‘We want clarity’: Gareth Southgate fears England being targeted by referees | World Cup 2022

Gareth Southgate is concerned England could be a target for referees at the World Cup after Harry Maguire was denied what looked a clear penalty in the 6-2 win against Iran on Monday.

The England manager was uneasy at how a goalscoring clip from one of his team’s qualifying ties had been used in the referees’ briefing for the tournament as an example of foul play.

It came from the 5-0 Wembley win against Albania in November last year and showed Kalvin Phillips blocking an opponent at a free-kick to help create the space for Maguire to head home. The clip was shown to referees, all the competing nations and media.

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Southgate saw Maguire wrestled to the ground by the Iran defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi on a third-minute Kieran Trippier corner only for neither the referee nor the VAR to intervene. The manager is worried that the clip from the Albania tie could have influenced the decision and he wants to discuss the matter with Fifa. At the end of the Iran game, John Stones conceded a soft penalty for a shirt tug on Mehdi Taremi when defending a set piece.

“What worries me is we were used in an example in the referees’ video,” Southgate said. “What we were shown [in the briefing] – the incident in the first half [against Iran] … we were told that would be a definite penalty. In the second half, maybe there’s a shirt pull, we’ve got to be better on that, but I’m a bit worried we were the example shown. And then to get a decision as happened in the first half – we need some clarification really as to how it’s going to be.”

Gareth Southgate looks on during the England training session at Al Wakrah Stadium on Tuesday
Gareth Southgate oversees England training on Tuesday. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Southgate remembered how the Football Association had gone to Fifa to discuss penalty decisions after England’s opening match at the last World Cup – the 2-1 win against Tunisia. The goal they conceded was from a penalty and Southgate was aggrieved England did not get one after Harry Kane was pulled to the turf.

“It happened in Russia and we’ve got to have that dialogue with Fifa [again],” Southgate said. “We want clarity. Otherwise we don’t know where we stand. Goals are going in and we don’t know whether they stand or not. The bit that worries me is we were the example shown.”

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Kane and Maguire expected to be fit to face USA


Harry Kane and Harry Maguire are expected to be fit for England’s game against the USA on Friday, but James Maddison’s knee problem kept him out of training again on Tuesday.

There was minor concern over Kane after the striker took a heavy blow to his right ankle early in England’s 6-2 World Cup thrashing of Iran on Monday, while Maguire was substituted after complaining of feeling unwell during the second half. However both players took part in a recovery session and should start when Gareth Southgate’s side face the US.

With England’s 11 starters against Iran going through a lighter session in the gym, most of the rest of the squad worked outside at the team’s training complex. However Maddison, who was not available against Iran, was absent. The Leicester midfielder has been nursing a knee problem and is a doubt to be involved on Friday.

England had 13 outfield players training outside. Callum Wilson, who came off the bench against Iran, took part in the indoor session but is fully fit.

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Southgate also discussed the balance he wants to find between allowing his players to meet with their families in Qatar and controlling the risk of Covid transmission. Some of the players went into the stands after the Iran game to hug their loved ones.

Southgate was asked whether there had been full access to families for the England Women team during their victorious European Championship campaign in the summer. “That wasn’t quite how it was with the girls,” he replied. “Towards the end, they had to batten that down a bit more because they had a few positive cases.

“We’re going to have to monitor it throughout but also there’s this balance of the spirit and happiness of the group and the medical line of zero risk. Sometimes if you’re going to take zero risks it can kill it for everybody. We’re going to see how the next few days go and we’ve talked about maybe looking at something after the second game [against USA on Friday]. We’ve got to monitor the [Covid] rates out here as much as anything else.”

‘It is a matter of time before a British referee is killed if no action is taken’ | Football

“At half-time as I was standing in the centre circle, the player I had [sent off] during the first half approached me, started shouting in my face: ‘Why don’t you start fucking getting decisions right and you’re fucking useless.’ I replied: ‘Move away from me.’ He then pushed me three times in the chest and said: ‘What are you going to fucking do about it?’ I asked him to leave the pitch now. He then started throwing punches at me which he connected with me twice hitting me on the back of the head. I have evidence of contact.”

The above testimony formed part of a Football Association disciplinary hearing in August. It came from a referee in the Cumberland County League who had taken charge of a fixture between Whitehaven Miners Social First and Cleator Moor Celtic reserves and was assaulted. The hearing ended with Cleator Moor’s Adam Meagan being banned from all football activities for seven and a half years. It was a draconian sentence, but one that many within the grassroots game would consider not tough enough.

