Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

by Terry Fogarty
2nd Oct 2018

Having been involved in football at very different levels over the years, one thing has always stood out: whatever the level referees seem unable to say ‘SORRY.’

We are all humans and we all make mistakes (even me!), but no matter how many times I’ve spoken to a referee, either formally or informally, very rarely has one said ‘Yes, I got that wrong’ or ‘Sorry, I missed that.’ All you get is a standardized response ‘Well, I only give what I see’ or ‘That’s your opinion. We’ll have to agree to disagree.’ I’m not saying I’m right or insinuating that all referees lie; I’m merely speaking from experience.

It’s just as bad at the very top. When an official makes a glaring mistake, what do they say? Nothing. WHY?

Apologising for making wrong decisions won’t change anything, but it will show humility. The Arsenal v Everton game was a prime example. Arsenal’s 2nd goal was clearly offside and shouldn’t have been awarded. It was a very poor decision. Marco Silva was very diplomatic in his interview stating ‘He's clearly offside. For me, it's a little bit strange, but it's ok. I make mistakes, my players too. The assistant referees can make them too’, though his frustration was clearly visible. Perhaps he would have found it easier to accept if the assistant referee had come out after the game and admitted he was wrong. It won’t change the ruling, but it would detract from the finger pointing and accusations. Instead, there’s just a wall of silence – the most infuriating thing for managers, players and fans alike.

The same happens in the lower echelons of senior football. The officials’ behaviour is even worse, if that’s possible.

What I witnessed at a recent game at Step 5 of the Non-League pyramid amazed me. The assistant got the decision wrong, obvious to all but him. Even the dugout that was awarded the decision laughed about how bad it was!

The aggrieved manager shouted (albeit wrongly) at him. I heard every word. He swore once and once only. The assistant called the referee and the manager was sent from the dugout. Fair enough? Yes and no. Though the manager shouldn’t have sworn, had the official spoken to the manager post-game and admitted that he made the wrong decision but that he disagreed with the way the manger protested, perhaps the manager would accept his punishment without question. However, since the game, I’ve read that referee’s report and it’s an absolute fabrication of the truth. He accuses the manager of swearing several times in his ‘tirade.’ He never. He accuses the manager of challenging the official’s integrity. He never. (Although based on this, perhaps he should have.) He accuses him of continuing to instruct players after he was sent away. Again, he never.

The report was accurate in some of what he said, but with many more additional expletives. But it forgot to mention that the referee swore at the substitute warming up, telling him to ‘Get back in the f****** dugout’ WOW! How is this right? Yes, he can appeal, but it’s his word against that of the officials’ and assistants’ whose version of events mirrors the referee’s. I witnessed it. That is not what happened. I offered to help him appeal, but he’s decided to take his punishment.

I can understand his frustration. Not only will he receive a hefty fine (for a job he performs voluntarily), but the club will inevitably also be punished when, in reality, all that he said was ‘Do your f****** job right.’ Respect works both ways.

‘Referees play and important role. By them changing their attitudes and setting the example, maybe players and managers will too. They won’t criticize and challenge every decision, or argue.’

In the passion of the game I too have shouted at officials, most people have. It’s not right, but it happens. After the whistle, I go to shake hands with the officials and apologise. Truce.

Refereeing is a hard and lonely job, requiring a large time commitment, but it’s even harder if you alienate people. I have the utmost respect for referees, having been there done it. There were several incidents when people swore at me, accusing me of all sorts. Sometimes I made bad decisions, I admit it. BUT that’s the difference. I admit it. Sitting in the changing room post-match, I’d review my performance and if a mistake had happened I’d find the aggrieved manager or player(s) and apologise.  It didn’t change anything, but they respected me. It was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of confidence and fairness. ‘Thanks for being honest ref.’

Admitting you’re wrong takes a big person. Being a referee takes a big person. It’s just a shame that they are not one in the same. 

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