What do you think makes a good referee Clarke?
I think the way a referee commands the most respect is by interacting with the players, but not being too friendly because that might a bit of friction with the opposition players. You just know they’re approachable, they talk to you like they have some respect for you and usually you’ll find that that’s reciprocated. Gone are the days of the schoolmasterly approach where the referee was just a disciplinarian.
[pullquote]Gone are the days of the schoolmasterly approach where the referee was just a disciplinarian[/pullquote]
Is that approach more common in the modern game?
Definitely, now there is the elite group of full-time referees who take over the Premier League matches I think we’ve seen a massive difference in the attitude, approach and style of refereeing. Knowing that these guys are full-time, that they’re training professionally and they’re dedicating their time to their job, you can’t help but have a sense of respect for them. I definitely think that refereeing methods are changing and the full-time nature of the job is only better for our game.
What makes a bad referee?
Bad referees are generally the ones who don’t talk or listen to the players. They just seem to ignore you even if you’re trying to approach them in a gentlemanly manner and that can really antagonise situations, because being ignored can rile even the most placid of people. There are also the ones who seem to be utterly inconsistent. I don’t mind referees who make what I deem to be incorrect decisions, as long as they are uniform with those decisions across the entirety of the game. When you see referees give one thing for one side and something completely different in an identical situation that is just so frustrating.
Is it easier for you to accept a decision you don’t agree with if the referee explains their reason to you?
Most definitely. I don’t think you can ever criticise a referee for getting a decision wrong in a game. I can watch games on the telly and even with slow motion replays you can still only see something was a penalty from a certain angle. So when referees say: “This is what I saw” or “I couldn’t see because someone was in the way”, it enables you to see that they’re human and they’re seeing the game in real-time and making split-second decisions. You can have empathise with them when they tell you what’s happening in their eyes.
Do you think that referees should explain decisions to the press after games so the public can empathise with their decisions?
I think that would be a fantastic addition to the game. We see managers and players come out after the games and I think it would break down the barrier between referees and players, managers and fans. Referees seem to be completely unapproachable. If referees could come out to the press and explain any contentious decisions with the benefit of replays and say, “if you see from my angle, I saw X player coming across Y or I heard a noise that sounded like contact and that’s why I gave a penalty,” I think you’d see the relationship between all groups – players, managers, fans and referees – get a lot better.
Is it time for technology to be brought into the game to help referees?
Without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t understand why football is so reluctant to utilise modern technology that could take out any controversy from match, season and career changing decisions. When teams get relegated on goal difference the ramifications to the club, the local economy and the player’s careers are huge. Many other sports have taken the lead on this and we need to get with the times. The fourth official can look at an incident again within 10-15 seconds and come to a decision. It would be very easy to take a lot of the mistakes and the human element out of those huge decisions.
[pullquote]I don’t understand why football is so reluctant to utilise modern technology[/pullquote]
One of the reasons for not introducing technology yet is Sepp Blatter’s belief that the human element is a vital part of the game. Do you disagree with that?
I do agree that the human element is a fantastic part of the game and that’s what gives all the talking points on a weekly basis, but you would still have that human element. You’ve got about 80% of the pitch to still have that. It’s just those crucial match-changing decisions that you should utilise technology for – whether the ball crosses the line and whether it’s a penalty or not.
Do some players pick up a bad reputation amongst referees?
Definitely, that can play a big part. When I was at uni we had a talk by Howard Webb and he said that he would spend between five and seven days before a game researching the teams involved. I couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing because he would know how teams play, or whether that was a bad thing because he’ll into a game thinking “Player X was a dirty player in the last couple of games so I better keep my eye on him”. It might make him look for things or think that someone is being aggressive or intentional with hard tackles when that might not be the case. Player’s reputations do definitely go before them and that’s just a fact of life, but as long as the referees can be as neutral to that as possible than the better it will be.
What do you think of players surrounding a referee or showing dissent?
It’s terrible. I think this is something that we have to eradicate from the game. People will say that we can’t get football to the level of cricket or rugby because the respect they have for their officials is second to none and an outstanding example to all aspiring sports people. We should be able to do that in football. The roots of football are working class, but that’s not what it is today, football is a cross-section of society. We should be able to take our courtesy, respect and manners onto the pitch so that we can have some decorum within the game and set an example to young aspiring footballers. There are millions of people who watch the game week in, week out. We should be the ones who set an example to them that there is a standard of behaviour on the pitch that we should maintain.
Do the actions of players have an impact of children?
Definitely. You go to parks up and down the country on a Sunday morning and all the kids are wearing the same boots as their hero, the same kit, the same haircut and trying exactly what their hero did the night before. If we as professionals surround the referee and display disrespectful behaviour then that’s exactly what the young, impressionable fans are going to do. We have a duty of care and a level of responsibility and we have to make sure that we set that bar high for the future fans and professionals of our game.
Were players given guidelines on behaviour when the FA launched their Respect campaign a few years ago?
Yes, and they are reiterated every year in a meeting where PFA officials will go into each club and conduct a meeting so the lads know what has changed and what has been successful.
Has the FA’s Respect campaign had a big impact on football?
It’s had a profound impact. The number of mass confrontations, petulant or aggressive reactions is falling every year, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do better.
How would you describe the relationship between players and referees overall?
It’s very good. The Respect campaign is impressing upon players what their roles and responsibilities are and the full-time professional nature of referees, along with the adaptation in refereeing styles over the past decade have really been conducive to a much more amicable relationship on the pitch.