Kassai error shows we need to be helping our referees more.

Referee errors! According to your average fan (and certain sections of the media) every referee error, big or small is definitive proof that x referee is incompetent, biased, hates their team and is a cheat! The reality is this couldn’t be any further from the truth, no referee steps out onto a pitch thinking I hope I get a chance to screw x team over at some point during the game today, even if it can sometimes feel that way to us as fans. The last thing that runs through any referee’s mind just before they blow the whistle to start a match is that they hope they get more decisions right than wrong and that if nothing else they get the big calls right. They no more intend to call one wrong any more than your star striker intends to miss that open goal from 3 feet out or your goalie intends to just stand there flapping and not making a save that ‘your 98-year-old granny could have saved’. Your striker takes to the pitch wanting to score the winning goal, your goalie wants to make every save, the referee wants to get every decision correct – that is their intention before and during the game.

The media really do not help. Pundits are the worst – 2 weekends ago 1 Sky Sports commentator criticised a referee for not allowing a free kick to be taken quickly because he was booking the offender. He stated to however many millions were watching “referee ruined that there, he should have let them take the free kick quickly and then booked the player” – well Jonathan Pearce from Sky Sports, if you knew anything about the Laws of the game, you would know that the referee HAS to book the player BEFORE play re-starts or he cannot book him at all – page 124 Law 12 – check it out for yourself. Laws of the Game. Fans listening now think that referee made an error when the error was in fact a lack of knowledge of the Laws of the game by Jonathan Pearce, the so-called expert. A lack of knowledge he has now passed on as fact, spreading the lack of knowledge even further.  Same game, same commentator then criticised the assistant referee for correctly flagging for offside. His words of wisdom this time were that it was a harsh decision because the striker was only a few inches ahead of the defender, when the ball was played to him so the decision could have gone either way! Oh boy! No Jonathan Pearce it couldn’t – Law 11: Offside, check it out, do us all a favour and educate yourself! He was offside and the decision by Sian Massey was a great call but you have now left millions of viewers thinking she called it wrong. Again, the only error was the pundits lack of knowledge of the Laws of the game.

Not every referee error is actually an error, with a very high percentage of perceived referee errors, the real error is actually down to a lack of knowledge of the Laws of the game, perpetuated by ‘experts’ such as Jonathan Pearce from Sky peddling out misinformation to the masses every time he opens his mouth, misinformation they take as gospel because well he’s an expert and knows his stuff! I wish! Now I am not saying that referees don’t make mistakes, they do, they are mere humans after all however, statistics provided independently (of the referee authorities) from Prozone show that referees average 95-98% correct decisions per match compared to 60-80% for players. That is huge, particularly when you consider that they make on average 250+ decisions per game, 245 correct & 5 wrong. Shame everyone watching only remembers those 5 and not the 245 correct ones! Fans, players, managers are all too often far too quick to blame any defeat on the referee, you never see them credit the referee with the win though!

In reality it is actually very rare that a singular referee error defines the result of a game. The players have 90 mins to do their job right and counteract any referee error, particularly if the error is early on in a game. Even a wrong penalty decision at 90+5 that directly changes the game could have been counteracted if only the players had got 1 of those 15 shots on target in the net or the goalie hadn’t run about like a headless chicken flapping instead of saving a soft shot that gave the opposition an equaliser etc. Referee errors do play a part just as player errors do, any defeat is down to a combination of factors and not just the man or woman with the whistle.

Referee errors fall into 2 categories for me – understandable and inexplicable! There are some completely hapless referees out there, I can’t deny that: can’t/don’t keep up with play, do not read games well, poor man management, dreadful positioning, inconsistent decision making, poor judgement of what does/doesn’t constitute a foul etc. and some wrong decisions leave you scratching your head and thinking how on earth did he call that wrong. The understandable decisions are when you look at them rationally and can see a player has run in front of the referee just at the crucial moment, blocking his view or the offence is on the referees blindside, his angle of vision of the incident makes it look more/less serious. There are a lot of reasons a referee can call one wrong and you can understand why he has done so, dishonesty is not one of those reasons. It doesn’t change the fact it was a wrong call but it does demonstrate just how difficult it is for them. Again, the media do not help with their 24 cameras from every angle, zoomed in and played in slow motion, they seem to have conditioned people into forgetting that the referee has a singular angled view for a split second and that is all he has to base his decision on. Perhaps they should equip referees with body cams and only show the incident from his perspective at the time – many people would be surprised to see how different it is to that 27th replay of the incident where camera 12 zooms in & slowly shows the ‘quite clear’ foul/dive he missed.

