In this space, I strive to catch referees doing something right; there are plenty of mainstream media writers willing to write about every mistake made by the officials. That being so, I leave the criticism to journalists so we can focus on learning something from the best referees.
However, I find myself very disappointed with a referee’s failure to deal with a clear case of dissent. The incident occurred during a recent Everton v Liverpool derby match in the Premier League.
Very early in the match, Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel and Everton forward Fellaini get into a tussle on a long ball forward. This isn’t unusual in the Premier League, but, for some reason, Skrtel felt particularly aggrieved.
He quickly made known his displeasure with Assistant Referee #1, following an under-pressure clearance to prevent a corner kick. After getting to his feet, he briefly looked at referee Andre Marriner, and then directed his ire towards AR1. His protest included a point at AR1, the curse word we Americans call “the F-bomb”, as well as some others I couldn’t make out.
But he wasn’t done yet. After play went on near AR1 for another minute or so, Skrtel still found an opportunity to shoot the assistant referee a clear stare of disapproval.
In the youth game, at least where I work in Georgia, this would be a straight send-off, no questions asked, and, frankly, few coaches would question it. But for reasons that remain a mystery to me, this type of behavior is tolerated in the most-watched league in the world.
The Premier League knows full well how the behavior of players influences the youngsters. They even produced a video acknowledging as much. Which leads me to question: why is clear, undeniable dissent of the kind demonstrated by Skrtel routinely tolerated in the Premier League? Without even so much as a talking-to, much less a caution or send off.
To the bosses at the FA and the Professional Game Match Officials organization, I submit this humble plea: please empower referees to stop to this type of behavior. Not doing so makes the job of the local referee much more difficult.
The Premier League can produce all of the slick videos it likes, but dealing with dissent on the pitch – in front of tens of millions of viewers worldwide – is what really matters.