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Ease off the A-League refs, I might be one soon!

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert


24 Have your say

    In a couple of weeks’ time I hope to be a fully qualified football referee. I have been lucky enough to gain access to a course, fully funded by my employer and hope to referee some matches through the CAS season in Sydney.

    The CAS competition features Knox, Cranbrook, Barker, Trinity, St Aloysius and Waverley and the standard is impressive. Being a refereeing rookie, I’m hoping to start somewhere around the 7g’s level, where the speed of the game might reflect my confidence levels and agility around the park.

    The standard of officiating in the CAS is quite poor. Many of the younger referees seem to lack a ‘feel’ for the game from a players’ point of view.

    A cynical foul looks different from a players’ perspective as does grubby play. An ex-player might react more strongly to football taboos, than the referee with little or no playing experience. There are some things you just don’t do.

    Why would I do this? I thought it might be interesting to look at things from the perspective of the referee for a change; to catalogue the whole experience of training, preparing and officiating and all the peripheral things that come with the role, all the while, giving back to our wonderful game.

    Evaluating the knowledge of the presenters throughout the process, reflecting on how well prepared a new referee feels after undergoing the training and what the actual experience feels like in terms of interaction with players, parents, supporters and other officials, might provide interesting insights.

    The plan is to record my observations along the way and write to the FFA (and published on The Roar of course) with an unbiased and honest evaluation of the entire process and hopefully provide them with some concrete data to use in their planning.

    Such information might help inform their thinking as they undertake the important task of training up new referees to cater for the ever increasing numbers playing the game.

    Much is made of the standard of refereeing in the A-League. The general consensus appears to be that with only three full-time referees, fans are being hoodwinked under a guise of professionalism.

    When part timers officiate, accusations of incompetence are rife and the full-time men cop their fair share as well. When it comes to referees, no one is spared.

    And there have been some clangers, howlers and mysterious decisions this season. There’s no need to delve into the individual examples and rehash the grievances, the clear mistakes made are pretty plain for all to see.

    Some incredibly soft penalties have been awarded, yellow cards flashed around and then seemingly withdrawn and at least a dozen blatantly wrong offside decisions that have either led or denied goals and undoubtedly affected the outcome of matches.


    It wouldn’t be football if this wasn’t the case. These anomalies have been around since the start and will continue to be a part of the narrative of the beautiful game.

    The key question is. Is it as bad as we think? Is the standard of refereeing in the A-League really poorer than most other leagues? Are the officials we see each weekend a complete bunch of ignorant blind fools who rob our teams week after week?

    Personally, I think not. Sure there are moments that make us shake our heads, moments that leave awful tastes in our mouths. But does crying conspiracy and injustice each time a decision is made really help anyone?

    When I get my ticket and begin refereeing, I will try to get every decision correct. I will be impartial and attempt to move around the pitch as well as I can in order to be as close as possible to the decisions on which I will adjudicate.

    Yet, there is also a realisation that this will be very much, an imperfect science. What will interest me the most will be the reaction I receive from the players, managers and supporters.

    Will they be abusive or defamatory in their reactions? My method to placate players, as I have used before when asked to referee in an unofficial capacity, will be to give them some sense of perspective and inform them that I am there to referee the game, not to cheat anyone or manipulate the result.

    I’ll probably add that, yes, that decision may be wrong, or one you disagree with, but that is the decision and we are moving on with the game. I know there is little scope for passion in all that, but isn’t that what the role of the official really should be about?

    At our highest level of professional football in Australia, my words would be futile. The hostility shown towards our officials is horrendous. A young boy I know had the privilege of ball boying at Sydney FC’s clash with the Mariners on Friday night.

    The first comment he made to me after the experience was how amazed he was at the level of swearing coming from the benches. No doubt, much of that was directed at the officials.

    I obviously can’t speak for you or anyone else, but I’m not sure that is the endearing memory we want our young fans to take away from their first, close up experience of the A-League.

    Our managers flap arms, scream violently, spew vitriol and are, at times, asked to leave the technical area. Their aggression toward the fourth official is often even more disgusting and having a sympathetic ear so close merely encourages a continuation of the dialogue, which really should be cut short once the decision is made and the game moved on.

    Victory coach Kevin Muscat

    The tone created by managers and their assistants, filters through the game. We all know the arguments around role modelling and responsibility accepted by people in more senior positions.

    While never suggesting that individual accountability be removed and all blame be levelled at those holding those senior positions in the game, there is still some onus on our managers and media to model fair minded and responsible attitudes towards our officials.

    Twitter often lights up with accusations of big clubs receiving friendly decisions in some sort of respect for the value they bring in terms of money and crowds. Claims such as these are tantamount to accusations of cheating and impropriety.

    If journalists, commentators and managers take this line, is it any wonder that the fans follow. Cheap shots and clichéd statements around poor referees and decisions imbedded with favouritism toward different clubs, undermine the integrity of the contest.

    The A-League was won by Adelaide United last season after one of the most extraordinary runs seen in Australian football. They deserved the title and won it convincingly. Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar were once the dominant team in the nation and won their titles accordingly.

    The Mariners eventually reached the pinnacle after suffering at the hands of Brisbane and Melbourne Victory have won titles in the years where they were indeed the best team over the long haul.

