Up and down the country, from Premier League to Non-League, referees are blamed for poor decisions constantly. But in my view, a large proportion of referee errors could be resolved by having more pro-active, courageous linesmen. We see it all too often – the man in the middle having to give decisions he cannot even see, right in front of the nose of his linesmen. After all, these assistants are there to help the referee, and cover all angles.
The key thing for me, is educating linesmen to adopt a more full-on role. I think too many assistant referees believe that they are merely watching for offsides and throw-ins, and many are too reluctant to give fouls and penalties. Linesmen these days seem to have a feeling of inferiority to the referee. Groups that support and teach referees must promote the idea that they have the power to give what they see, right the way up from the lower levels of English football.
As a Non-League club supporter, the standard and cowardice of linesmen in the Conference is often appalling. Watching my local team not so long ago, one linesman eventually gave a blatant penalty to my side, and he was called “brave” by many fans. How has the role of these ‘helpers’ deteriorated so much, that they are heaped with praise for giving a clear-cut decision.
The same principle must apply in European competitions. I must say that I think the placement of additional officials behind the goal in the Champions League and Europa League was a good move by UEFA. I think this could help to eradicate the pushing and pulling that goes on inside the box so frequently. But again, these assistants must have the confidence and courage to penalise fouls, and I’m not sure I have seen a single one give any type of decision yet. It is sad to see these grown men without the ability to summon the bravery to follow through with decisions we can all see. At the end of the day, these individuals have chosen to become referees, so you would think that they are capable of it.
Recently, after the Andre Marriner-Kieran Gibbs situation, swathes of football fans have said that decisions like this indicate the need for video technology to aid referees in the Premier League. But first, the FA should focus on maximising what is already there, and that means bettering and educating its crop of linesmen. You have to feel that such a bizarre red card as the one that Gibbs received could have been avoided if the linesmen or fourth official had been consulted, and the same could be the case if referee-linesmen interaction was more frequent and widespread.
So, in essence, I feel linesmen have become too weak and too happy to hand decisions over to the referee. Their lack of conviction has seen too many referees become media scapegoats. I think somewhere along the line the job title ‘assistant’ has been lost in translation.