Having said all of that let’s now look at Viktor Kassai’s error in the Turkey v Croatia match. First and foremost, it was a game changing error, there is no denying that. Let’s have a look at Kassai’s position at the time:

His positioning is excellent. He is exactly where the guidelines would recommend him to be. He is on the opposite side of the penalty box to his assistant, far enough out to give him a good view of the 15 or so players in the box but not so far that any decision he makes would not really be credible. However, there are at least 2 players who will be partially blocking his view along with the offending player himself. He is looking at the back of the player from the players left – the player handles the ball in front and with his right arm, these are on Kassai’s blind side and he himself has absolutely zero chance of being able to see it. He needs help to get this call right. On his part, you would have to class this as an understandable error, there are only 2 things that would have made this possible for him to see: 1) Position himself behind the goal line and watch from that side – that’s not a credible solution or 2) Equip himself with X-Ray vision so that he can see through the player and pick up that it was his arm not his head making contact with the ball, well that’s even less credible.

So, what of his assistant, Vencel Tóth. The image above doesn’t show it but he was also in the correct position. In the seconds before this and as part of the same passage of play, 3 players were actually inside the goal net over the line. His primary role is to watch for offsides and he would have been concentrating on those players. A still does not show the amount of activity that was going on at the time.  He had literally just made a correct non-offside call. To his view of this incident, firstly it would have been more in his periphery view than his full view – he will still be watching for offsides as he is meant to, but even if he was looking directly at the player he had a side on view. With the players arm up and his head down near his shoulder there is no way that the human eye could distinguish from his view whether the ball hit the players arm or head. Like with Kassai he had absolutely zero chance of being able to call this one right. It can only be classed as an understandable error.

They needed help, whether this came in the form of video replays or with the use of AAR’s wouldn’t matter – with either of them they would have got this decision right. If we look at the view from behind the goal, which is very similar to the one an AAR would have had it is a simple decision to get right. Had Kassai had an AAR on his team they would have been yelling down their headset ‘handball, handball, disallow’ or words to that effect. It would have been the help that the referee needed to call this one right.

I’m not a lover of technology in football. I don’t mind goal line technology (GLT), it is very definitive – either the ball crossed the line or it didn’t. If it did it would activate the GLT alarm on the referee’s arm so he knows with 100% certainty. I can see the benefits of video technology but in its current form it is clumsy, not very well thought out and the process takes far too long, in my opinion, and there are several improvements that need to be made before it can become a reliable source of help for the referee. It is in its infancy though at the moment and the only way to see where it needs to be improved is by using it and then tweaking the process as you go. That is the stage we are at with it. My personal choice would be GLT combined with AAR’s. The GLT frees up the AAR from having to watch for the ball crossing the line whereby he could conceivably miss an incident in the box because he is watching along the goal line and not looking in towards the penalty area, and therefore enabling him to purely watch the goings on in the box for fouls, dives and handballs!

From next season FIFA need to at the very least introduce AAR’s at every stage of all competitions, right from the first qualifying game instead of it just coming into effect in the latter stages, the Champions League, Europa League, all International games and preferably also along with goal line technology. They are a combination that works and works pretty well. The media have to play their own part in this as well and instead of just criticising the referee they need to call on FIFA to give the referee all the help he needs so that he has more of a chance to get that call right. On this occasion, FIFA have failed the referee, they have failed to equip him with everything he needs to maximise his chances of calling it right and as a consequence despite him doing everything right he was in the impossible position of not being able to call it right. That is unfair on him, both teams and the paying fans there to watch.

Oh and TV companies – please send all of your pundits on a course to teach them the Laws of the game because in the main they are so embarrassingly clueless and keep on peddling out incorrect information and misconceptions to football fans. This is not helpful and they should take more responsibility to pass on correct and knowledgeable information.