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Our Referees will improve when we do



(c)copyright 1998

Saturday April 25, 1998

AS WE ALL look forward to another weekend of action in the Craven A Semi-Professional Football League (SPFL), fans at Sunday's games should take time to consider that more than just the players and teams will be on show. It is only for the good of the game that the Independent seeks to remind everyone that this season is not only a yardstick for the various clubs and administrators to display their competence and mettle prior to next year's fully professional league. It was also supposed to be a test of the elite band of referees the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association has put in charge of top level games prior to the start of this season. Such a group, according to T&TFA president Oliver Camps, was formed in response to widespread complaints surrounding the poor standard of officiating last season.
It is not a fixed group Camps said, with changes likely to occur should certain referees not perform up-to-par. On the basis of what has been seen so far this season, it seems that a lot of officials from the lower echelons of the local football structure will be getting their opportunity in the big time. During both the Champions' League tournament and the first few weeks of the 1998 SPFL players, coaches, fans and journalists alike have expressed open derision with the appalling mistakes made by the men with the whistles and flags. Clear off-sides have not been called, fouls have gone unpunished and even free-kicks have been awarded for non-existent fouls.

An instance of the latter took place during what had to be the worst refereeing performance of the season and, it directly affected the fortunes of one of the teams in the Champions' League final on March 25. In the 33rd minute, Defence Force full-back, Waldron Bishop, made a challenge for the ball on Joe Public midfielder Stokeley Mason on the left side, some 20 metres out from the Defence Force goal. Mason simply went down from the weight of the tackle but, to the raucous consternation of all at the Centre of Excellence in Tunapuna, Robin Murray awarded a free-kick to Joe Public. It was from this kick -- taken by Mason himself -- that the ball eventually landed at the feet of team mate Travis Mulraine, whose shot was partially held by Defence Force goalkeeper Hayden Thomas, with Joe Public's Sierra Leonian striker, Unisa Conteh pouncing on the rebound to put Joe Public 2-0 up. Defence Force eventually scored twice to equalize at 2-2 but the game went to a penalty shoot-out which was won by Joe Public. But, how might things have turned out had Joe Public not been awarded that free-kick and, consequently, the second goal?

Things did not improve following the start of the SPFL two days later. The April 3 match-up between San Juan Jabloteh and Fire Services at San Juan Senior Comprehensive should have given the authorities more cause for alarm. Chief amongst a series of calls that upset the home team officials was Lyndon Lara's decision to disallow a goal by Alvin Boisson after being called over by assistant Bevon Spencer while on his way back upfield; after initially awarding the goal and pointing to the centre spot. The worst part about this is that it could soon become an international problem, especially since many of the top local officials nowadays hold FIFA badges. Even the chosen two - World Cup selectees Ramesh Ramdhan and Merere Gonzalez, have not been immune to the current epidemic. This was abundantly manifested in last Wednesday's SPFL match-up between Caledonia AIA and Joe Public at the Centre of Excellence. Several times during the game referee's assistant Gonzalez did not put up his flag when there were lucid off-sides. On one such occasion, Joe Public's Arnold Dwarika was behind the last defender when he collected the ball on the left and crossed for Travis Mulraine to head in his team's second goal.
Another major incident occurred in the 66th minute when both Ramdhan and Gonzalez appeared to have been influenced by Irasto Knights' celebrations, even though the ball did not appear to have crossed the line after it came down from the crossbar, following the Caledonia forward's shot.

What is going to happen in France, in just 45 days' time? Will such erroneous decisions be repeated at the world's greatest single sporting event? While the World Cup has always been a celebration of football and great players, one should realize that the welfare of such players and, more importantly, the teams on the whole are partially dependent on both the referees and assistants. Unfortunately, the history of the great tournament has been full of refereeing mishaps in which many top players and teams have been affected. There was the Dutch referee, during the 1982 semi-final in Sevilla who did not even show a yellow card to Harald Schumacher, after the West German goalkeeper rushed off his line and barrelled into the torso of the diminutive French midfielder Patrick Battiston, after the latter had stolen away on a break. While the unconscious Frenchman was stretchered off, minus some teeth, Schumacher remained on the field to become a hero for the Germans in the penalty shoot-out victory which put them into the final at the expense of the hapless French.
There was Benaceur, the Tunisian official who allowed Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England in a quarter-final, during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and there was the arbitrator from Mexico who, during the second round game in 1994, sent off Italy's Gianfranco Zola though Nigerian Emmanuel Amunike had slipped while being pursued by the striker.

We sincerely hope, of course, that neither Messrs Ramdhan nor Gonzales end up in this hall of shame. But, at the same time, everyone must consider that these top men are merely products of the local circumstances. There was no way that there would have been any drastic improvement in the standard of the local referees between last year and now. No way on earth. For there to be any change in the standard of refereeing, there has to be change in the circumstances. How intense are the local training courses for referees? What disciplinary action is taken against officials who do not turn up for matches? What level of football are these arbitrators exposed to? Alas, we come to the realization that football is an ecosystem -- made of various symbiotic organisms, each co-existing with each other. Whether we choose to accept it or not, the standard of refereeing is merely a reflection of the standard of the play, the standard of coaching and the standard of administration. It is only when the whole takes a step forward, that we can expect to see an improvement in the parts.

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