Former referees’ chief Keith Hackett says that Championship refereeing standards are not up to scratch – and that Newcastle’s game on Friday should not have been handed to Stephen Martin, who made a series of “poor decisions”.
Hackett is a former Premier League referee and head of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), having accrued thousands of hours officiating at the top level in England.
Asked by The Journal to take a look at Friday’s contentious decisions, he said that Martin – who was given the game after refereeing in the Conference in midweek – got both of the big decisions wrong. And he said that the standard of second-tier officiating – which has infuriated Rafa Benitez this season – is not good enough.
It has been a bone of contention all season but it came to a head on Friday when Martin’s succession of bad calls changed the destiny of the game and left Benitez – a man Hackett believes has always been fair on referees – furious.
“We know that younger referees have got to gain experience, but that game should have had a Premier League referee on it,” said Hackett.
“Some of the Premier League games have referees holding the boards up (fourth officials) on a Sunday and a Saturday who should be taking the big games in the Championship.
“Newcastle United are a massive club and refereeing at St James’ Park puts pressure on referees. It is a big step up and I think some of these referees are drowning because they can’t deal with that pressure.
“The Championship is probably more demanding than the Premier League in terms of the physical demands and the speed of the game. In particular, I think that it’s wrong that the referee in this case was given a non-league game in midweek. Referees are like players: they need to be refereeing big games to get themselves ready for the big games.
Are Championship refereeing standards good enough?
“It isn’t fair on the referee to give him a non-league game then ask him to referee the biggest game in the Championship that weekend. That game should have gone to a Premier League referee.”
An attempt was made this summer to improve refereeing standards in the Championship by introducing a ‘Select Group 2’, a group of 18 full-time referees and 36 assistants who would be used for matches in the Championship.
The idea was to replicate the Premier League’s elite list, turning them full-time and giving them access to better coaching and training. But Hackett thinks it isn’t working.
“I think the development of a second tier of elite referees is a positive thing, but I don’t think it is working at the moment,” he said.
“The trouble is that all they’ve done is played the numbers game. They had a group of referees below the elite group who were perhaps lacking credibility and authority and they’ve given them the new title and badge in the belief that it will make them better.
“The reality is that coaching of the refs is the key to the problem. That needs to improve and I think that until that does improve, we’re going to have a problem with standards at that level.”
On Friday, Hackett believes Martin failed to manage the game well enough. “It comes down to managing the game and that is where the coaching and training of referees needs to be better,” he said.
Hackett feels that with greater experience and training, the flashpoint at the City Ground would not have happened.
He said: “With a player like Jonjo Shelvey, you know that he sparks very easily. If you go into battle with him then he is going to spark. If you have a quiet word with him to defuse the situation, it is different.” And he had sympathy for Rafa Benitez, who was uncharacteristically angry with the officials.
“I have had several meetings with Rafa Benitez and his knowledge of the game and of refereeing is good. He’s got a great depth of understanding of refereeing in my experience.
“I’ve had many discussions with him in the past and we haven’t always agreed on certain incidents but he would always do it in a very reasonable fashion.
“He isn’t someone who is ‘out to get’ referees who feels they are out to get him – he just wants them to do well. His contribution in the past has helped to develop standards of refereeing in this country, in my opinion.”
HACKETT ON THE SHELVEY DECISION:
“The first decision is just poor refereeing. He has gone on the assistant’s view, but if he had seen it he would have given Newcastle the free-kick and the coming together would have been avoided.
“It’s handbags. It’s nothing. But because the referee has jumped on it, there’s not much room for debate.”
HACKETT ON THE DUMMETT CALL:
“You can see that the player’s going down, but the referee will argue that it’s a careless challenge and as soon as he’s given that, the punishment is clear.
“For me it’s a wrong decision again. His hands are out there almost as much to protect himself from falling. It’s not a push from Dummett.”
HACKETT ON POSSIBILITY OF A NEWCASTLE APPEAL:
“I don’t see how Newcastle can appeal (successfully). The only way that these two decisions can be overturned if there is a clear and obvious error and, although it was bad refereeing, I can’t see them going with that.
“It depends on who makes up the panel and the mix of people on it, but I think they’d go with the referee on both occaisons on the basis that it’s not a clear and obvious error. But they’re both poor decisions.
“Do the FA then deem it a frivolous appeal? If they do that, they could get an additional suspension.”