Thursday, 28 December 2017



Controversy! Referee Bobby Madley (left)  and his assistant, Simon Long
MOST baffling decision of the Premier League’s Boxing Day matches was that of Bobby Madley to overrule his linesman, Simon Long, and award a controversial equalising goal for Bournemouth in their home match v West Ham.

Long raised his flag for an infringement - thought to be offside. He was better placed than the referee, so why was he overruled? 

Controversy is part and parcel of football, and referees cannot be expected to justify every decision.

But, at least in this uniquely mysterious instance, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd surely owes football and its followers  an explanation.

Referees have a self-imposed ban on talking to the media, so the responsibility rests with PGMOL‘s general manager, Mike Riley,  to explain what happened and why. It is his duty.

If he fails to do so, perhaps one of the big-selling national newspapers - The Sun or the Daily Mail - might  engage the services of a lip reader to decipher  what was said in the conversation, then reveal the information to a puzzled public.

The probability is that Long flagged for offside, but Madley doubted that scorer Callum Wilson had touched the ball and was thus not interfering with play.

He sought clarification from Long who was unsure if Wilson had touched the ball - an uncertainty that persuaded the referee to allow the goal.

The episode highlights another hazard of refereeing. If a referee chooses to run over to his assistant, the controversy will almost inevitably be magnified.

Make yourselves scarce! The two officials certainly don't want the players' input
The reason I raised the flag . . . Long explains
The reason I am overruling you . . . Madley explains
At the final whisle, Long wisely keeps his distance as West Ham boss David Moyes demands answers
David Moyes laments the decision in his post-match interview on BBC TV's Match of The Day
The officials' conversation seemed "to take an age" - Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe reflects on what happened

It was "a touch of magic" - Callum Wilson's wry description of  his contentious goal

Tuesday, 26 December 2017




ARE Russian referees dodgy?

This view still seems to have held currency among some in Germany ever since that controversial goal in the 1966 World Cup Final.

To the outrage of Germans, it was awarded in England’s favour - on the say-so of a ‘Russian’ linesman - even though subsequent footage indicated that Geoff Hurst’s shot may never have crossed the line.

The fact that the linesman,Tofiq Bahramov, actually hailed from Azerbaijan, not Russia, seemed to make no difference to German opinion. After all, wasn’t Azerbaijan a Soviet state and thus a Russian satellite? 

In his excellent  autobiography, The Madness Is On The Pitch, former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann fast-forwards 40 years to confess his suspicions about the Russian referee, Ivan Ivanov, in the 2006 Champions League semi-final between The Gunners and Villareal.

Without evidence, Lehmann allows the reader to speculate that the Russian official may have awarded a last-minute penalty to the Spanish club as a favour to its president, a wealthy property developer.

As it happened, the incident worked to the goalkeeper’s favour. He saved the spotkick - the match was played in Spain - and the 0-0 draw allowed Arsenal to progress, 1-0 on aggregate, to the final.

Although forthright, Lehmann’s fascinating book is mostly refreshingly free of the petty vindictiveness and settling of old scores that characterises many sports autobiographies.

In his career which also included spells with AC Milan and various German clubs, he was sent off seven times, but he mostly spares referees his scorn, with the exception of Ivanov and a particular Bundesliga official, Wolfgang Stark.

He recalls: “During my last year in Stuttgart, I took extra care to associate well with referees, but in some cases this was difficult thing.

“Alongside really good and relaxed people, there was also Wolfgang Stark, from Bavaria, who was notorious for being terribly arrogant.

“He would brandish yellow cards whenever players called attention to an error in a normal tone of voice.

“The fact that we players did not have any respect for him went without saying. How he was allowed to become a FIFA referee, I will never understand."

By his own admission, Lehmann sometimes had a short fuse - he could be hot-headed, not to say down right bellicose, even with fans.

On one occasion in a match in German, he became so incensed at the flak he had been taking  that he grabbed his tormentor by the scruff of his neck with such vigour that it dislodged the man’s hearing aid.

Years later, following another match, he snatched the spectacles from an abusive supporter who then had to plead to him for their return.

There is much to commend in this informative and highly entertaining account of  what motivates high-achieving footballers and what goes on behind the scenes at top level.

Sometimes Lehmann provides his own interpretation (not necessarily authoritative) of why things go wrong as in  this observation: “Over the course of career, I saw teammates who suddenly cracked completely in pressure situations, who failed to perform during finals, a relegation  battle or a penalty shoot-out.

“Often these were people who came from unstable backgrounds - the parents divorced, the father disappeared, things like that.

“When they were on a knife edge, they would think this is going to go belly up again,”

Later, he adds: “The soft factors - for instance, a player’s wellbeing and his family’s happiness all have a decided impact on his performance.”

Lehmann has little truck with the vanity of some contemporary players who, before games and even at half-time, stand in front of mirror to do their hair, applying gel.

During one match, he took matters into his own hands after convincing himself that Stuttgart colleague Khalid Boulahrouz could not hear what he was shouting because his headband was covering his ears.

“I ripped the piece of material off his head - he was the first player I had ever seen wear such a thing.”

For up-and-coming goalkeepers, some of the insights contained in The Madness is on The Pitch should be particularly valuable.

He writes: “First and foremost, the goalkeeper should be an organiser.

“He must be able to give orders, particularly during risky situations in the box, as often the defenders no longer have a feeling either for the ball or for the opposing players.

“One moment they are watching the ball, the next they are looking for their opponent in the process they lose their view of the whole game.

“This view needs to be preserved by the goalkeeper and translated into pinpoint stage directions, especially if the ball is in motion."

At corners and crosses, most keepers prefer to stay within the goal area for two main reasons - firstly, it reduces the risk of being hurt by an opponent’s foot, knee or elbow and, secondly, it spares the possibility of failing to catch or punch clear the ball.

There is nothing more annoying and embarrassing for any top goalkeeper when watching a TV replay of his match than to hear the commentator exclaim that the keeper has “flapped” at the ball

But, throughout his career, Lehmann was always prepared to take that risk because he saw it as his mission to dominate the penalty area, to give confidence to his teammates and to intimidate his opponents who soon learned that, whenever things turned physical, he could give as he got. 

He writes: “My style involved frequently having to leave the safe harbour of my six-yard box in order to intercept crosses, through balls and ricocheted shots.

“On the line it is easy to look good, Usually, you do not get hurt while you are there, but every excursion away from it can bring pain; the opponent can end up kicking or hitting you, whether on purpose or not.

“You have to leave behind this entirely natural protective reflex.”

Lehmann also emphasises the importance of concentration which, he reckons, is aided by reading.

Among the titles on his shelf, there was one he found particularly helpful - Dr Joseph Murphy’s, Das Erfolgsbuch (Success Book) which describes  the importance of the subconscious in generating positive energy. 

Lehmann  also has some amusing one-liners, such as: “Humiliations are like power plants - ugly things but you draw power from them.”

Here is another: “A team is a community of purpose - it functions like a wolf-pack.”

Among the players she most admired in his career were two Arsenal players, Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera, with the latter described as “a kind of lighthouse on the pitch thanks to his physical presence and fantastic technique”.

Of his longtime Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger he says: “The system made the players successful, not the other way round - conductor Wenger managed to have everyone in his perfect orchestra stand out through synergy with their colleagues.”

Lehmann’s collaborator in the writing of the book was Christof Siemes, and the translator from the German is Ceylan Hussein.

The publishers are highly-rated Liverpool-based deCoubertin Books whose other titles are listed at

* The Russian Linesman is now available (price £0.99)  as an e-book via Amazon

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