Football: Meet the new referee... still the same as the old ref

Norman Fox hears that full-time will not necessarily mean better
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The Independent Online
NINE PREMIERSHIP referees on the Fifa international list will almost certainly be turning full-time professional in time for next season, but the referees' training officer, Keith Hackett, warns that if English clubs expect the decision to have any immediate effect on standards, or that referees will become more easy-going, they are mistaken.

The final decision to begin a pilot scheme should have been taken at Thursday's meeting of Premier League chairmen but was overtaken by other, more dramatic events. However, most of the chairmen are understood to be in favour of the move, which will be discussed again within six weeks. The chairmen are under the impression that by going full-time the referees will be better, but Hackett says the main point is to save the referees from "the burden of also holding down full-time jobs".

Before retiring five years ago Hackett was one of the top British Fifa referees. These days he is a Premiership referees' observer and training officer, which involves analysing referees' performances with them. He said: "Making some referees full-time will enhance their performance in terms of being able to prepare themselves better but you could say the pressure on them will be greater, because if they don't perform they will soon be removed."

Hackett contends that in the present circumstances the biggest pressure on referees is not so much the close scrutiny by television cameras as the need to balance two careers. Going full-time will not, he says, necessarily make a noticeable difference on the pitch. "The game here is played much quicker than anywhere else in the world. But our current batch of referees could not be much fitter. They're a lot fitter than we were five or 10 years ago, and better. I'm convinced that their fitness means they are usually in the best viewing positions. They would not be any fitter if they were full-time professionals."

He says that going full-time will allow referees better opportunities to recover from injuries and "stop them driving 150 miles to a match and getting home at 2am; then going to work a few hours later". Although Premiership referees receive pounds 400 per match, they do not feel compensated for being overlooked in career opportunities because they appear to be making football a priority.

While he claims the task of the referees and assistant referees "has increased enormously because of the change in the laws which means he or she has not only to judge the position but also whether a player is in an active or passive zone when it comes to offside", Hackett remains sceptical about using instant television replays. As with most referees past and present, he suggests that "the camera sees things from only one angle, as does the referee's eye".

The influx of foreign players has, he said, brought additional pressure. "When a player is unable to speak the same language, frustration develops. But it's not only foreign players who fall to the ground in order to trick the referee. Ten years ago you would only be faced with that on the odd occasion.

"These days there are many more players who cause major problems. Some are being cautioned but a lot are still getting away with it. We must keep expressing our concern to managers. These days they have greater access to the media and criticise referees straight after matches when the adrenalin is still flowing. It's the nature of the job that they see matches through tinted glasses.

"I accept that the pressures on them are enormous. It's difficult for them to accept that in a match of several hundred decisions, it's only points of a per cent that a referee gets wrong. That will remain the same whether referees are full-time or not."