Halsey on refs, technology and simulation
Mark Halsey discusses referees, technology, simulation and the future of officiating in this Q&A
By Mark Holmes
Last Updated: 12/08/14 9:20pm
Mark Halsey discusses referees, technology, simulation and the future of officiating in this Q&A with Mark Holmes.
When a footballer makes a mistake that leads to a goal, little is said. He will be criticised by pundits and no doubt lambasted by fans in the pub that evening but one mistake will not lose him the support of his team-mates and manager. And by the time he turns out next, it will all be forgotten.
For referees, however, the story is quite different. They may be paid considerably less than the players they oversee but make an incorrect call that affects the game and they can be sure to expect the wrath of the losing team's manager, players and fans, not to mention the pundits, who are never too quick to point out the mistakes made by the men in the middle. After, of course, they have had the benefit of several slow-motion replays.
Make no mistake about it, referees have one of the hardest and least forgiving jobs in football.
Mark Holmes: It is often said that referees have to be 100% certain to make a decision but, given the speed of the game and the fact that you get only one look at the incident, how difficult is that? What are the key things you take into consideration to make a big penalty call, for example?
Mark Halsey: If you're looking at a penalty decision, if you're not 100% sure you can't guess, you can't give it. But you look at signs; you look at where the challenge goes in, when the defender makes the challenge, what direction does the ball go. If he plays the ball, the ball will go in a certain direction.
Or if a forward is in front of a defender going into the box with the ball at his feet (and is brought down), nine and a half times out of 10 you'll know that that's a penalty. But if you've got a player bursting into the box side by side with a defender and he goes down you know it can't be a penalty because they're both jostling for the ball.
So there are tell-tale signs that you can look at, but if you're not sure you don't guess and you don't give it.
Mark Holmes: Would you take into account the reputation of the players involved? For example, might you think twice about giving a penalty for a player that has a history of going down too easily?
Mark Halsey: Of course. Simulation is a disease in the game that we want rid of.
You look at players - because in the Premier League you're refereeing the same teams all the time - and if someone has simulated and won a penalty, the next game you referee that person you've got it in the back of your mind that if he goes down in the box that I'm not going to give a penalty.
Sometimes that does weigh on your mind. You think he's gone down in the box, he's done me before, I'm not giving that. But what you should do as a referee is treat each incident on its merits, and that's how you have to referee. Put all preconceptions to one side and treat each incident on its merits.
What you generally do is say - I've said to many players, 'you've conned me then, do it again today and I'll deal with you', and then they've never done in that game.
I remember refereeing a match at Anfield between Liverpool and Man United and before kick-off I walked past Ronaldo and said 'don't you be going down easily today because you'll get nothing out of me whatsoever'. He just smiled.
But the first time he went down I didn't give it. I think it possibly was a foul but because he went down too easily I didn't give it. I said 'I told you' and after that he never tried it again. Players know the referees and they know what they can get away with.
We saw it at the World Cup when Arjen Robben won the penalty against Mexico. There was an incident in the first half when Robben simulated and the referee acknowledged it but played an advantage to Mexico. You don't play advantage there, you deal with it. You stop the game and you caution Robben.
Once Robben knew he wasn't being cautioned for simulation he knew he would get away with it for the rest of the game. And he did! He did it on three or four occasions and then he won the penalty, which wasn't a penalty.
Mark Holmes: Is it harder to give big decisions at grounds like Anfield, in key games that could affect the title race, than it is in games between two mid-table sides that aren't likely to get the same amount of coverage?
Mark Halsey: Every game is a big game whether you're refereeing in League One, League Two or the Premier League. You treat each game the same.
For me to give a penalty I always wanted to be 110% sure. If I was only 90% then I wouldn't give it because it's a match-changing decision. I'd rather be wrong in not giving a penalty that should have been than giving a penalty that wasn't. And a lot of the referees work on that.
It's all about getting the big decisions right. Referees want to get them correct because they know it'll affect the result if they get them wrong. It'll be talked about in the media all week and you just want to come out unscathed.
When we (referees) went on our training camps, we all used to say that if we could find another job that paid the same money we'd pack in tomorrow because the pressures on referees now are so great.
Mark Holmes: One thing that most people do sympathise with referees about is the surrounding of them by players. Is that something you'd like to see clamped down on?
Mark Halsey: I never used to get players surrounding me that much. Players know the referees. You've got to earn their respect and that takes a while. If players feel that you're mentally tough then it's not a problem and you don't really notice if you do get surrounded.
You've got to be strong. You're never going to stop players surrounding you but what the referee has got to do to combat that is to show strong body language, a strong physical presence and be mentally tough. And the players soon disperse.
You would like to see perhaps just the captain (speaking to the referee) but I think it's just part of the game today when players want to come and say something. Perhaps it's down to the FA. If five or more players surround the referee that club can be charged by the FA with failing to control their players.
Mark Holmes: Howard Webb is to explain some key decisions this season in his new role. Would you have liked the opportunity to speak to the media after a game to explain why you came to certain decisions?
Mark Halsey: Yeah, as long as you're talking about that game and you don't go down the lines of talking about a decision a referee made in a totally different game. As long as it's about that game, those 90 minutes, I don't see that as a problem, it can only be good for the game. As long as the questions are asked in the right manner.
