Plymouth Argyle lost their first league game since November, a 3-1 scoreline that very much flattered top of the table and near promotion certainties Wigan Athletic at the weekend, but the main talking points once again was the standard of refereeing which has continued to spark debate across the Football League this season.
Wigan seemed mightily fortunate to end the match with 10 or even nine men on the field with referee Gavin Ward coming heavily under fire from the Green Army a number of times throughout the game as Paul Cook’s side accumulated four yellow cards to the Pilgrims’ zero in the encounter at Home Park.
Latics defender Chey Dunkley was the first offender, bringing down Graham Carey inside the area. Whilst Dunkley was booked by Ward following the incident it was a clearly goalscoring opportunity and no attempt was made to play the ball so by the letter of the law, the visitors should have been down to 10 men. Such failure and clear inconsistency in how referees interpret the rules of the game clearly cost Argyle in this instance as a red card would have left Wigan both a goal down and a man down with 63 minutes left to play, an outcome which clearly affected the final result. Manager Derek Adams would have felt aggrieved by the decision to keep Dunkley on the pitch given Argyle’s disciplinary issues earlier in the season and in his post-match interview compared the challenge to that of the decision that saw defender Ryan Edwards sent off in the 4-0 defeat earlier in the season.
The second incident involved Carey once more as footage revealed an off-the-ball incident between the Irishman and Wigan playmaker Nick Powell as the latter appeared to throw an elbow in the direction of the Argyle man’s face. It would be harsh to criticise the referee in this instance as Ward would be attempting to keep up with play but again it was another example of Cook’s side’s luck through the game.
This wasn’t the first game in which refereeing decisions have affected the outcome of an Argyle game in recent weeks with Doncaster’s Darren Ferguson charged by the FA following his comments after Rovers’ 1-1 draw at the Keepmoat a few weeks ago. Ferguson claimed “The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it. What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.” He later went on to respond to his FA charge “Referees have a tough job and I have a lot of respect for the challenges they face, but I would like to see more done to raise standards across the board and give them the best chance of getting decisions right.” Whilst the comments about shooting referees is certainly extreme, the 45-year-old certainly raises some valid points about how appalling the standards of refereeing often are.
With the rise in technology and raised awareness of football over the past few decades the pressure on referees is at a level that has never been seen before, but the same can be said for players, clubs, chairmen, boardroom members; the list goes on. Whilst nobody is suggesting that referees should be perfect and correct 100% of the time, it feels as though too often officials are a massive talking point of games and whilst players and managers are often held accountable, why can’t referees be too? There are a lot of good referees but some have off days, like any player or manager, and I don’t see why a manager is denied a freedom of speech in their post-match interviews and prohibited the ability to criticise a refereeing decision without the fear of being fined or banned for making such comments when they would not get the same punishment for criticising players. The issue seems to be the media attention it generates and the FA doesn’t want that kind of negative attention.
There’s a perception that managers blame referees to deflect from their team’s performance but they almost always aren’t that small minded. They don’t think: “Let’s blame the referee and everybody will forget what they’ve seen.” They would make a bigger fool of themselves trying to blame the referee for something that it clear from television cameras or replays hasn’t happened. The role of the media is to provoke a reaction from managers. We see this at the highest levels of the game whether it’s Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp or whether it’s Darren Ferguson and Derek Adams. Controversy sells and whilst managers would often rather head straight home after a game rather than fulfil media commitments they are often constrained in what they can say and cannot hide the sort of emotions they tend to show.