The FFA's head of refereeing, Mario Van der Ende, another Dutchman, has recommended that a European ref is brought in for key A-League matches. The FFA is considering the idea. It is a direct response to the retirement of Asia's top ref Mark Shield. Shield's last game is in his home town of Brisbane, Roar v Adelaide next Friday.
In season one I recommended to the FFA that they use marquee refs the way clubs use marquee players. In my opinion, the driver behind Van der Ende's suggestion is the reaction from fans, particularly at games, to some poor decisions by the current batch of refs.
Van der Ende's scope includes grass routes games. At the junior level the problem is not the refs but the parents of the players and sometimes coaches. Young refs can be ruthlessly hounded. Often this is done by people who don't even know the rules and have no inclination to learn (eg the offside rule). Many young refs find that it isn't worth the $15 a game and a lot drop out in their first year. At the junior level, the FFA looses more refs than it hires. It is going backwards.
I draw a line between junior matches and A-League games. Junior matches are about learning and development. The A-League is pure and simple entertainment. The learning and development at junior level is more about the development of young people as people and their decision making, it is also about exercise (which counters obesity, ill health - particularly of the mind) and creating a path that does not involve drugs, alcohol, TV, phones or computer games. Learning how to play football, for me, is a means to others ends. The A-League is just about entertainment. The better the A-League does, the more kids will want to play football and will improve their decision making, get exercise and better learning path.
In the A-League, the refs are part of the entertainment. If they make mistakes against the home team they do, and probably should, bear the brunt of the crowds struggle to get some entertainment out of a loss.
Having some A-League refs - who can't keep up with the play - are now being taken advantage of by some skilled players. Take Vaughan Coveny whose Wellington team has taken few tricks this year. He used his skill to make it look like he had been fouled in the box when he hadn't against Newcastle in Newcastle. Cristiano does this too by diving, two years ago Archie Thompson was warned to stop diving in the box. Diving and faking away from home puts home fans off. These are fans the game can ill afford to loose. From this perspective, something has to be done about ref quality.
In the youth game, young refs need an older mentor to debrief them on their experience so they can learn and do better next time. As well as deal with parents who think that their children are already playing for the A-League or Socceroos. For these refs, doing better means learning to make better decisions. We want more kids to grow into adults that make better decisions - for driving cars, at work, for voting. Parents, with a short myopic view on their child's success in one game, miss the development potential.
I tell my players not to worry about ref decisions. In every game there will be mistakes. In season one I recommended video refing. For junior football I don't see the point. Kids need to learn how to deal with authority figures that make mistakes. In life this happens all the time. As Dickens wrote 'my dear boy, only a fool would believe that life is fair.' I tell kids that it is their 'bouncebackability' that matters, what they do next, what decisions they make in the face of others errors that counts. In our world they need resilience, not immediate justice. Learning to differentiate to between an injustice in a sport - which should matter little to a life, and knowing that you also could be wrong - and major injustices, like racism - is the key point.