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Refereeing - How Hard?

Becoming a referee is not the hard part, what IS difficult is being one. At youth level, officials get abused by parents angered at the referee's decision that has just ruined little Johnny's chance of becoming the next David Beckham. At the professional level the man in black is scrutinized to the nth degree by the 24 different cameras inside the stadium. Any major faux pas is then ridiculed globally.

My sympathy is currently with a big pal of mine, Nigel 'Banno' Bannister, the man who raised his flag at Vicarage Road in the English Championship for the Reading 'Phantom Goal'. As he looked along the goal-line, perspective failed him and he saw the ball cross the line between the posts. Unfortunately for 'Banno' the ball was wide.

The sad part of all of this is one of the most likeable referees in the game today is close to being destroyed. "The most bizarre goal ever" was the opening line from ITV's Clive Tyldesley report. "Like a UFO landing in front of you" was another line. TV programmes re-played the incident around the world, YouTube was log jammed before the video of the incident was pulled for copyright reasons.

There can be no bigger critic of Nigel than Nigel himself. I'm sure he'll have shed tears in the aftermath as he dwelled on that one moment in time rather than looking at how well he has done over his refereeing career which will shortly end; age limit reached, not demotion.

What about the offside calls he made in high pressure games at Old Trafford, Anfield, Emirates, etc, which needed four different camera angles to prove he was right? I can say with firsthand experience, he is the consummate professional; he puts his refereeing ahead of everything.

I remember being his assistant at Gateshead in the UniBond league well over 10 years ago. He won the bet between the two of us as to who could sing a line from Boyzone's 'Love Me For a Reason' to the other first, during the game that is. It was rather amusing four minutes into the match to hear the young ball boy behind me ask "Hey liner. Is the referee singing to you?"

Fortunately non-league humour has come to the fore again. Banno's next game after Watford was an FA Cup qualifier at Whitby Town. At 0-0, opponents Blyth Spartans pushed forward on the attack, the move ended as the ball ran a couple of yards wide of the goal for a goal kick. The Blyth fans burst into celebration as one as though they had just scored a goal and proceeded to chant 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. I'm told Nigel's face was a picture. It is these very moments which reward you for all the 'baggage' that comes with carrying the whistle.

Baggage? Ask Graham Poll, ridiculed for his 'three card trick' at the 2006 World Cup. His crime, writing a number three in the wrong column in his notebook which allowed him to show Josep Simunic three yellow cards before a red one. 'Polley' was never the same again.

Then there was Swedish ref Anders Frisk, left with blood streaming down his face after being hit by a cigarette lighter thrown at him by Roma fans as he walked off the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico in 2004-05. This was swiftly followed just months later by death threats after sending off Chelsea striker Didier Drogba in the same Champions League tournament. Frisk immediately retired.

To the present day, the referee at Vicarage Road, Stuart Attwell, has had to 'dig in' as media camped outside his family home. It got so bad his parents had to plead to be left in peace. As Attwell was wearing his tin hat, Premier League whistler Rob Stlyes has had to pull on the flack jacket after he got it wrong over Cristiano Ronaldo's fall in the Bolton Wanderers penalty area - where have we heard that one before.

Bolton boss Gary Megson came out and said that he'd not welcome an apology from Styles and there were even calls for the 44-year-old old to be permanently demoted from England's top flight list of officials. All very petty stuff. I ask you, how many keepers are strung up by managers after letting a ball slip through their hands?

Was defender Gary Pallister hung drawn and quartered after a nightmare Manchester United debut in his team's 2-0 defeat at home to Norwich? What about strikers who fire wide in front of open goals, do they get hung out to dry? Are any of these asked not to even try to apologise - ABSOLUTELY NOT! Like an English village High Street, these acid tinged comments only come one way.

Human beings make mistakes, period. While refs have a pulse mistakes will happen, sorry it is a fact of life. Plus, as long as managers continue to wrap their precious little superstars in cotton wool and look the other way when the penalty kick winning 'Greg Louganis' is pulled off to perfection, the ref's job will continue to get harder.

Not only does the man in the middle have to carry out the objective task of foul detection, he now has to enter the subjective world of what a player is attempting. The frightening part about all of this is we all have been there, referees I mean. If all officials spoke honestly I am certain there would not be one who has not thought the 'corner was a goal', or something similar. I am guilty as charged, I've had an eagle eyed assistant pull me out of the deep stuff by alerting me to 'have done a Polley' (same player two yellows without the red). The lucky thing for most is that, like me, we got away with it.

Pressure, insults, threats, abuse, theatrics and petulance - it is all part of the modern day job, a job which for 90 minutes places you in the loneliest place on earth.

• Dave Roberts is an Anchor on ESPN Soccernet Press Pass, Sportscenter and Soccernet Sportscenter. He is also an international referee.


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