Football: Uefa proposal to use two referees

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The Independent Online
A PROBLEM shared could be a problem doubled if world football's International Board sanctions a proposal by Uefa, the European game's governing body, to experiment with two referees controlling a match. That is the fear of Philip Don, the former senior match official who is now referees' officer for the Premiership.

The Board announced yesterday that it will discuss the Uefa plan at its next meeting, to be held in Cardiff on 20 February, adding that trials could start "almost immediately" in Europe if it were approved.

A Uefa spokesman explained that the move - tried and rejected in England 64 years ago this month - was "in accordance with Uefa's philosophy of trying to optimise human resources before even considering the introduction of technology".

Uefa admitted it was still finalising details of its proposal but was confident the scheme would be "for the good of the game". However, Don expressed concern that the proposal would compound the problem of "inconsistency" about which managers, players and supporters protest so consistently.

After stating his willingness to listen to Uefa's plan once it was "more clearly defined", Don said: "At the moment, managers complain about one referee on the pitch not being consistent, so there will be more difficulty with two."

He added: "I'd really want to see how Uefa is considering looking at it working. The referees are going to have to have a defined ruling on what they do. I'm not in favour of two referees, but it depends on what they are recommending."

Uefa's suggestion comes against a backdrop of renewed pressure for the introduction of instant-replay technology to clarify the circumstances in a particular incident, or for a football equivalent of cricket's third umpire to review borderline decisions on television.

The clamour for such innovations intensified in England two years ago after replays showed that Mike Reed had erred in awarding Chelsea the penalty which knocked Leicester out of the FA Cup deep in extra time. By coincidence, Uefa's proposal for a second referee comes in the aftermath of another, much-replayed spot-kick award by Reed at Oxford, also in the Cup and again benefiting Chelsea.

Such disputes are as old as the sport itself and became topical during the 1930s. One of Newcastle's goals in their FA Cup final success of 1932 was disputed by Arsenal, who claimed that the ball had crossed the dead- ball line before being passed for Jack Allen to equalise.

British Movietone News pictures not only validated Arsenal's complaint, but showed how far the referee and his linesmen were from the incident. Against a background of such controversy, Southport were allowed to stage a friendly against Cliftonville, the Belfast club, run by two referees.

Ivan Sharpe, who had played League football and in the Olympics, was present as a journalist and recalled in 1960: "Each official was always right up with play; no trouble at all. Exertion was halved. The referee could see all, hear all. Discipline was doubled. Goal disputes decreased to disappearing point; the referee was always on the spot."

A proposal to experiment further with a referee in each half of the pitch - but without linesmen - was sanctioned by the Football Association in 1935. Two trial matches were held, one an amateur international at Chester and the other a full international trial at West Bromwich, which members of the International Board attended.

The referees concerned, one of whom later became headmaster of the City of London School, each submitted reports. They came out against two referees and for the system that continues to this day. However, there was a final attempt to resurrect the idea at the Football League's annual meeting, with a proposal to try the system the following season.

The speaker who argued, in a distant echo of many a frustrated modern manager, that it was "bad enough with one referee, never mind two" carried the day. The plan was rejected by 31 votes to 18, although Ivan Sharpe would later write: "In 50 years' experience of first-class football, it was the best innovation I've ever backed."