Mark Holmes: Where do you stand on retrospective punishment? Would you like to see more of it or are you against matches being 're-refereed'?
Mark Halsey: We saw some instances last season where some players got charged and some didn't. The FA has got to be consistent right across the board. But I think it's a good thing for the game because there's no hiding place. Players have got responsibilities. And managers. They've got a lot of young children watching the product, it's a fantastic product, and we need to keep it like that.
Mark Holmes: So you wouldn't have an issue with the FA punishing a player that you'd not punished at the time, even if you were confident in your decision?
Mark Halsey: You don't guess so if you're unsure you keep that player on the pitch. In real time things look different and it's very difficult because the whole picture changes.
With the denial of a goalscoring opportunity, for example, when you look at it in slow-mo, you stop the game and can see straight away that yes, it was the denial of a goalscoring opportunity.
But if you don't blow the whistle immediately everything moves on a second or two and the whole picture changes so it's very difficult for a referee to judge. Where was the forward, where were the defenders, would he have regained control of the ball, was it the denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity? All of those things would go through a referee's mind when he makes that decision.
It's the same with a challenge. Is it a careless challenge, which is just a free-kick and nothing else, is it a reckless challenge which is a free-kick and a yellow card, or is it a challenge which used excessive force and the player was out of control?
Excessive force is a red card. But it's real time and what a referee has got to judge is, has the player got any chance of playing the ball, was he out of control with his actions, was he at speed, was he off the ground?
If the referee feels that he's endangering the player's safety with excessive force and brutality then it's a red card, but it's very difficult and that's what he's got to decide in that instant second.
Mark Holmes: With that in mind, where do you stand on the techology debate?
Mark Halsey: Anything that enhances the decision making of a referee has got to be good for the game. Football is a massive business, and a referee's decision can see managers sacked, teams relegated, teams winning finals and getting into the Champions League.
I think now technology has to be used. It's used in every other sport but football is the biggest sport in the world. Technology should be enhancing it and making the referee's job easier.
I think it should be used for all big key match incidents. If we'd used it last season we'd have probably seen most wrong decisions put right straight away.
There was an incident against West Brom when Chelsea got that equaliser with a penalty. If that have had gone upstairs (to a video referee) they'd have come back and said 'that's not a penalty, it's a caution for Ramires for simulation'.
You look at Willian when he got sent off at Aston Villa for a second yellow card. It was never a second yellow card, it was just a free-kick. You look at Chelsea-Arsenal when Gibbs was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity with a handball. He got the wrong player. It should have been Oxlade-Chamberlain. You'd have seen from looking at technology that it was only a yellow card for a deliberate handball, it was not a denial because the ball was going wide.
I think anything that enhances the decision-making of a referee has got to be good for the game and I think referees would buy into that and take that on board.
Mark Holmes: You mentioned simulation; given the speed the game is played at and the fact that some players go down very easily whereas others like to try to stay on their feet, just how hard is it to determine what is and isn't a foul?
Mark Halsey: It's difficult. You look at Gareth Bale and when he was in the Premier League he was sometimes cautioned wrongly. When you're going through with lots of pace, any slight of contact does knock you down.
If there was any sort of contact I would never caution a player. Not every contact is a free-kick or penalty. It's a contact sport and we've got to be aware of that.
It is very, very difficult for referees to judge but sometimes referees are cautioning players to justify their decisions. You don't need to do that. What's wrong with someone going into the box, going down under a bit of contact, and you give nothing, just play on.
The media doesn't help as when player goes down they think he should be cautioned. That's not the case. We need to educate the media more and perhaps that's what Howard may well do. Every bit of contact doesn't mean to say it's a foul or penalty.
Mark Holmes: Something else that gets a lot of people talking is the pushing, pulling, holding and so on that you see in penalty areas at corners, but it must be so difficult to give penalties in those incidents when there is so much going on?
Mark Halsey: It does annoy spectators but at any level there is an expected amount that goes on inside and outside of the box.
Sometimes you'll see a free-kick given on the halfway line for a pull but not in the box. Why, because no-one complains about a cheap free-kick on the halfway line, but get into the box and a cheap free-kick becomes a penalty, and that's when you get complaints. So that's why you get things given outside and not inside because the consequences are massive.
But there is an accepted level that goes on within the penalty area and all of the players know that. You have to allow that because you can't be constantly blowing up for free-kicks and penalties for things like that.
There's an acceptable level that goes on that you have to allow but the ones you don't let go are when someone has got his arms right around a player. Those you want to see given as penalties and rightly so.
Mark Holmes: Are there any other particular issues you think need resolving?
Mark Halsey: I think there needs to be a complete overhaul in coaching systems for refereeing at the top because we don't know where our next referee is coming from.
It really is important that we keep our top ex-referees involved in the game. It can only be a good thing with Howard; he was a world-class referee and hopefully he can come in and find the next generation of referees because we've got the likes of Chris Foy and Phil Dowd that are at the end of their careers. We do need a complete overhaul of the way we look at referees at the moment and the way we train and coach our referees.
Earlier this summer, Mark Halsey walked from Lands End to John o' Groats in 12 days to raise money for the Steve Prescott Foundation. You can make a donation here. You can also buy his book, 'Added Time: Surviving Cancer, Death Threats and the Premier League'.