Having watched my team Charlton lose at home yet again with another abject and passionless display, I needed a fix of some less painful and more watchable matches. So, binged on Premier League at the weekend.

It struck me that when stadia had fans in, we were saved all the screams of agony from players, often a result of quite innocuous tackles. And the cries of indignation and calls for red and yellow cards from the dugouts. In my view it does nothing for the image of the game and sends a poor message out to youngsters in particular. There is already a total lack of respect from players and parents alike in park football towards referees and pre-lockdown if I took the dog for a walk in the park and came across kids matches, I often asked myself why on earth anyone would want to be a referee and suffer all that disrespect and abuse?

It was only a couple of weeks ago that experienced referee Mike Dean received death threats after he sent off West Ham midfielder Thomas Soucek against Fulham. Although the red card was later rescinded the dramatic overreaction of Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic bought the decision. Managers never seem to call out their own players for this type of behaviour but don’t hesitate when it is an opponent overreacting. It is all very well Mitrovic saying after the match that the Soucek contact was accidental but why play act and go down as though you have been shot in the first place. This is normal behaviour in South America, Spain and Italy but does it really have to be the same here?

I think the reality is that if you are genuinely injured in a tackle you don’t roll around a dozen times and scream as though you are acting in a gruesome x-rated horror film.

Don’t forget match officials have to make a decision in an instant and although we have VAR in the Premier League, we don’t have it in the Football League. Tackles and use of the arm all happens in an instant and if a player screams out loud, rolls around clutching his face or some other part of his body and you are surrounded by his teammates demanding action, then it is a natural human reaction to think something has happened. It simply makes the referees job nigh on impossible.

A football match without fans is really strange and I don’t enjoy watching matches in the same way as I used to as a lack of atmosphere devalues the match experience and were it to carry on, I believe that ultimately it will damage the value of the huge oversea broadcasting revenues. Without fans the grounds are soulless, and I don’t know the exact statistics, but away teams seem to be faring much better than in a normal season.

For as long as I can remember referees have suffered abuse inside grounds but never outside in their day to day lives and never their families and that has to be stopped in its tracks. VAR was introduced to try and address wrong decisions and in recent weeks it has been effective. I don’t like the fact it takes away the most important part of a game which is the celebration attached to a goal, but it is here to stay, and it has become a comfort blanket for referees. Those making online threats need to be tracked down and pursued through the courts. One of the main reasons that VAR was introduced was to try to protect referees from a public hanging when television replays suggested they had made the wrong decision.

The reality is that the abuse of referees and cheating in our parks and in our stadia is a national scandal and all that will happen is that less and less people will want to qualify as referees and that is sad. Of course, they make mistakes, like players do as well, but they do their best. They are not cheats. They do not favour one team more than the other. If more of the players were as honest then our national game would be better for it.

Peter Varney – Chairman Integral Sports Management

Photo Credit – POOL/REUTERS

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