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John Giles: Progress in ref's hands

IT'S startling to remember that back in late 2008, Alex Ferguson was recruited by UEFA to speak out on behalf of referees.

The campaign was run under the banner ‘Respect' and the aim was to encourage better behaviour from players towards match officials. I really have to laugh at that after a week when we saw Ferguson in full rant mode and operating with an irony bypass.

Never has an advocate been so poorly chosen. This was another bad week for the game. Not for the football. We've had some great games in recent weeks but almost inevitably followed by Ferguson, Wenger or any one of a half dozen managers tearing strips off referees.

Many losing managers – and Ferguson particularly – will now use the match official as an instant excuse for defeat without stopping for a second to think about how stupid they look.


There has always been a steady drone of criticism aimed at referees. It's inevitable that this should be so and I was no angel in my time.

But there is a nastier tone to the criticism in recent years, which goes well beyond what should be acceptable and, so far, the authorities have refused point blank to meet the issue head on.

These days, very little respect is shown to referees and no matter how bad or good they are, they should at least be treated as human beings and not as handy punch bags.

Ferguson should be carpeted for some of the remarks he made during the week about Martin Atkinson and time will tell whether he has gone too far this time.

But there is a theme of such behaviour running through the Premier League and as long as it remains unpunished, Ferguson can work the grey area knowing full well that the worst he will ever get is a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine.

The referees say nothing and hide behind infallibility. The English FA huffs and puffs and will do nothing unless the officials tell them to and Ferguson fills all the cracks in between; pushing his comments to the limit and beyond.

I've always wondered why players have a whole range of rules designed to prevent foul play and discourage bad behaviour but the managers do not.

Even the referees can be suspended, but nobody has yet come up with a punishment that would have any real impact on a manager should he transgress.

The ultimate sanction would be to remove him from control of team affairs for a set period and there is no reason why that should not be considered.

The solution, of course, lies within the hands of the very referees Ferguson has been lacerating. If they pushed for an independent review panel to go through each game on a Monday morning and produce an honest report, mistakes would be acknowledged and the ammunition Ferguson looks for would be removed.

The referees are afraid to open that door, though, and it's all about selfpreservation rather than the good of the game.


A bit more honesty would force everyone to change their ways. If most bad decisions were addressed and admitted within 24 hours, I believe everyone's behaviour would have to change.

Firstly, the referees would be seen as the flawed human beings they are and I'm sure that would lead to a more open approach to the use of technology.

Secondly, the managers would be less inclined to make personal attacks on match officials if it was obvious that a serious attempt was being made to improve matters.

It is very difficult to make progress if you don't first acknowledge the mistakes.