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Do they ever get decisions right?

Even in the Premier league.

Even with VAR.

Even with apparently up to seven officials whose sole purpose is to ensure fair play.

Even with a multitude of cameras covering all possible angles.

Well, they’re often wrong, that is according the the big-name pundits in the BBC, ITV or Sky studios.

Well if those professional referees don’t get it correct when surrounded by today’s high profile technology and a team of assistants, what chance has a poor referee in the Carnbane League got?


In fact why would anyone be a referee in a local league match?

At times there is no proper pitch marking.

No technology.

And no linesmen.

Well maybe that last statement is incorrect.

There are linesmen.

But generally, apart from cup finals, assistant officials running the line are usually connected to the clubs on the field.


Someone once said a lineman from a well-known club always did his job fairly.

He flagged one way during the first half.

And the other way during the second!

Footballers take their sport seriously and want to win, often seeing the poor auld ref as someone who is out to beat them. But as the famed Bill Shankly once said. “Football is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more important that that.”

It’s a hard, thankless job to officiate at a game with proper linesmen; without them its well nigh impossible.

For instance, how does a referee, who is following a match, see where an off-the-ball man starts a run? The player might be in an offside position when he picks up the ball but may have been perfectly OK when the pass was originally played. Without linesmen refs are in a no-win situation.

And with new rules coming into operation, seemingly every week, the situation is getting increasingly bizarre.

What constitutes a penalty kick now?

No one seems to know.

Was the arm in a natural position?

Did it hit his arm above or below his shirt-sleeve?

Was the keeper an inch off his line when the spot kick was taken?

To make it even more difficult, footballers try to hide their mistakes. Some automatically blame the official every time they concede a goal. Managers often instruct their players to appeal to the ref every time a goal is scored against them. Even, as in most cases, the decision is not reversed, it puts pressure on the referee to even things out for the team allegedly wronged.

To illustrate these points, I’ll recount a game I refereed many, many years ago.

One Saturday I went out to watch my son playing for the Red Devils at Ferris Park. The ref didn’t appear and the manager of the other team, Gervaise Patterson, the Villa Rovers supremo, asked me to officiate.

He actually said to me: ‘Tony, I know you will do it fairly.’

I thought so too and was persuaded to give it a go, particularly as I had participated in a referees’ course a few months previously.

That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two came three minutes into the game when I allowed a goal that everyone in the ground thought was offside.

I was always of the opinion that referees were far too serious on the field, so I thought I would lighten things up with a joke. That was mistake number three. The player I joked with didn’t think it was remotely funny and ripped into me.

Mistake number four came when I gifted a goal to the other side. Apparently the ball had crashed onto the bar and out. From my position I thought the ball had crossed the line and I gave the score.

My fifth error was to charge off the field after a player, who I had just dismissed and who called me a mouthful of rude names.

In the melee that followed I got a thump on the mouth.

My sixth mistake was to chase my assailant down the road after the game. I never caught him, perhaps fortunately for myself.

My seventh was not reporting that player (and another I sent off) to the Carnbane league.

However, I did make two good decisions that day.

In a three-goal game I got one of the scores right … I think.

And I quit refereeing.

That game between the Red Devils and Villa was the second match in which I had officiated.

The other time happened a few years previously at Crieve’s Crown Park where I gave a free kick against one of my best friends.

After I blew him up, he put his face two inches from mine and called me a cheating f***ing bastard. I could see the hatred in his eyes. At that moment I was dirt on his shoe. The lowest of low.

Fortunately, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing and we continued to be best friends – even to this day.

But those two matches were the sum total of my refereeing career.

And most certainly it was two games too many.

Not like the well-known official Frank McDonald, a great character, who spent a lifetime as a referee, in both soccer and gaelic. Frank once told me some great stories about his time as the Man in the Middle.

One day he refereed a schools’ final between St Michaels, Enniskillen and St Pats, Maghera and after the game he was severely beaten up by the Maghera supporters.

It made headline news in the Northern Ireland media with TV showing the disgraceful scenes.

But the incident had a funny side too. The next week Frank was refereeing at Windsor Park and as he ran out onto the field a wee Linfield supporter shouted: “Hey McDonald, I don’t think much of that aul GAA but they know a bad ‘un too when they see one!”

Another time Frank was officiating at an Intermediate Cup match featuring the RUC and a Newcastle league team. The centre forward of the Newcastle side, a former Down player who shall not be named, scored an early goal and as he ran out celebrating, he threw a mighty punch at one of his rivals in full view of the referee.

A sure-fire sending off and as Frank produced his red card he asked the player: Why?

His answer: “When do you get a chance to punch a policeman and not get jailed?”

And the same player, a top marksman, but a player who had a penchant for regularly getting himself sent off, was a further subject of our conversation. Frank said of him: “Yer man has the speed of a racehorse, the strength of a carthorse and the brains of a … rocking horse!”

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