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Soccer Blog

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Dr Errol Sweeney (PhD) BBA Dip.PM, aka "The Hanging Judge," is a former L.o.I and SA Premier League Referee, World Cup Referee & Assistant Referee Coach & Mentor.  He coached/mentored a referee to 2 World Cups, Olympic Games, Confederations Cup, 2 U/17 FIFA World Cups and 4 African Nations Cups. 

Refereeing – the most unthankful, ungrateful, yet most rewarding job, but not for the faint hearted!

Howard WebbAs the headline says, refereeing is a very difficult and unrewarding “profession.” It takes time, effort and money just to have the honor and distinction of being a referee.


Now don’t expect to get any plaudits or compliments from players or fans - not a chance. Well, perhaps that’s not strictly true. You will get the occasional “well done ref” from a team when they win, if you’re lucky.


A few weeks ago I wrote a blog asking the question “Who wants to be a referee? Hands up, anyone?” The response was tremendous. Not from prospective referees, but from existing ones who understand what it’s like to go out on a weekend and suffer insults and abuse and run the gauntlet of overzealous parents who think their little Johnny is the next Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo.


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Peter Walton, GM of PRO – Laws of the Game “illiterate.”

Martin AtkinsonThere’s an old saying that says if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys.


Sadly this appears to apply to the current head of PRO (Professional Referee Organization) who is responsible for administering professional referee programmes in North America, including the MLS.


The issue concerns an interview given to ESPN sports by the head of PRO, Peter Walton. Mr Walton is also a former UK Premier League referee and a very poor one at that.


He was commenting on a decision by referee Martin Atkinson in the Arsenal vs. Liverpool game last weekend. During the game Mr Atkinson blew for a foul on Liverpool player Luis Suarez. Suarez quickly got to his feet and restarted play which ultimately resulted in a goal.


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Attack on assistant referee raises serious safety questions once more.

Smoke Bomb Hits RefereeAn assistant referee was hit by a flare/smoke bomb in an English Premier League game on Sunday October 20, 2013.


This appalling incident happened during the Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspurs game at Villa Park in Birmingham (central England).


Fortunately the assistant referee, David Bryan, was uninjured and decided he was OK to continue his duties.

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Who wants to be a referee? Hands up, anyone?!


Ok all you loud mouthed, beer swilling, arm chair experts – which one of you wants to be a referee? Come on, step forward – who wants to take on the challenge?


Ah, it’s not for you is it? You’d rather go out to a game whether it is MLS or kiddies game on a Sunday morning and lambaste the unfortunate person in the middle with the whistle.


You’d rather stand there on the line and scream out your very biased opinion as to which decision the referee should give and sometimes advise him or her as to where he/she can stick his/her whistle.


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Sir Alex and referee Halsey – the tip of the iceberg?


Mark Halsey, the former premier league referee in the UK has admitted that he broke the protocol set out by the Professional Game and Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) when he made direct contact with Sir Alex Ferguson the then manager of Manchester United and this has provoked some searching questions as to the nature of relationships between managers, club officials, players and referees. 



There will be those who will argue that this was a one-off situation. However, the desperation with which Halsey appears to put himself in the pocket of one of the country’s leading football figures is surely a cause for concern.


“It took time to gain Sir Alex Ferguson’s respect,” Halsey says, “but in the end we had a very good relationship.” What the hell does that mean?


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Referee Mark Halsey – a “traitor” to refereeing


There’s no greater enemy than one from within. A colleague, a team-mate, a countryman who betrays his own, regardless of the reason.



Just this week it was revealed by ex English Premier League referee Mark Halsey that he was in regular phone contact with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.




Now I ask myself:


  • How much contact was there between Mr Halsey and Sir Alex?
  • Were any special favours asked or given?
  • Did Mr Halsey act alone or were others involved?
  • Was the PGMOL, the referee’s body in England, aware of this?


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Player cheating knows no bounds.

Young diveI was simply shocked and aghast this last weekend at the blatant cheating by Ashley Young who plays for Manchester United.


The tone was set in the 9th minute when a colleague of the aforementioned Mr. Young, French international and United full back Patrice Evra deliberately dove in the opposition’s penalty area in an attempt to fool the referee Jon Moss into giving a penalty. No penalty was given nor was a caution administered.


Later, and not much later, the first of Ashley Young’s dives came.


It happened in the 19th minute and so blatant was the dive that even the commentators, who are quite “coy” when describing the shenanigans of certain players, appeared to be lost for words.

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Offensive & Abusive Language toward referees.

RespectThe use of foul and abusive language in any form is disgusting and unnecessary.


When this verbal diarrhoea is directed at authority and especially referees and their assistants, it is even more despicable.


It’s an affront to authority and is a clear and blatant attempt to intimidate the referee in his decision making.


Law 12 (FOULS AND MISCONDUCT) of the FIFA Laws of the Game (LOTG) states quite clearly and I quote:

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GLT is “born” in the English Premier League.

b2ap3_thumbnail_terryglt.jpgIn case you hadn’t noticed, a seismic shift of monumental proportions occurred last week in the English Premier League (EPL).


After all the hoo-ha about should we, or shouldn’t we, it finally came to being.


What am I talking about? Goal Line Technology (GLT).


The much discussed, much debated and in some cases berated way of confirming whether a goal has been scored or not was officially introduced as far as the English Premier League is concerned.


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Refs - grow a pair and be strong!


Howard WebbIt’s quite disturbing to see the number of match officials, particularly the men-in-the-middle, who appear unable or unwilling to make a decision based on what they see in front of them before, during and after a game.


