Football's dying in this country. Because of the vast, unfathomable sums of money. Because gun-running, drug-smuggling, money-laundering crooks and bandits, villains and scoundrels that are ruining our clubs. Because of the players, who are paid too much and care too little. Even the fans, who've only supported United/Arsenal/Chelsea for a few years and have never been through the turnstiles. Just don't blame the referees.
Yeah, I know all the propaganda. It's an impossible job how can they keep everyone happy you couldn't do it. I'm fed up with hearing how hard they have it. Last I heard, they were supposed to be professionals. They get paid, just like those soulless players, but they're exempt from criticism?
The thing is, it's not as if it's a new problem. Referees have always made mistakes, and they always will. I can deal with that. What upsets me is that referees are starting to ruin the spectacle, something much, much worse than botching a call and screwing the fans.
When you're watching the Chump's League fixtures this week, play this game: How long will it take for someone around you to say "That's never a foul in the Premier League"?
Everyone knows that the referees on the continent call things differently. You don't have to watch Spanish football for very long before you see a cheap foul given, the fouler shrugs and trudges off with a booking while the foulee writhes and bellows on the floor. There's rarely an argument, because even though the fouler know he made minimal contact, he'll only anger the referee, probably leading to another phantom yellow ten minutes later. Spanish teams end up playing the referee as much as the other team, which isn't what I want to watch.
It's everywhere in the Champion's League. Would anyone really be shocked if the big game at Old Trafford is won through a tangle of legs on the edge of the area, or if Dirk Kuyt is sent off for persistent high feet? If it's supposed to be the cream of European football facing off, why will the referees be deciding games?
Since the referee over here became professional, it's started to creep into the British football. You have to be tough and ambitious to be a professional referee. You have to take everything fans, players and managers have to throw at you. You have to get your head down and do your time, working your way up. You do all that because you want to be in charge of cup finals and glamorous European fixtures, international football.
And you're being assessed at every level. There must be eyes scanning the lower leagues, looking for the next bright thing, the strong jaw and unwavering determination to give a cheap penalty on live television.
Refworld.com, is actually the fan-friendly hmtl face of refereeing in this country, not The UN Refugee Agency like I thought. It has loads of great content that could keep you diverted for hours, as well as info on the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL). This is the shadowy, semi-mythical group that oversees quality control in Premier League games. Oh, hang on. Our referees are being monitored by other referees? Well that should sort out all the problems with refereeing. Whew, that's a relief.
The last game I saw beginning to end was the Newcastle game at the Reebok on 1st March, which was absolutely butchered by Alan Wiley. In the first twenty minutes Bolton should have had two penalties, as Bassong repeatedly tried to climb inside Kevin Davies shirt through the neck-hole. He actually flattened Davies in the corner of the penalty area while Wiley stared straight at them. What else do you have to do for it to be a foul?
Wiley soon demonstrated, slowing Bolton's fast start by giving a series of cut-price free kicks in midfield, well away from any danger. The most odious decision was when Fab Muamba and Nicky Butt went in for a 50-50 challenge twenty-five yards from goal. Muamba got a toe on the ball and made no contact with Butt, who was already on his way down and had no chance of getting the ball. Wiley bailed Butt out with a whistle, as he appealed from the floor.
Hey, Wiley! Don't give me that "It looked like a foul" rubbish. I could get that decision wrong for free. You're being paid to referee football matches because you're supposed to be good.
Wiley's decisions set the tone for the rest of the game, and it turned out to be a scrappy stop-start affair, which might not have happened if the refereeing had been better.
A great example of this was the Wigan-West Ham game last week, which proved a memorable debut for Stuart Attwell, a fast-tracked prodigy, Mozart of referees. When he sent Carlton Cole off for high foot, then booked Lucas Neill for the challenge that will win the Momo Sissoko "I Can't Believe He Didn't Break That Guy's Leg" Award, the players realised that they could take advantage of the rookie. It was written all over Scott Parker's face as he writhed about in anguish and agony, and Attwell obliged by evening it up and sending off Lee Cattermole.
I don't want to just rant at referees, because I don't want goal-line technology and fifth/sixth/seventh officials. I just don't want to see good competitive matches wrecked by a choosey or inconsistent referee, something that happens too often right now. Maybe professional referees aren't the way to go.
I do want to rant at Alan Wiley. In nineteen Premier League games this season, he has awarded one penalty and one red card, (for two bookable offences). That's all, in nineteen games. And there should have been at least two penalties in the Newcastle game – aside from the poor Bassong-Davies decisions, Newcastle could have had a penalty when J'lloyd Samuel charged down a Colloccini piledriver deflected off his leg and onto his arm.
If PGMOL were to say anything about Wiley's performance this season, they'd probably praise him and say he's one of the best in Europe, or something similarly nauseating. This is because they are referees.
It's just, last I checked, football doesn't exist for the referees. It's supposed to be for the fans. I'm a fan and I feel like these referees are spoiling the football.