Graham Kelly: New professional referees could be untouchable

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The Independent Football

The new football season cannot be far away, now the fixtures are out. Much was made of the fact that the Football Association chief executive Adam Crozier failed in his attempt to move the Cup final back to its traditional date after the completion of the Premier League fixtures, but this was always going to be difficult with the World Cup finals starting soon after the season finishes.

He is more likely to succeed in moving FA Cup replays back to the weeks following the original ties and abolishing the so-called 10-day rule, but it may cost the FA dearly, for the clubs themselves are unlikely to readily accept higher overtime charges from the police and may wish to pass the cost on to headquarters.

The season will herald the inauguration of the professional referees cadre, but, from the content of his Channel 4 documentary last Monday, it is evident that David Elleray's name will be missing from the professional ranks because of the demands of his teaching commitments. The one thing that struck dispassionate viewers was the sheer, grinding, all-consuming loneliness of the referee's job. At least the programme cleared up one long-standing mystery: we learned that Manchester United's Martin Edwards had called Elleray privately to apologise for his very vocal, public criticism in 1999. We still await a firm statement from the new FA.

The rigours of employment law could even mean that it will become increasingly rare for referees to be demoted, now that their very livelihood will depend upon the game. How content will they be, as professionals, for their performances to be judged by people who have never officiated at the highest level?

Talking of demotions, can it really be so simple that Kate Hoey lost her job as Minister for Sport for upsetting the football hierarchy? At the risk of sounding like Charlie Whelan, I can reveal that the last time Kate and I met she professed herself to be in sympathy with much of the sentiment contained in this column. Obviously a kiss of death. Replacement Richard Caborn's previous experience of the national stadium issue was at the outset, when he joined the delegation presenting Sheffield's case to the Sports Council panel.

One fan eagerly awaiting the publication of the fixtures was Ralph at Barrow. Only this UniBond League club supporter is not at Barrow at all. Far from it. Ralph@barrow is the e-mail address of a correspondent who emigrated to New Zealand almost 10 years ago. Since I put my shoulder to the wheel pulling Barrow out of a nasty financial hole a year or so ago, Ralph has inundated me not with snippets of news about the club but with volumes of e-mails. I learned very early not to hit the print button when Ralph was in full flow.

It was in 1972 when the Football League chairmen decided they preferred the company of Hereford United to Barrow and for nearly 30 years now the Bluebirds have ploughed a lonely furrow at the end of the A590. This coming season will be their centenary and they deserve to mark it in style. Ralph will be moving towards the 1,000th issue of his newsletter from 12,000 miles away, a missive which finds its way to nearly 800 readers.

I hope that, in its disappointment at failing to secure an extra promotion place to the Football League, the Nationwide Conference does nothing to dent the optimism of supporters like Ralph, who dream of a return to former glories for clubs in the basement. Though the result was officially announced as 71-1, the Wycombe Wanderers two-up two-down proposal did, in fact, attract the support of Rushden & Diamonds and Colchester United at the Football League annual meeting.

The award for the understatement of the close season must surely go to Uefa's director of communications, Mike Lee. The former Premier League PR executive said: "Agreement from the European clubs on a wage-ceiling may prove difficult."

Talking of close seasons, how does one define them these days? From a cursory examination of the calendar, it seems to have occurred this season between 6 June, the date of England's World Cup qualifier in Athens, and the Saturday before last, when the Intertoto Cup returned to Wales and Scotland, a period totalling fully 10 days.

Just in case our withdrawal symptoms were becoming too acute, the idiots who invaded the cricket arenas offered a reminder of one or two things we are not missing about football. Far be it for anyone connected with football to adopt a superior air, but the one thing I can promise the cricket authorities without fear of contradiction is that, if you give the troublemakers an inch, they will take far more than 22 yards.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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