There are times when it is quite obvious to players, officials and the general public that a serious breach of the Laws of the Game has occurred, yet the match officials appear not to have seen it.


In English slang terms this is called “bottling it.” In other words, the ref “chickened out” and stepped back from doing his job.


In my opinion match officials who engage in this kind of refereeing cowardice should be stood down for at least 3 months and their future in that particular league, and especially if it is in the senior leagues, questioned.


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Soccer and Rugby - as different as chalk and cheese.

Rugby player received yellow card“Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen.”


I’m not sure who the originator of that quote was, but reference is made to a man called Walter Carey and is believed to be a quote in relation to the Barbarians rugby club which states “rugby football is a game for gentlemen of all classes, but not for bad sportsmen of any class.”


A man called William Percy “Tottie” Carpmael who founded the Barbarian FC in 1890 was also suggested as the originator.


A more recent explanation comes from a certain Chancellor of Cambridge University in the UK (confessing complete ignorance of all football, regardless of what code), who when asked to sum up a debate between soccer and rugby said “it is clear that one is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; the other a hooligan’s game played by gentleman.”


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“Vultures” gather at every opportunity referee makes a mistake.

Referee BennetI’ve said it many, many times before and I will repeat it again in case some have not heard or read it.


Referees are human, and humans make mistakes. Sorry for being human.


The performance by one referee from South Africa, Daniel Bennett, in an African Cup of Nations recently was roundly criticized by many people. Some of the criticism was justified as he did make a couple of mistakes which according to the “experts” nearly cost one team their place in the quarter-finals.




Please remember when you criticize that you need to be objective, unbiased, knowledgeable and fair.


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Referees - stop cozying up to players and team officials!

Referee cozying up to playerIf there’s one thing that really annoys me it’s seeing referees “cozying” up to players and team officials. This can be seen before, during, and after matches, and particularly in the UK.


This idea that we shake hands before a game is as hypocritical as it is unnecessary and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a hypocrite.


I recently saw a referee giving a player a “hand up” in Major League Soccer before giving him a red card (see the video of the incident and how referee Juan Guzman handled the situation below).



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Independent Referee’s Body.

b2ap3_thumbnail_ifabmeeting.jpgI have long been an advocate of an Independent Referee’s Body being set up to control all matters refereeing. This Body should also manage, train, control and promote refereeing in all its forms.


It should be responsible for the recruitment, selection, and discipline of match officials for association football (soccer).


It should be free from all interference from what I call soccer politicians who sometimes appear to have their own agenda and are not thinking of the interests of men and women who go out week after week sometimes at great cost and inconvenience to themselves and their families.


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USSF & PRO politicians keep out of our game and stop interfering with the Laws of the Game!

Salazar Shows Martins Red CardLaw 5 of the FIFA Laws of the Game states quite clearly, “the decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.” I highlighted that particular part for a specific reason.


It goes on to state, “the referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.”


Now I think that is pretty clear. So I ask myself these questions:

What part of that do soccer administrators NOT understand?

Is there anything confusing about the wording?
Why are soccer politicians interfering with the Laws of the Game?


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Referee assault on player not acceptable!

Referee Assaults PlayerIt’s surely a rare occurrence when a match official attacks a player, but that is exactly what happened.


This bizarre incident occurred during a Russian League reserve game in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, a protectorate of Russia


The assistant referee (or linesman as they were once called) ran onto the field and proceeded to assault a player. In the process he (the assistant referee) actually kicked the unfortunate player while he (the player) was on the ground.


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Soccer illiterate coaches must learn the Laws of the Game.

Mike PetkeIt never ceases to amaze me the lack of knowledge shown by coaches and managers, and television commentators for that matter, when it comes to the FIFA Laws of the Game.


In a recent MLS game between New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew, the Red Bulls manager appears to have lost all sense of self control with his rather childish, but potentially dangerous and inflammatory outburst.


Mike Petke became so incensed after a penalty kick was awarded against his team that he launched into a tirade of childish petulance that is no good for him or for the game we all love so much


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Inconsistent refereeing.

b2ap3_thumbnail_kompany.jpgNancy Sinatra, the daughter of “old blue eyes” Frankie, once had a big hit song called These Boots are made for Walking. Seems like today in soccer, they are made for more than walking or kicking a ball with.


The amount of two-footed fouls, and they are fouls not tackles in the modern game is, to say the least, a serious cause for concern.


Is this a new trend?

Is this a new coaching tactic?

Is it now a new weapon in the armoury of coaches to win games?


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Why are referees explaining their decisions?

redcardThere are a few items I'd like to deal with in this column. Firstly, the issue of referees apologising for making perceived mistakes.


Now this may be all well and good in other circumstances but it does not apply to soccer refereeing.


Yes, it's true that match officials make mistakes and, guess what, they'll continue to make mistakes because they are like you and me - human. However, in the hurly-burly that is modern day football, it isn't necessary to apologise for making a mistake.


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Referees - just do your job!

Johnson kneeRecently I sat down and watched some highlights of games from the MLS on ESPN.


I live in the Emerald Isle or the Republic of Ireland as we are formally known.


With the advent of satellite it’s great that we are able to access sport from other countries around the world.


I’ve spent a long time both on the field of play with the whistle, and off the field of play as an administrator and coach and mentor to up-and-coming referees up to, and including, World cup level.


It’s interesting to see how other referees perform (and I am specifically talking about refereeing).

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