A few weeks back in the job as Cardiff City manager (always wanted to manage abroad, by the way!) and – surprise, surprise – I’ve had a few different types of referee. There are the ones who are pernickety and blow for everything – and those who make mistakes for both sides but keep the game flowing.
I think you’ll know the ones I prefer! There are some that seem somehow to want to be more in the spotlight. That’s the type who will give free-kicks for nothing. They’ll whistle two or three times in a minute, which is frustrating for everyone including the crowd. The other sort are probably getting more wrong in terms of the laws but there’s more flow to the game, like in the old days.
The standard of football is so good in the Championship that it’s true what they say, anybody can beat anybody, so one wrong decision can make the difference between teams at times. So far at Cardiff the one call that stands out for me in that respect is when we went up to Newcastle, gave them a good game and ended up losing 2-1. I thought we deserved a penalty in that game when one of our lads got tugged back.
It wasn’t the referee, Tony Harrington, who was to blame for that one in my eyes. I was disappointed one of his assistant referees didn’t see it. He put the flag up – but gave the foul the other way. That was unbelievable for me. You write in about stuff like that but it always seems to come back that the assessor thinks the decision was correct. Not that that surprises me in the least.
Since I’ve returned to management I’ve been more disappointed in the assistants – linesmen as I’d still rather call them – than the referees. I don’t feel they know the game in some cases. But I have to say there’s a lot for them to think about with offside these days and the demand for a delayed flag doesn’t help. It used to be a split second call but now they can be waiting several seconds deciding whether players are active or not.
With the refs, one positive thing to say is that having a professional group at Championship level (Select Group 2) is a good step forward. I haven’t seen a referee who doesn’t look fit enough to get around the pitch and keep up with play, whereas that has been a problem in the past. As a general point, when I watch the Premier League there are times when I’m glad that some of those referees we had in the Championship previously got promoted – but it’s sod’s law that I’ll probably get them in the cup!
Going back to the Newcastle game, I was surprised to see that Mr. Harrington, the referee, came from the Hartlepool area. Now I’m not suggesting for one minute that this in any way influenced him or the outcome. I think that if referees make mistakes then they are honest ones, wherever they’re from. But for me, it’s just the way it looks. Hartlepool was one of the clubs I played for and there were an awful lot of Newcastle fans in and around the town. My next door neighbour and all his family and friends were supporters. I can’t imagine there are many Cardiff fans living there. As I say, it’s all about appearances and protecting referees from any pressure of this sort. Better in my view for a referee appointed to Newcastle v Cardiff to come from somewhere central in the country.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, I still like to do a bit of shouting on the touchline. But I like to think I’ve mellowed a little in my approach to match officials generally. I try to be more constructive when I see them after games. Meanwhile, I’m loving being back involved at Cardiff, working with some good people and enthusiastic supporters.