According to the Telegraph, red cards in the Premier League have risen sharply since 1992, and even more so since the FA implemented the noble-sounding Respect Campaign.
The FA kicked off the campaign in 2008 because of spreading occurrences of abuse towards referees throughout all levels of English football. Considered as referee harassment were from parental shouts in the lower leagues to players flocking around the referee to give him a piece of their mind.
‘More and more referees quit football because of abuse’ was the main flag FA’s waved about in support of its policy.
But in the face the ramifications on football in England, such premises miss the mark entirely. The FA has effectively taken away the accountability of the referees and has replaced it with a veil which has reduced the transparency in the game.
Under this umbrella and in the knowledge they would escape unscathed after making mistakes, referees feel more secure in making bold decisions. This increase and power and freedom has turned the spotlight directly towards them on more than occasion.
This is the crux of the problem. It is referee’s job to ensure that game flows and the outcome is fair, not to enforce the rules for the sake of enforcing them and not to stamp their authority as a matter of point.
Here is how it works, currently. The FA assigns referees to groups based on their quality and qualifications. The best referees are part of a ‘select group’. They whistle in the top echelon of English football–the Premier League. Then there is the ‘National group’. Those are around 60 referees who officiate in championships matches and lower.
As would be expected, referees who make mistakes consistently are punished by getting a demotion. At least that’s how it is on paper. In reality, this happens very rarely. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 2012 when Stuart Artwell dropped to being a ‘national referee’. He was reinstated in 2016. If this is how the FA deals with incompetent referring, then it seems they are doing this not as a punishment but to temporarily take the spotlight away from referees.
The referee made a mistake? Deal with it. In fact, don’t even mention it. This is the main message that hides behind ‘respect’ in this campaign. Such censure is not new to English football, but the fact is it serves to leave dubious decisions and peculiar behavior with no visible consequences.
Mike Dean exemplifies a referee who brings subjectivity to his officiating. He is a referee who has taken his power on the pitch quite literally. Just to point out a relevant statistic, Tottenham Hotspur have won six matches out of their last seven with Dean as a referee. He has awarded them five penalties during that time. On the other hand, Arsenal have lost 15 and won 11 with him as a referee since 2004.
But if Dean seems incapable of refereeing objectively in some fixtures, why hasn’t the FA done anything about it? I really don’t know.
In that regard, the campaign is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it protects the people who do this undoubtedly difficult job, and on the other, it becomes a breeding ground for arrogance in referees.
It’s about time the FA took a look at the turn English football has taken. The matches in the Premier League look increasingly theatrical and devoid of charge. I am not asking for much, just that the referees are taken out of the outcome of the matches. In other words, I am asking for a little accountability on their behalf.