    If our decision makers are so poor and so many games affected by appalling officialdom, why is it that we generally get the right winner when all is said and done?

    Isn’t that what ultimately matters?

    Constant criticism and the bemoaning of standards set by the referees will only magnify mistakes to fans who continue to lose faith in their performances. Sometimes scrutiny is warranted, yet the barrage of criticism is often a little out of perspective.

    Perhaps it’s time to focus a little less on the errors and weaknesses in the refereeing ranks and see them for who they really are. People like me who love the game, yet are imperfect and flawed.

    Just like all of us.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 5:22am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:22am | ! Report

      A brave undertaking and a worthwhile one. I am sure many here are looking forward to your reports from the field.

      As an ex-defender I can confirm that there are no cynical fouls, merely soft bits of turf strikers breaking the defensive line have an uncanny knack of slipping on. Very unfortunate.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:41am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        We are both paid up members of the union I see. Personally, I don’t ever recall committing a foul in all my career. Most of the refs had some sort of agenda against me because of my ethnic background.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 9:08am
      Waz said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Good for you Stuart, although asking for sympathy and in the same article saying “The standard of officiating in the CAS is quite poor” is kinda asking for trouble.

      It’s the best experience going, my guess is you’ll get 90% of decisions that you see right but the question is how many of the incidents will you see clearly without pesky players getting in your line of sight or two things happening at once and you don’t know where to look or your fitness leaves you 20 meters behind the play at the wrong moment.

      You’ll be fine lol. More people should do it, you certainly see referees in a different light once you have ?

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:38am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Fair point Waz, most of the refs I see in the higher grades are fine, yet as you drop lower down you come across some very eccentric and odd characters who don’t appear to really know the game. Often teenagers who don’t show the level of enthusiasm that is required. Can’t wait to give my first red. Already decided it is going to a striker for simulation.

        Have a top day.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 5:41pm
          Waz said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

          Strikers deserve all they get in my book. Enjoy the Reds 😉

    • Roar Pro

      March 15th 2017 @ 9:19am
      Josh Barton said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      As an ex cricket umpire, I can sympathize with everything you said here!

      On a side note, I actually think the A-league has some really good refs in comparison to a lot of overseas leagues. It can be a thankless job unfortunately. If a ref has a good performance, no one notices. If they make mistakes, its often the end of the world – particularly with a hungry media and a general culture with teams to blame the ref if things go wrong.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:42am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        I did a bit of cricket as well Josh. The day a dismissed batsman shouted from the sideline, ‘I’m gonna kill you umpire’, I thought it might be time to give it away.

        • Roar Pro

          March 15th 2017 @ 10:50am
          Josh Barton said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          I also gave it away in similar circumstances. I had a bowler key my car because I didn’t give him an LBW decision. Still don’t think it was out.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 9:23am
      Swanny said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      Good luck

      Can u stop defenders rugby tackling in the penalty box

      And start giving decisions to the smaller clubs too

    • March 15th 2017 @ 10:30am
      MarkfromCroydon said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Good luck Stuart! I reckon you’ll do well. With regards to the A league and professional refs, I think the criticism has been warranted in our top tier, because the refs have been trained and constantly have refresher training nad are being reasonably well paid, and yet the standard does not seem to be improving. Yes, people will make mistakes, but at the same time, when it’s your full time professional job, you are expected to do it well and only have minimal mistakes and I don’t think that has been happening at the top level this season.
      More than anything, i think all anyone can ask for is that a ref is consistent in their intepretation during amatch and over the course of a season, and that the panel of refs apply consistent interpretations of the laws of the game. If you have that, you can live with a mistake or 2, as over the course of a season it should even out.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:46am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Too true Mark. Was just wondering if we will ever hear coaches make similar comments. Can’t ever imagine Mr Muscat or Mr Arnold saying those words. Thanks for reading.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 11:03am
      Midfielder said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report


      Well done and you have hit on a interesting debating point IMO far more wide spread than the refs.

      My gripe is everything that in the opinion of the watcher is wrong will be highlighted … often when the person making the call is totally wrong and the ref right… But never praise what the ref gets right and never blame players and officials often making bogus calls to effect the decision…. this is spreading to all areas of Football today…

      Society in general is heading down this path when the distinction between fact and opinion is blurred … to the point when an opinion becomes fact and decisions are made on who can voice their opinion louder and better, and the facts are ignored….. I have no idea of the solution as it’s the way of the modern world in many ways …

      Confirmation bias also plays its part as well…

      Good luck to you …. as a player and coach for many years let me give you only one bit of advise … if you get a player who starts yelling at your decision then just yellow card the player … do it early in the game and it tends to quieten the players down an that seems to have an effect on those on the side line.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 11:21am
        Stuart Thomas said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        I was thinking straight red in the first two minutes against a striker for having too much product in his hair. That should stamp my authority.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 11:50am
          Midfielder said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report


          A very good mate of mine a guy I played with for years was also a ref..

          He often carded players who starting yelling at him… and if the yellow did not stop the yelling a red did…

          Don’t be afraid especially at all age level or say from U 15 up to clamp down early on players acting the goat… always warn both captains before the match and my mate at Kick off used to make both teams come to half way and tell all players he was there to do his best … anyone yell at him and they were off … he had use support from the association and often junior refs were sent to watch his games…