There is an epidemic of abuse against referees and linesmen in England. Last season 380 players were banned by the FA for attacking or threatening match officials. The Merseyside Youth League cancelled a round of fixtures last weekend in response to “multiple incidents of inappropriate and threatening behaviour” on the part not of players but those watching from the sidelines. In response, the FA announced a trial that would allow referees to wear body cameras to capture evidence against assailants.

The FA observes that incidents of assault on referees remain uncommon, that ‘serious cases’ – which take in not only assault but abuse and discrimination – have been reported at just over one in 1,000 matches this season, to the end of September. But the fact that anyone should be in fear of their safety for doing something that – at grassroots level – effectively amounts to community work remains a serious concern.

“We’re seeing a rise in reports asking us for direction,” says Paul Kirton of Team Grassroots, which provides support to community football clubs. “You’ve seen a rise not only in incidents but in the severity of incidents, and the biggest concern could be the incidents that go unreported.”

Like the FA, Team Grassroots has launched a campaign – No Ref, No Game – to raise awareness of abuse and tackle it. For Kirton, what must emerge is a new consensus on what is acceptable, be it from players, coaches or – especially relevant at youth games – spectators, most of whom are parents.

Jürgen Klopp screams at assistant referee Gary Beswick during Liverpool’s match against Manchester City.
Jürgen Klopp screams at assistant referee Gary Beswick during Liverpool’s match against Manchester City. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

“Perspective in grassroots football is everything,” Kirton says. “One person’s good tackle is another’s red card. We’re at a bit of a crossroads now, however, and need to have difficult conversations that reset the lines of what is appropriate. When those lines are breached we need the penalties to have teeth to bite harder, but personal responsibility has to be at the heart of whatever we choose to do.”

Dr Jamie Cleland is an academic who conducts research into socio-cultural issues in sport and was the co-author of a book that tried to grapple with the issue of referee abuse last year. He argues that the situation facing grassroots referees cannot be separated from the regular criticism officials receive in the professional game. With Jürgen Klopp’s fury at the assistant referee Gary Beswick only the latest example, an outburst that has left the Liverpool manager facing a disciplinary charge, Cleland’s reading of the situation is not a rosy one.

“It is clear that referees continue to face regular incidents of verbal abuse and, on some occasions, physical abuse,” he says. “Whilst the incidents of high-profile managers berating match officials make headlines, the reality is that they do no favours for those referees on pitches up and down the country. They are in such a vulnerable position with no protection from security and police. It is only a matter of time before we see a British referee killed if no action is taken to try and stamp this out. It has happened in other countries so why will it not happen here? We should not be naive about this.”

Referees have been killed after players took issue with their decisions in Canada and El Salvador this year, and Cleland argues that the tribal nature of football – amongst players, supporters and even parents – means officials are considered legitimate targets.

“It is hard to envisage few other scenarios across society where such abuse would be permitted, but in the world of football, where referees are outsiders but are people who have a major influence on the outcome of the match, it seems that directing one’s fury towards them is ‘fair game’.”

Cleland believes the media have a responsibility to moderate criticism of referees to help change the culture, but he argues that the consistent application of tougher sanctions will be key to lasting change. “There needs to be better support and mentoring mechanisms in place for referees at an amateur level because not enough of them have confidence in the County FAs that the reporting of incidents result in some form of sanction for the player, coach or club,” he says. “In essence, there should be zero tolerance to make football a game for all, including the role of the referee.”

The FA said last month that it was willing to consider tougher sanctions against those behaving unacceptably at grassroots matches. “We have been very clear that all forms of abuse, whether on or off the pitch, are completely unacceptable, and we will continue to do everything we can to stamp out this behaviour,” an FA spokesperson told the Guardian. “While it is a small minority of people that act in this way, this is still too many. This season the FA launched the new Enough is Enough campaign, making it clear that action will be taken against anyone whose behaviour is unacceptable.”

Why not stop hating the referee and try learning the laws of football? | Football

There’s every chance that Ice-T wasn’t talking about football when he wrote “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” in 1999. Twenty-three years later there’s still no sign of his eagerly awaited follow-up, “Don’t hate the referee, hate the Law”, but it would be useful if someone wrote it.

To hate the laws of football, you have to know what they are and it appears an increasing number of people paid to talk about the game don’t and can’t admit it when that’s the case. Fikayo Tomori’s foul on Mason Mount and red card at San Siro on Tuesday was the perfect illustration.

