Well let’s start by getting the stereotypes out of the way. Yes, I’m a girl, yes, I love football and yes, I understand the offside rule! I’ve been reporting at matches for well over a decade now and I’ve seen many a controversial decision, some that years on still make my blood boil, so I understand how important it is to get it right.
As a Chelsea fan, the night that will be etched into my memory forever is the one when I had to put on my sweetest smile and congratulate Pep Guardiola after a last minute goal from Andres Iniesta knocked us out of the Champions League on away goals. During that interview all I could think about was the referee Tom Henning Øvrebø who’d denied penalty claim after penalty claim (so yes, I am that passionate fan too) but for those few minutes I had to be the professional. Strangely though, in this article I’m about to defend referees.
The other day I sat an assistant referee test where I had to judge eight offside scenarios. Admittedly they ran in quick succession and the picture quality was not brilliant, but I am ashamed to say I got 50% correct…and therefore 50% wrong! Yes these were situations set up to appear challenging, but the point is that being a linesman is not easy and that the calls have to be made instantly, in real time. I think we forget just how many judgements we actually make having the luxury of a replay, something referees can only dream of. Add to that I was doing the test in the comfort of my own home, with no real pressure, not having run the lines and without thousands of fans (not to mention a global television audience) on my back.
As soon as I had finished the test I felt pretty guilty and I told my husband (and twitter) that I’d never criticise a referee again. Of course I will, but I will try to remember these simple words “real time gives you a tough time”.
In other news, I sat a referee offside test today and I won't be criticising referees for some time...#realtime = toughtime
— Alison Bender (@alibendertv) March 22, 2017
One thing that infuriates me is when fans and managers (they should know better) imply the referee was in some way trying to cheat. Why on earth would they cheat? Their job depends on getting things right. I would argue that they are the most honest people on the pitch, and yet they can go from hero to zero in 90 minutes for just trying to do their job to the best of their ability. Give them five minutes of your time to understand the stress of getting it right. Sit the test, and if you don’t get 8 out of 8 correct, then perhaps you will think twice the next time you criticise their “on the spot” decision.