WHEN the season is over and clubs and players sit down to assess the more contentious issues of the 1997-98 campaign, I hope referees and their masters do exactly the same.After all, we are in the same entertainment business, we want the same things, or at least we should, and we all strive to be successful. But I do wonder sometimes whether referees and the powers that be are on the same wavelength as the players and clubs they rule over.
The ones who are always seeking to alter the laws sit in their little red rooms thinking about how to change the game when there really is no need.
There is nothing basically wrong that consistency and common sense cannot put right, so why on earth do we need to be constantly tinkering with the beautiful game, changing the laws and, I’m sorry to say, the face of football?
I found myself asking the same question over and over after our 4-1 defeat at Cambridge. That match turned against us after Tony Bird had been sent off.
Now I’m not condoning what he did, although I have to say he did not throw mud directly in the linesman’s face, but at its worst surely what Birdie did was only a yellow card offence.
On Sunday I watched the Coventry-Liverpool match and there were a number of challenges which went unpunished. That’s what I mean about the lack of consistency which is sweeping through the game more and more.
We’ve had players sent off for some of the tackles you saw in that match and yet, apart from one dismissal, I cannot recall any of my players being sent off for a bad tackle.
But we have still had nine dismissals and a stack of cautions this season. It’s a poor record, and I’m sure a lot of people look at me and think it’s because I’m a former Wimbledon player.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I am far from happy with our disciplinary record, but a lot of those bookings have really been for trivial offences.
That’s why managers like myself keeping calling for consistency and common sense. At the moment there simply isn’t any in the Nationwide League.
On Easter Monday we had a ref who did not book one player when he could easily have done so, but he has been in charge of our games before and has yet to book a player.
In other games, refs issue yellow cards at the drop of a hat. It’s a very worrying trend which is only going to get worse when they make the tackle from behind a red card offence from next season.
I’ve said it before in this column: fans will not pay to watch games of eight a side which could easily happen if you get a rigid ref who plays it by the book.
The new ones certainly stick to the letter of the law, like Mike Dean at Cambridge, and if that happens next season there is going to be chaos.
What they all forget is that they are dealing with the livelihoods of players. At the end of the day, if there were no players they would not have jobs and the way the game is going, with the growing prospect of uneven matches, there won’t be any crowds either.
Referees have to gain experience, I accept that, and handling our matches in the lower divisions is the obvious way to learn. But at some stage during that learning process they have to apply common sense when they are out in the middle.
If they don’t, I can see myself banging on the referees’ door quite a lot next season and that is not a prospect I particularly look forward to.