Mark Saggers was talking to Alex Griffiths
Not only do we stand at the threshold of a gleaming new season, with all the promise that brings, but it’s a World Cup year, in case you’d forgotten, and so, if there ever was a time to sound a personal clarion call to referees, that time is now.
You see, I really want us all to share football and everything it has to offer, and from where I am standing, making more than a good living from the beautiful game, I can’t resist the temptation to get hold of those who lead our officials, at whatever level they operate, and give them a good old-fashioned shake.
It’s high time referees dared raise their heads above the parapet, as it were: stand up for yourselves, forget all the other nonsense being piled on your plate for a moment and leave no room for doubt that you are real people. I fear the alternative can only be that your leaders will undermine and ultimately destroy the very positions they have worked so diligently to create for themselves.
I’m serious here, if they don’t watch it, for the sake of not standing up to be counted, they will lose all say in the future running of the professional game.
Do you honestly think that cricket umpires such as Billy Bowden, Dickie Bird and Steve Bucknor laboured under some sense that they should regularly prove how lucky they felt to be given a chance to participate in the sport they loved as much as anyone else ever did?
And what about that legend in the middle, rugby’s Nigel Owens. Did he check his personality at the dressing room door, or has he repeatedly taken on some of the biggest taboos to go with the slings and arrows every referee can expect when they sign on the dotted line?
I’m not asking for some schmaltzy X-Factor back-story makeover for our officials when they are thrust, like it or not, under the unforgiving spotlight, I’m simply demanding they call it like it is… off the pitch as well as on, and that needs to start at the top.
Neither am I betraying any confidences when I bring up the TalkSPORT show I hosted around this time a year ago. We invited Mike Riley and Anthony Taylor to come in and face whatever music there was to face just after the Euros, with a new set of guidelines ready to roll.
I was looking forward to it, especially given that Taylor, fresh from his stint assisting Mark Clattenburg in France, seemed ready to prove that those who had tipped the Cheshire official for the top were about to see him really spread his wings and prove them right.
I was left with the sense of a leader woefully out of touch and jealously guarding his status, accompanied by one of his supposedly brighter prospects reduced to a subordinate, unable to do or say the right thing for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.
The encounter left me convinced that a proper re-think is required. Our referees need to embrace and engage with supporters, metaphorically speaking, so I’m calling at the very least for the broadcast, albeit limited, of match communications between officials. Of course, the language of so many players would make doing so ‘live’ a non-starter, but the imperative remains: to let the love of the game speak for itself, thereby fundamentally changing public perceptions of those in charge.
Don’t tell me investment in such a campaign can’t be forthcoming while we allow the £50m player to become run of the mill without levying the kind of percentage on those fees that could make a real difference in how we view the men and women that the game could never do without.
The fourth of August sees Mr Clattenburg return to ref the final of the Youdan Trophy, and I think it’s worth pausing to congratulate everyone concerned with attracting the world’s very best to handle a final featuring the next generation in the very country his former elders and betters at the PGMOL failed to keep him.
See you next month, Saggs.