Is the pressure and scrutiny we place on referees simply too much?

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After the reaction of the United players and manager following the first penalty decision to go against the Red Devils at Old Trafford since the dawn of time, it once again threw up the question of if there is too much pressure on referees and linesmen. Now don’t get me wrong there have been some pretty bad decisions down the line by officials and rightly they have been demoted down to League One or ‘rested’ the subsequent weekend, but death threats and naming and shaming them to an almost witch hunt like level cannot be right.

Very recently in Germany, referee Babak Rafati tried to take his own life because he was so afraid of making a mistake during a game, and the reaction of fans and media alike. The weekend after, a second division Belgium linesman – Chris Schelstraete –  also tried to commit suicide in the bathroom before the game.

Now clearly these officials had long standing issues, and their suicide attempts will have been prompted by a number of factors, and whilst this is not an article on depression, especially in light of the suicide by Gary Speed and Robert Enke two years previous, the issue of depression in the game is one that is too often overlooked and the pressure placed on players and officials to be almost perfect and God like is something that has to change. More vitally than this however, is the reaction when they fail to live up to said expectations and the affect this can have.

Think back to Anders Frisk who retired from the game following the fallout from the sending off of Drogba and the ‘talking in the tunnel’ with Barcelona manager at the time, Frank Riijkard. The behaviour of the Chelsea fans and the vilifying of Frisk from the media made his job untenable, and after receiving death threats, Frisk decided enough was enough and quit the game.

It is not just one player from one team that do this – although there are worse offenders than others – every team has more than once hounded the referee after a decision has or hasn’t been made in their favour, and on some occasions looked like they were about to lynch the official. It does not stop on the field, with interviews both pre and post-match designed to place referees under pressure.

Mind game managers such as Jose Mourinho use this opportunity to place the referee under as much pressure as possible to ensure decisions go their way, or the referee will at least have a think about what he is about to do. Whoever is named as official for the Classico has my fullest sympathies, as no man should have to deal with both sets of fans, managers and players – who have playacting skills that are in some cases Oscar worthy – Busquets I am thinking of you here- and also hound the ref like no one can.

It is natural that decisions may sometimes favour home teams or that officials will make a mistake – they are only human, and have to make a split second vital decision in what can only be described as a pressure cooker scenario, and this is why I would support the inclusion of technology in the game – perhaps not for everything, but at least for goal line decisions.

Yes, football is a passionate game, and yes decisions can make or break a team’s chances and a fan’s heart, and some reaction is obviously necessary, but before going too overboard, football needs to be put into perspective, and is just a game. This weekend especially should remind people of that.

Written by Rebecca Knight for

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