Will full-time referees earn any more respect?

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The Independent Football

THERE IS still no sign that the Premier League chairmen are prepared to dig into their pockets to make any of their 22 refereesfully-paid professionals. Referees supremo Philip Don, who last week criticised the Leeds official, Mike Riley, for failing to giveMichael Owen a red card, has twice presented proposals to general meetings without success.

THERE IS still no sign that the Premier League chairmen are prepared to dig into their pockets to make any of their 22 refereesfully-paid professionals. Referees supremo Philip Don, who last week criticised the Leeds official, Mike Riley, for failing to giveMichael Owen a red card, has twice presented proposals to general meetings without success.

This season referees on the Premier League receive £600 per match; they will also, for the first time since 1994, beappointed to Football League matches at £195 a go. So, with end of season bonuses for acceptable performances, theycan pick up £25,000 a year.

Stanley Matthews, football's first English superstar, was aware of his commercial potential even before the television age. TheCo-op paid him for endorsing their boots and he even advertised Craven A cigarettes. But I could not imagine him attending afashion show, nor going out with a girl with a tattoo on her bum.

The arrogance of certain players and managers towards referees is partly down to the disparity in earnings. Referees arepatronised as amateurs in a professionals' world and, by implication, boys in a man's world. Though what is manly orprofessional about calling an assistant referee a wanker, as Paul Gascoigne did last week, escapes me.

Like David Beckham, Gascoigne was the subject of an invitation to Lancaster Gate when he was at Spurs. Mooning from the teambus outside Old Trafford was deemed an exhibition too far, so I thought I would "have a word" with the most talented Englandplayer of the day. I suspect Terry Venables collected his errant star from the boozer on the way in, but Gazza promised to begood. We parted on good terms, though I did not go so far as the MCC's Donald Carr who, relieved to have got through adisciplinary get- together with Ian Botham, reportedly offered Beefy a gin and tonic from his filing cabinet. Indeed, Gazza was thefirst player to ring when I left Lancaster Gate suddenly last year.

I hope Sir Alex Ferguson and Beckham turn up for their chat. And that Beckham, a pleasant young man away from the playingarena, will take the message to heart rather better than Gascoigne did.

The relationship between the playing side of the game and the match officials is likely to remain strained. Referee Graham Pollrevealed that Pat Rice, Arsene Wenger's assistant at Highbury, said to him before the recent match against Manchester United:"Remember, Polly, not every tackle is a red card." In the eyes of most professionals, Poll handled a tense match superbly. Butmany non-professional referees and other Premier League managers, such as Peter Reid, were alarmed that the Hertfordshireofficial allowed Patrick Vieira to stay on the field after his flare-up with Roy Keane. Poll dealt with the matter using common sense.But by no stretch of the imagination was it consistent with the laws of the game.

And, of course, while some managers complain that referees in general are too remote and unapproachable, newcomers to thePremier League, like Watford's Graham Taylor, are wrongfooted by the referees' familiarity with players whom they officiate muchmore regularly nowadays. Francis Jeffers was summoned over by Mike Riley last Monday. "Francis," called Mr Riley, as theEverton striker retreated from his clash with Liverpool's Sandor Westerveld. Common sense or consistency? Friendly orauthoritative? The poor ref just can't win.

Not that the "wired for sound" experiment has started wildly successfully. I have yet to see an incident where the radiocommunication has helped the match officials.

The top referees are finding football is becoming more demanding, not on the field necessarily but in terms of the time needed tofit in all the matches and preparation. There are more Uefa matches and these each demand three days. More overnight stays willbe needed in the Premier League with the new requirement that, for reasons of personal safety, the match officials have to meet ata hotel so as to be conveyed together to the stadium.

Don himself retired early from active refereeing because of his then occupation, head teacher. Similarly, David Elleray withdrewhimself from contention for last year's World Cup finals because his teaching career was being prejudiced by the time he spentaway.

So I believe, despite the reluctance of the chairmen, we are moving rapidly towards the day of the full-time professional referee.

I'm not sure I like it. I don't know whether they will be any better. They certainly won't be more committed mentally. But I'm dying tosee whether they earn any more respect.

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