Monday, 11 December 2017



MICHAEL Oliver is "now our finest referee . . .”

That is the view of  Keith Hackett, himself a former top  ref who now writes a regular column for the sports pages of The Daily Telegraph.

In today’s edition (December 11), he commends the way the Northumberland  official (still only 32) handled yesterday’s top-of-the-Premier clash between the two Manchester clubs and describes him as “very close to being  promoted to Uefa’s Elite panel”.

Of the big match, he writes: “He would have been under enormous pressure and handled it expertly, giving a calm and measured performance that does him real credit.”

Continues Hackett: “His body language is very confident and he has a manner with players that encourages respect.”

The ex-ref’s  only caveat is that Oliver  “sometimes allows games to drift away from him by not blowing for free-kicks in an attempt to let the game flow.

“That can lead to players committing further fouls.”

In the same report, Hackett also praises Craig Pawson’s handling of yesterday’s other derby  - the match between Liverpool and Everton. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017


PREMIER League referee Graham Scott went down the rungs when he was appointed to last Saturday's League Two match at Blundell Park between Grimsby Town and runaway table leaders Doncaster Rovers.

In its post-match report, the Grimsby Telegraph  awarded him a marking of just five out of ten, but this was surely erroneous - he had an excellent match.

Likewise the rest of the officiating team which included 2010 World Cup final assistant referee, Darren Cann, Sian Massey-Ellis and fourth official, Amy Fearn.

Was this the first time that two women had been part of the  officiating team at Blundell Park?

* Rovers came from behind to win 5-1. 

* * Tonight, Scott and Cann will be reunited for the Premier League match between Leicester City and Sunderland. Andre Marriner will be fourth official.

Graham Scott prepares to caution Zak Mills of Grimsby

Who me, ref? Another name for Graham Scott's  book
Sian Massey-Ellis ran the same line in both halves

Red smoke from a flare ignited after the first of Doncaster's five goals

Monday, 3 April 2017


Keith Hackett's article in The Daily Telegraph today

FORMER referee Keith Hackett has praised Andre Marriner's handling of yesterday's Arsenal v Man City match, in particular commending him for not awarding a penalty to the away team when there was contact between ball and the arm of home defender Nacho Monreal in the last minute of the match.

In his column in The Daily Telegraph today, he writes:"To award a penalty or a a free-kick  for a handball, you have to be certain there was intent from the player concerned, and that makes it one of the most difficult areas for  referee to adjudicate on.

"I think I this instance, there was enough doubt for Andre to make the decision he did. The ball was dropping from a height while the player was in motion, and it seemed to me that he just misjudged it . . .it struck me as an accident rather than an offence he intended to commit."

Andre Marriner
Hackett continues: "That said, if you asked  a group of referees whether that was a penalty, then I believe half would say it was and half would say it was not."

Which prompts the question:is that the sort of incident that should come under scrutiny in the event of increased use of video technology? And would such technology either have changed Marriner's decision or settled the controversy?

And what if the same incident had happened outside the penalty area? Would the referee still have refrained from penalising what happened?

"Intent"  is sometimes almost impossible to interpret. During the same weekend, Andros Townsend used the top of his arm to deflect a shot in the match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

Was that "intent"? Or was it a reflex action? And can a reflex action also be "intended"?

Maybe  FIFA need to take a fresh look at the law on handball. Should it be applied differently in the penalty area compared with outside it? Should "intent" be a consideration? Should "handball" apply only to the hand, not (as at present) to other parts of the arm?

Let the debate continue.

Sunday, 2 April 2017


REFEREES and assistant referees came over well in tonight's Onside with Carragher and Neville on Sky Sports 1.

The chief executive of their organisation, PGMOL, Mike Riley, proved to be an engaging personality - as did such often-seen but never-heard officials as Martin Atkinson, Mike Dean, Anthony Taylor, Roger East, Stuart Attwell, Lee Probert, Craig Pawson, Bobby Madley, Mike Mullarkey, Steve Child and the only woman represented, Sian Massey-Ellis MBE.

Some of the insights were revealing.

After a bad tackle, a referee will sometimes take out the yellow card to demonstrate to  teammates of the injured party that he is taking disciplinary action and to discourage a potentially volatile situation becoming toxic.

But having done so, there are times, especially after seeing video replays, when, in retrospect, he realises that the chosen card should have been the red one.

