Iain Russell: Ignore TV replays but make refs accountable

The name John Flynn might not mean much to many people, but ask Rio Ferdinand or Sir Alex Ferguson and I am sure they’ll tell you about him.

He was the linesman, after all, who signalled for a penalty to be awarded to Newcastle against Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday when Rio Ferdinand slid in on Magpies winger Hatem Ben Arfa. Despite protests, ref Mike Jones, who had originally indicated a corner, refused to overrule his assistant and Demba Ba tucked away the resulting penalty to salvage a surprise point for Newcastle.

TV replays later proved Ferdinand’s challenge was legal, although TV replays were not needed as it was quite clear to everyone that it was a fair challenge. Across the UK at every ground there are controversial decisions every week. Is this the referees’ fault? No, the officials going into any match are fully focused on having a good game just like the 22 players taking to the field. There is no favouritism or premeditated thoughts on the part of the officials. Any wrong or poor decisions are human error. Although extremely frustrating for fans and players, it is an instinctive judgement from a human being.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I am the world’s worst moaner. I am sure every referee in Scotland hates my whingeing voice as I question every decision for 90 minutes. However, I do sympathise with the men in black.

I do understand why there are calls for television replays, but I am not in favour. This will only slow down the tempo of the sport we all love. Where do you draw the line? Players will question free kicks, penalties, goal-line clearances, throw-ins.

We love football for the controversy. For the pace and excitement and, yes, because of the match officials we love to hate. The split decisions made by the men in charge can change the whole pattern of a game and ultimately result in a defeat for a team. Some of these decisions, in turn, can affect mangers and players’ jobs. I reiterate the fact that these are genuine mistakes made by refs who are honest men. But how do we eradicate these costly mistakes from our game? The answer is, we can’t.

Referees never talk to the press to explain decisions. They are monitored “in house” during games but this is never made public. In any job if anyone makes a mistake there are always consequences. For example, if a player makes a mistake they will often be dropped from the team. Why should these match officials be any different? I am not asking for officials to be hit with lengthy suspension but could there not be some sort of punishment?

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Would there be any fewer mistakes by the officials if there were sanctions on them? Probably not. But maybe managers and fans would see this as a fairer option as they know the official who has made a mistake against them is at least being held to account for his errors the same as anyone else.

We couldn’t have football without these brave men in black. But I do think they need to be accountable for mistakes.