Consent Preferences Spurs Odyssey - In defence of Howard Webb and referees in general
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In defence of Howard Webb and referees in general

Here is an article written (on 24.01.12) for Spurs Odyssey by a qualified refereeing expert, who must remain nameless:- (The article was provoked by my comments in this week's Premier League Review)

The views of the average Spurs fan on Howard Webb are well known. It is natural that fans view incidents from a biased perspective. Hopefully here I can redress some of the balance both for Webb and referees in general.

Firstly, fans need to accept that they are biased. It doesn't mean they're wrong but if you cannot recognise your own bias then there is no hope of sensible discussion. Secondly most fans don't know the laws. They have an idea, more or less, but the details are, understandably, not always fully understood. I don't think there is a problem with that, as long as fans again recognise shortfalls in their knowledge.

The problem for referees comes partly in the fact that fans have long memories - at least in terms of when they are wronged. Dodgy decisions in their favour or against the opposition tend not to linger in the memory and thus the vitriol directed to those who 'wrong' a club is not matched in praise of those who make equally questionable decisions in their favour. That's the nature of being a supporter.

And so to Webb. There is little doubt that he has made some unfortunate decisions in Spurs games, at least from the perspective of those in lilywhite. These are well documented - the Gomes penalty at Man Utd, the failure to award a penalty away at Chelsea and again at home to Blackburn and a potential handball in the build up to Chelsea's equaliser at the Lane earlier this season. Of course we also had a goal wrongly disallowed in that game too, for which Webb takes the rap, although clearly this is not his decision. Further, Spurs fans have forgotten other incidents - there was certainly a question mark at best over a disallowed Defoe goal at Anfield for offside when Webb was in charge. This is before we even mention Sunday's events at the Etihad.

The charge list looks damning but those with refereeing experience would cast a different view. Some incidents cannot be defended - the penalty decision at Old Trafford was horrendous and, to Webb's credit, he came out and admitted as much. Equally I think it is hard to defend the Bale incident against Blackburn other than to say Bale has earned himself a reputation. Even the most hardened Spurs fan would have to admit he goes down very easily and has been caught out on a number of occasions simply diving. It is something I think all fans would agree we would rather not see and it does lead to a doubt in the referee's mind. It is a fact, whether right or not, that you don't get the decisions in the penalty area you get outside but this is logical - the effect of an incorrect penalty award can be monumental whereas the same incident on the halfway line is less likely to define the outcome of the game therefore I would always defend a referee who wants to be 110% sure before awarding a penalty than giving penalties when they are not fully convinced.

As for the other incidents, Keane should have been awarded a penalty at Chelsea but he didn't go to ground. Admirable, yes, but referees are told not to give "surprise" decisions and you can guarantee that when players are fouled they are not usually shy in going down or telling the ref they have been wronged. In that respect, whilst staying on your feet is admirable, it does make it much less likely for a penalty to be awarded and, in defence of Webb, I cannot think off hand of penalties being given in similar circumstances.

For Chelsea at home, in terms of the laws of the game it just wasn't handball - it doesn't make any difference how much you argue the ball was going out or Ashley Cole 'gained an advantage' that simply isn't the laws of the game. It was clearly an accidental handball and therefore play was rightly allowed to continue which proved costly to Spurs.

There are similar arguments for the other incidents - the disallowed goal should have stood but this cannot be attributed to Webb. In the Man City game, Balotelli should have been sent off but Mr. Webb had little chance of seeing it as it was off the ball. Had he been watching Balotelli and a two footed challenge went in on the ball, questions would be asked as to why he wasn't watching play. Sometimes you just can't win as a referee. In that respect Webb's reputation is forged on a mixture of a couple of bad errors; some misunderstanding of the laws by fans, and some simple bad luck. Little is made of the fact Webb refereed something like 20 games without incident prior to the Old Trafford game. Equally we tend to forget the decisions we do get. Certainly the penalty at Anfield last season was rather generous. It is understandable that Spurs fans view Webb with reticence but his reputation as one of the world's leading referees is not forged through accident, whether Spurs fans agree or not. To suggest he is one of the worst referees in the Premiership is folly and ignores the performances of referees in non-Spurs games, which perhaps is understandable.

Those with refereeing experience will know why Lescott wasn't punished on Sunday - the intent is questionable. For a start who in their right mind would pick on Younes Kaboul! In slow motion incidents look far far worse but at the time my view on both Lescott and Balotelli were that both were accidental, although in hindsight I have to admit the Balotelli incident doesn't look good. Remember though referees get a second to make a decision and, as alluded to in Paul's match report, no-one really picked up on the Balotelli 'stamp' in real time. It is only in hindsight that the images look damning, but it is harsh then to damn the referee when everyone else missed it when it occurred.

I will end by saying there is no panacea for these refereeing mistakes. There are no amazing referees walking the streets just waiting to be asked to take charge of a Premiership game. The ex-player argument has already proven to be flawed. Some make it, some don't. It's about refereeing ability, not about whether you played. These guys haven't just landed from Mars, they've been refereeing for years to get where they are. Like it or not, they are the best we have so rather than look to replace them we should be looking to help them. How we do that is a different debate entirely - as has been seen this week, retrospective punishment does little for the club that is wronged on the day.

List of Spurs games refereed by Howard Webb:-


Mar 04 Spurs     1-0   Newcastle
Sep 04 Spurs 0-0 Norwich
Apr 05 B'ham 1-1 Spurs
Sep 05 Spurs 0-0 Liverpool
Nov 05 Bolton 1-0 Spurs
Dec 05 M'brough 3-3 Spurs
Dec 05 Spurs 2-0 Newcastle
Jan 06 Fulham 1-0 Spurs (Dawson s/o)
Mar 06 Spurs 3-2 Blackburn
Apr 06 Everton 0-1 Spurs
Sep 06 Liverpool 3-0 Spurs
Jan 07 Cardiff 0-0 Spurs
Aug 07 Man Utd 1-0 Spurs
Nov 07 Spurs 4-0 Wigan
Jan 08 Spurs 5-1 Arsenal
May 08 Reading 0-1 Spurs
Aug 08 Chelsea 1-1 Spurs
Nov 08 Spurs 1-0 Blackburn (Olsson s/o)
Mar 09 Spurs 4-0 M'Brough
Apr 09 Man Utd 5-2 Spurs (Gomes penalty incident)
Sep 09 Chelsea 3-0 Spurs
Jan 10 Liverpool 2-0 Spurs
Mar 10 Spurs 3-1 Blackburn
Sep 10 WBA 1-1 Spurs
Nov 10 Spurs 1-1 S'derland
May 11 Liverpool 0-2 Spurs
Oct 11 Spurs 3-1 QPR
Dec 11 Spurs 1-1 Chelsea
Jan 22 Man City 3-2 Spurs

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