Both Atkinson and Dean, two of our best referees, owned up to this, but, of course, at moments such as these, time to reflect is not a commodity available to the referees.

Atkinson said one of the pet hates of referees was when commentators accused them of "bottling"a decision.

"We wouldn't have got to where we are in football if we bottled decisions,"he insisted.

Mike Mullarkey, who ran one of the lines for Howard Webb in the 2010 World Cup Final, was particularly analytical on "tight" offside calls - an issue where there is often controversy.

Asked if there were any football grounds that posed particular difficulties, Sian Massey-Ellis - surely worthy of a TV programme in her own right - noted that Selhurst Park could be difficult
if there was a low sun.

She knows this from firsthand experience - she had to cover her eyes with her flag-free hand earlier this season for the match between home team Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

Which begs the question - who don't assistant referees wear caps in the same was as goalkeepers faced with the same low-sun situation?

The programme was not nearly as good as it might have been.

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville were mostly superficial in their questions and should have been far more probing.

For instance, we need to know far more about prospects for video technology and where, in the Laws of the Game,  referees believe it most needs  to be applied without excessively interrupting the pace of the action.

In addition, Carragher, in particular, was far too keen to play to the camera - and this very quickly became grating.

However, the programme will have been useful if it  provides a stepping to improved future communications between match officials and the football-loving public.

Sian Massey-Ellis was on duty in yesterday's League Two match between Grimsby Town and Doncaster Rovers. Running the other line was Darren Cann, an assistant referee in the 2014 World Cup final, while Graham Scott was the referee. The fourth official was Amy Fearn.


Thursday, 12 January 2017


THE spotlight fell on referee Mike Dean following this month's Premier League match between West Ham and Manchester Utd.

He showed the red card - subsequently rescinded - to the home team's Sofiane Feghouli after a challenge (deemed to be reckless) on Phil Jones.

Commenting on the incident in his column in The Daily Telegraph, former referee Keith Hackett said Dean - whom he admires - made a "wrong" decision because he was too quick and gave himself insufficient thinking time.

"Referees need the ability almost to stand aside from normal speed," he wrote.

"Dismissing a player incorrectly is the worst thing a referee can do."

But, despite the incident, Hackett reckons Dean is one of the country's top referee, highlighting his consistency and his courage in not "shirking" difficult decisions.

"If I have a criticism, it is Mike's tendency to put thing boxes and not manage the grey areas in between - he needs to appreciate nuance a bit more."

The columnist also made  another comment - that tiredness can be a factor in the performance of match officials, particularly given that they have to drive to grounds all over the country.

"Fatigue is a serious issue,"he said.

According to Hackett, Dean, who is 48, might benefit from a break, even if just for a week, but this is unlikely given his ability and experience, plus the respect he enjoys from his employers, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd.

The evening after the match at West Ham, he was on duty as Fourth Official for the match between Crystal Palace and Swansea.  The following Sunday, he was in the middle for the FA Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa where his performance was excellent.  
In the same edition, the Telegraph's chief football writer, Sam Wallace, claimed there was "a mentality among certain referees that they would rather risk a red card that turns out to be wrong than fail to give one when it would have been justified".

He added: "Dean's on-pitch demeanour of absolute certainty and what appears to be a loftiness most likely contributes to the ferocity of the backlash against him." 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 2 January 2017


FORMER referee Keith Hackett has controversially called for Lee Mason to be axed as a Premier League referee.

He makes the call in today's edition of his weekly column for The Daily Telegraph.

He says: "Lee Mason is past his sell-by-date and should be removed from the Premier League on a permanent basis.

"His performances have been on the slide for some time and the 45-year-old should be demoted to Football League duties as soon as possible."

Hackett says it was wrong of the Bolton-based  referee  to disallow for dangerous play Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal for Manchester United v Middlesbrough on Saturday.

However, Hackett's call is likely to go unheeded - he retains the support of the refereeing hierarchy and is scheduled to take charge of today's Manchester City's home match with Burnley.
Bolton official Lee Mason - in the firing line

Wednesday, 28 December 2016




THE Professional Footballers’ Association should work harder to help members who are going through troubled times.

So says Ian Wright in his hard-hitting autobiography, A Life in Football.

He states : “A lot of players or former players don’t know what help is available to them or aren’t capable of finding out for themselves.

