uefa Cup match in Sofia. The coach, Oleg Romantsev, backed up his club's claims of bribery by Leeds in a bid to get both legs of the third-round tie played in England after a frozen Dinamo Stadium pitch led to the initial match being postponed.

"The referees and the English went to Moscow with one aim - to cancel the match. You could already guess that a week ago," Romantsev said. "They're cunning, they counted on everything. It's a blow below the belt.

"I want to warn again that neither in Bulgaria nor in Leeds will I go to the press conference. I'm not inclined to sit at the same table with dishonourable people. Leeds have simply stolen a million dollars and our chances of making the next round are dramatically decreasing."

The Bradford City manager, Paul Jewell, is looking for a loan replacement for his goalkeeper, Gary Walsh, who has had a knee operation will not return until the new year.

Jimmy Calderwood has been appointed coach at Dunfermline, replacing Dick Campbell.