Despite decades of the same pundits screaming at players to stay on their feet, by doing exactly that Mount confused many into thinking Tomori’s tug on his shoulder was not enough of an infringement. Once the referee correctly deemed it a foul, then it is a red card. Tomori is not attempting to play the ball.

Just because it’s not an act of severe violence doesn’t mean it isn’t a foul. A foul can be soft and still a foul. It’s a perverse law when Tomori could have slid through the back of Mount, taken player and ball, been way more dangerous and possibly be shown a yellow card. Don’t hate the ref, hate the law.

So often you hear nonsense: “there wasn’t any intent – checks laws, can still be a foul; “there was contact” – checks laws, doesn’t have to be a foul. Here’s the extraordinary thing about the laws of football. They are freely available to read. You can get a pdf from the Ifab website if you want. It’s not a page-turner, it’s not “every bit as good as Grisham”. Lee Child and Richard Osman can rest easy.

“As many situations are subjective and match officials are human, some decisions will inevitably be wrong or cause debate and discussion” it says on the first page. “For some people, this discussion is part of the game’s enjoyment and attraction but, whether decisions are right or wrong, the ‘spirit’ of the game requires that referees’ decisions must always be respected.”

There’s a real question about whether discussing contentious decisions is “part of the game’s enjoyment”. Do fans genuinely enjoy poring over collisions in super-slo-mo or listening to radio shows and podcasts frantically trying to work out where the shoulder ends and the arm begins? There is a finite time to analyse a football match and the more time spent on that, the less time breaking down tactics, explaining why that player is free at the far post or simply enjoying a beautiful pass or turn or volley.

Watching a decision, disagreeing with it and yelling “This is the Premier League we’re talking about, something needs to be done” is easier than explaining Pep’s inverted full-backs. Even chucking a former ref in a portable building out the back and crossing to them for explanations doesn’t seem to clear anything up.

Mistakes do happen and need to be discussed. Fulham fans must still be reeling from events at the London Stadium last Sunday. But in all the fury about VAR when it isn’t perfect, no one mentions it when it overturns a mistake and is used correctly, which the stats suggest is most of the time.

Pundits and fans can be forgiven for not knowing all the laws – the ‘You Are The Ref’ feature could only have lasted for so long if we didn’t know them all. I have no issue with admitting I don’t know the handball law any more. And I’ve just read it. That isn’t an individual referee’s fault – that is Ifab’s problem. It is a mess.

Scott McTominay (centre) and Bruno Fernandes approach Mike Dean, the referee
Mike Dean was stood down from refereeing last season because of online death threats. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Perhaps the inability to admit ignorance is a consequence of the binary nature of social media where forthright, strident opinion is encouraged over anything else. “I’m not sure about that” doesn’t get a thousand retweets.

What, if anything, is the effect of all of this? Former pros misunderstand the laws, give referees stick, then social media accounts that should know better parrot these views and throw out meaningless questions such as: “Was this offside?” Any growing sense of injustice over a decision spawns all manner of conspiracy theories. There is clearly an agenda against [YOUR] club – why has the PGMOL put him in charge of that game when he was born slightly closer to their stadium?

Perhaps all this would be fine if it ended with paranoid internet football fans yelling into the void, but top referees get abuse that goes beyond any level of acceptability. Mike Dean was stood down from officiating a match after receiving online death threats last year.

And what about at grassroots? Does the conversation from the TV studio filter through social media to how officials lower down the pyramid are treated? That’s hard to quantify. But last week a 24-year-old was arrested on suspicion of the serious assault of a ref after an amateur match in Lancashire. Dave Bradshaw sustained “significant injuries” in an attack by a Platt Bridge player during a South Lancashire Counties league game against Wigan Rose.

Last season, 380 players and coaches received bans for attacking or threatening match officials in English grassroots football. This weekend, the Merseyside Youth Football League has cancelled all fixtures after “multiple incidents of inappropriate and threatening behaviour” towards officials. No refs means no football. The FA is going to trial the use of body cameras for grassroots refs to help protect them. How utterly depressing. However tangential the link, those incidents should focus the minds of all of us paid to talk about football.

No one should be above criticism, but at the moment not enough emphasis is put on the fact that it is a very difficult job, with intense pressure, and that we all mess up sometimes and so referees naturally will, whether at Old Trafford, Stockley Park or on Hackney Marshes.

Above all, if we are accusing someone of making a mistake, we should probably check the laws and be sure it was a mistake in the first place.