On Saturday afternoon, thousands of people walk through the turnstiles to clap, sing and cheer their heroes on. 90 minutes later those same people walk back through the turnstiles, analysing the performance they’ve just witnessed. Amongst those discussions will be at least a few words on the ability of the referee and their assistants.
While the difficulty of the job has to be appreciated, the standard of officiating in League One and Two is simply not good enough.
Football wouldn’t be football without a dodgy decision here or there to get the conversation going. Not even the introduction of VAR (video assistant referee) has managed to quell the range of opinions and chatter. But there is barely a game that goes by in the bottom two divisions of the EFL that doesn’t see an absolute howler.
So why is the standard of refereeing so poor in League One and Two?
Not just the fans
Well let me start by saying that this isn’t just the opinion of football fans.
After his side’s defeat at Sixfields on the opening day, Colchester boss Wayne Brown said the referee’s performance was “one of the worst I have witnessed.”
Jon Brady wasn’t very happy either but chose to focus his attention on Colchester’s 2nd goal rather than the ridiculous penalty decision that handed them their first. No one would have blamed if he had chosen to talk about it though.
Last season, don’t forget, Brady got so annoyed by the standard of refereeing, he had to serve a touchline ban.
The Cobblers manager collected 4 yellow cards and had to watch the game against Port Vale in February from the Vale Park stands.
And he’s already picked up his first yellow card of this season in the EFL Cup defeat to Wycombe on Tuesday night.
If the managers and players aren’t happy about the standard of officiating, why would we, as fans be?
This isn’t meant to be a piece digging out referees. They have an incredibly tough and thankless job.
Rarely does anyone talk about a referee having a good game. When it does happen, it simply isn’t mentioned. That’s probably down to expectation more than anything. A referee should have a good game. While mistakes can and will happen, there really shouldn’t be anything so ridiculous happening that it’s worth talking about.
The problem is that some mistakes are dreadful and often result in a goal or sending off.
New directives for 2022/23
EFL referees have been given a new directive this season to let play flow more freely. The new guidance includes a higher threshold for awarding free kicks for fouls, cutting down on time-wasting antics and ensuring player behaviour does not overstep the mark.
In the two Cobblers games so far this season, there has been little sign of this new directive being put into action though.
In Cleethorpes on Saturday, both sets of fans bemoaned the time wasting tactics employed by both sets of players. The referee blew his whistle 33 times for fouls. Add on the amount of offsides (4), goal kicks and corners (6) and throw-ins and you’ve got yourself a very interrupted game.
What could be done?
There are a total of 117 referees and 177 assistant referees in England reporting to PGMOL.
The main difference between the Premier League and the lower leagues of the EFL is that the referees in the top division are employed full time. In Leagues One and Two, we have to settle for match officials who, during the week, work full time in another capacity.
No wonder they make mistakes, they’re not able to fully commit to their job as a match official.
Until this year there were two different levels of referees. The Select Group and the National Group.
Those in the National Group are all part time and officiate games in the Championship and leagues below. The Select Group was made up of full time referees who officiated Premier League and occasional Championship matches.
Now though there is also the new Select Group 2.
Created following an extensive assessment process, according to efl.com, 18 referees were chosen to become full time professionals at the start of this season. The officials in this group take charge of Championship and the occasional League One and League Two match.
The group meets once a fortnight for 2 days of training and development meetings where they referees review and analyse incidents from recent matches. They are also looked after physically and mentally by sports scientists and psychologists.
To enable this group to exist and the individuals to be employed full time, each Championship club pays £50,000 per season towards the costs.
So that’s the top 2 divisions in English football being officiated by full time referees. But where does that leave the majority of League One and League Two matches?
Well it feels like we’re left with the ones not deemed good enough to be plying their trade regularly in the Championship or above.
We’ve seen countless of frankly absurd decisions being made in Cobblers games over just the last year. The Forest Green goal at Sixfields which didn’t cross the line. The Colchester United penalty that was awarded after Noah Chilvers was breathed on. And the handball given, this time in favour of the Cobblers, for a penalty in the same game, are just a few examples.
What support are the match officials at our level being provided by the EFL? When do they get to meet up and analyse their performances and incidents which have happened in their games?
Surely it’s about time that we had full time, professional match officials in charge of every game across the professional English football leagues?
After all, the EFL themselves say about the new Select Group 2: “As full time referees the group are better prepared for matches than ever before.”
Charles is the founder and main presenter of the award-winning It’s All Cobblers To Me podcast.
He began the podcast after going self-employed in 2018 as a podcast producer and voiceover artist. The original thought being that It’s All Cobblers To Me would be a place to try out new things – like a test podcast of sorts.
As well as being Cobblers mad, Charles is also a ultramarathon runner and has a blog about that that he tries to keep up to date as often as he can.