“This is where the PFA should come in. I don’t think they do nearly enough to ensure the wellbeing of footballers  after they have  finished playing

“We pay enough to them in our careers, and they get a cut of TV  money, but they don’t instigate the sort of help so many players need.”

“The PFA just seems to sit there.

Gordon Taylor  has been chief executive since before I  was playing, and I don’t know what he does apart from turn up at functions every now and again, show his  face and do his spiel.

 “The PFA doesn’t  seem to offer help unless you phone up and chase them.”

Originally from Brockley in South London, the author  (52), is a hero to many fans - especially those of the two clubs with whom he enjoyed his longest periods in the game, Crystal Palace and Arsenal.

But unlike most footballers’ autobiographies, his book is less a catalogue of  colourful and light-hearted  experiences and more  a serious narrative about how his life and career have developed - the downs as well as the ups.

Along the way, he provides insights about various aspects of football, including the role of agents for whom, by and large, he seems to have little time.

“There are more bad ones than good,”he says. “On the purely practical side, nobody needs an agent - they do nothing that a solicitor or accountant can’t do.

“When a player gets an agent,  all he is  doing is giving that person the opportunity  to be a middleman to make money for himself which, in the majority of cases, is all he does.

“Agents are like glorified hotel concierges. They answer the phone and fix up little things, but they do not necessarily advance a player’s career or make sure he still has one.”

Elsewhere in the book, the author is warm about many past playing colleagues, including Tony Finnigan and Mark Bright - with both of whom he was close  at Palace - but he is red-hot in his admiration for former Arsenal team- and room-mate Dennis Bergkamp, both in the way he played and in the manner he conducted himself off the field.

This fascinating book also includes many tributes - including a whole chapter of dedication - to another Arsenal player of yesteryear, the later  David Rocastle (who also happened to be a Palace fan).

Managers who earn plaudits include Steve Coppell, George Graham and Arsene Wenger, but he was much less keen on Bruce Rioch whose rigorously disciplinarian approach tended not to bring out the best in players. 

There is very little in the way of score-settling, but Wrighty  reveals that when he first joined Palace on a three-month contract in 1985, he had a bad time at the hands of a clique of older players led by goalkeeper George Wood, Micky Droy and Jim Cannon.

“Jim Cannon was the worst,”he maintains. “The big Scottish centre half had been at the club forever and behaved like the playground bully, always ready with a little dig or snide remark.

“It seemed like every time I thought I was making progress, he was there to knock me down.”

Friction between the pair boiled over one morning in a training ground spat which involved punches being thrown.

Another episode came after a match at Grimsby Town where visiting players always used to receive a parting gift of a large fresh fish to take home.

In the hope that it would placate Cannon, Wright acceded to a request to hand his fish over even though he knew the gift would have delighted his mum

To no avail. “Jim Cannon  took the fish, then on Monday was back to his regular, miserable bullying self.”

Memories of another player, Liverpool’s Steve McMahon, are also less than happy because of the poor welcome given to him on his first day training with the England squad following his call-up.

“He was really horrible - he went out of his way to be nasty.”

Later on duty for their respective clubs, there was an unpleasant clash between the duo resulted in the midfielder requiring stitches for a studs injury to his groin

 For a while, near the end of his playing career (when he was on the books of West Ham), the author  xsimultaneously enjoyed a spell as chat show host on ITV’s Friday Night’s All Wright which introduced him to such entertainments stars as singer Lionel Richie and actors Will Smith and Denzel Washington (but brought criticism from another chat show host, Michael Parkinson).

Other programmes included Surviving The Kalahari in 2002 which was “just frightening” - not least because it put him in peril from lions, hyenas  and elephants.

“Me a boy from Brockley - camping close to a water hole that wild animals were going to head for,”he recalls.“It was terrifying, but I loved that sort of thing because it was a test.”

But this line of stardom of proved to be a cul-de-sac, and the author much prefers doing what he does now - providing football analysis for various TV and radio companies.

When he started, he was encouraged by producers to be something of a studio jester, but this brought criticism from viewers so his style now is much more measured and serious.

“In the world of punditry, being on Match of The Day is the equivalent of playing in the Champions League,”he says.

“There is a Caribbean saying that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation

“I’ll work as hard as it takes to stay on top of being the best pundit out there.”
* Ian Wright: My Life in Football is published by Littlebrown at £18.99.