Seasoned FIFA official Andrew Davey says the Northern Ireland referees have never faced tougher working conditions than in today’s game, but he insists his team is up to the task.
Earlier this year, Northern Ireland Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor sparked a heated debate when he raised concerns about refereeing standards in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.
He stated: “Refereeing is a threat to the League and one of the main problems that I have for the development of the League, but we must help and support the referees. Players and managers have a role to play in this.”
A number of senior Premier League managers have criticized the refereeing and Lawlor spoke to fellow Irish Football Association Patrick Nelson about the pressing issue.
With the return of the Charity Shield featuring Linfield and the Crusaders at Windsor Park tonight (3pm) and a new Premier League season starting Friday night, referees are back in the spotlight and Davey, who is also a refereeing development specialist at the Irish Football Association , says that his team is hot like never before.
“Game streaming and increased media coverage, including social media, shows when mistakes happen and everyone sees it,” a spokesperson for Bangor said.
“This is a challenge for us because there is so much media attention on the game. So we need to step up like everyone else.”
Davey added: “This is a serious issue and we are the worst group of referees the League has ever had because of the scrutiny we have.
“We try to encourage dialogue, but as with any working relationship, some people will be more outgoing and open to conversation than others. It will always be like this, but we need to keep in touch with the managers, this has started and we need to develop it.”
It is generally accepted that players’ fitness levels have improved and the modern game is faster than ever.
Davey, who attended the opening of the Premier League this week in Belfast, admits that the transition to full-fledged football presents another challenge for referees.
“The constant element of the game made it unique for everyone, including the referees,” he said. “It’s a very different game than when I started about 10 years ago.
“This is a challenge for us, we want to be part of the football family and while we are talking about 12 teams in the premier league I am talking about 13 teams as we have a team of officials. We want to be a part of the League’s growth and development.”
NIFL CEO Lawlor is hopeful that officials will get the support they need to resolve further internal game differences.
“I attended the refereeing conference before the campaign, they had a pre-season meeting and I was happy to be there,” said the former chairman of Cliftonville. “The referees last season had a difficult start but they finished the season very well and we have to give them credit.
“It’s about transparency, openness and communication. They noticed this and Trevor Mutray (head of refereeing at the Irish Football Association) said let’s build on the good results in the big games and continue without argument.
“Our commitment is to continue to work together and support the judges. It is one of the most difficult professions in football and I hope we can all come together to help them develop.”
Lawlor added that he hopes the Irish Football Association will continue to provide referees with all the advice and support they need, especially at a time when the game is looking to become more professional.
“There should also be a plan from the Irish Football Association for the future development of refereeing, especially if we want to have a big full-fledged league,” he added. “But I would commend the judges for their performance in the second half of the season and hopefully it continues.”
When the IFA released their Roadmap for Football – Irish Football Association Corporate Strategy 2022-2027 earlier this year, Association Chief Executive Nelson acknowledged that training is as good as it gets and we will work with our team of referees to it is happened.
“We will also be working with other stakeholders such as the Northern Ireland Referees Association and it is important that the word ‘respect’ continues to be heard. We will look at what respect means and the need for a campaign that goes both ways, spanning all of football and focusing on refereeing.”
Considered one of the promising referees, Chris Morrison will headline today’s Shield clash at Windsor.