Football Libero: Game of two refs

On three occasions during the first half of the Arsenal v Manchester United match in midweek, the referee Martin Bodenham got in the way of passing movements. In the second, he was a long way behind play when Ian Wright launched two feet at Peter Schmeichel, probably having slowed, aware of the offside that a linesman had awarded. And this was one of Britain's best officials going about his overworked trade.

Several so-called solutions to the question of improving refereeing standards have been advanced and some implemented; younger officials, ex-players in control, professional referees. None addresses the real issue, however, of the pace of the modern game outstripping the poor old ref, no matter how youthful, fit and professional he or she is. As any coach should point out to youngsters learning the game, the ball always moves faster than any person can.

It seems to this column - as officials come under more scrutiny and duress to implement the laws more firmly, thus improving the game - that the time has come to re-examine an idea that might solve much: the two-referee system.

Only Michael Caine may know this, but the game originally began with two umpires and a referee, who sat on the half-way line to adjudicate in disputes. The umpires then became linesmen when referees complained they were under-employed. In 1935, the FA experimented with a system of two referees and no linesman in a friendly match. It was found that offside decisions were given with "a greater degree of accuracy". Though eight out of nine of the Football League's management committee supported the idea, the League's annual meeting voted 31-18 against.

Nothing more happened until the 1960s when an FA man, Col Pip Newton, resurrected the idea and a series of games were played. Under his system of two referees patrolling the length of the pitch but keeping to their own side, it was discovered that offside decisions were more accurate - and these days, with the "level" rule and the swift timing of forward runs, linesmen cannot judge properly the ball being played and the position of the player. One unexpected benefit was that there were one-third fewer throw-ins, thus speeding up the game's flow.

Of "modern" football then, Col Newton wrote: "The principal change is that the tactic of possession has become even more dominant which, added to the fact that the game has become faster, makes it even more difficult for the referee to penetrate on a diagonal across the flood of players without interrupting their pattern of play or spending a great deal of time trying to avoid the ball or players.

"Additionally, he is forced, because of the speed of the game, to run down the centre of the field and in consequence more frequently fails to see his linesmen's flags with the attendant result that the particular portion of the crowd affected quickly explodes in anger." Col Newton also noted that stricter interpretation of the laws even then initially had a "cleansing" effect but mostly resulted in a disciplinary backlog.

Plus ca change, as the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, an advocate of the system, might say. "For one referee to keep concentration for 90 minutes at such a quick pace is difficult," he told me. "The pressure is never relieved. As human beings, they need the rest that having two referees would bring."

M Wenger would, though, have a referee in each half, which differs from the plan of Col Newton, who also advocated "goal-cum-touch judges" at either end. We might then avoid the was-it-a-goal problems of the World Cup final, he noted shortly after 1966.

Of course, the system has potential drawbacks - consistency of approach from one referee to another being one - but surely it is again worth investigation by the powers that be. As a result, many of the other mooted modifications to the rules to make it a better game might not be needed.

A Vin or lose situation

I WANTED to speak to Vinnie Jones. "You need to discuss it with my agent," he said, when I reached him at Wimbledon's training ground. He offered me the man's mobile telephone number. "Do you have a mobile I can contact you on?" I asked Vinnie. "No, I'm not giving it out," he said. Duly, I telephoned the mobile number he had read out. "Ullo?" came a voice. "Is that Vinnie Jones's agent?" I asked. "No, it's Vinnie. Who's that?" the voice replied.

WE hate to say that we told you so, but we told you so. Over a month ago this column noted the use of a laser beam trained on a player during an Aston Villa match and witnessed it again during the Leicester City v Wimbledon Coca-Cola Cup tie in midweek when Vinnie Jones was the target. To his credit, a Leicester steward noted the culprit and confiscated the device. We can only hope other clubs are as clued-up about this dangerous instrument.

THE attendant press were growing a trifle impatient at Arsenal's training headquarters last week, having been told the players were still out, when Lee Dixon appeared. "Have you stretched yet, Lee?" wondered the Arsenal PR, Clare Tomlinson. "No," said someone, "he's still as small as he always was."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power