CENTRAL PARK on persons with flags

I’m getting absolutely fed up with the antics of linesmen and referees and the way they go about their business. Part of me thinks that it is not necessarily their fault, but they have done precious little to help themselves over the years, and it is about time they started sticking up for themselves as a body, even to the point of starting their own union if they haven’t already got one.

The laws of the game haven’t changed very much since they were formulated all those years ago and one of the most basic is that the referee makes every decision (unless of course the team of a certain purple- nosed Scotsman is involved, in which case all bets are off). In the discharge of his duties the referee has the help of two linesmen who offer their opinion mainly on possible off-side, throw-ins and corner kicks but also on anything else that catches their eye that they think the referee might want to know about.

" it seems to me, from my vantage point in the Town End, that the lads on the Mill House terraces are letting linesmen off pretty lightly these days."When I first went to ‘Pools, more than sixty years ago, all the above was understood by everybody in the ground. Sometimes the linesman would indicate that a throw in should be taken by one team only for the referee to indicate that it should be taken by their opponents. When this happened there would be occasional barracking from the crowd, depending on whose side they were on, and the game would continue as directed by the referee. No problem you might think. Two grown men seeing things, literally from different angles, having a civilised difference of opinion with one accepting the authority of the other as clearly stated in the laws.

All going well then, until some clown, round about the1980s, thought he would improve things by removing any indication that the referee and linesman might not have seen things the same way no matter their different vantage points. Much to the howls of derision from the crowd it became the practice for linesmen (by the way Sepp, you can KMBFA and then sod-off, they will always be linesmen to me – even when they are women) to indicate the throw in for one team and then immediately signal in favour of the other team if the referee disagreed with him. No matter how quickly the flag changed direction the crowd could plainly see that the linesman had formed a different opinion to the referee and had been overruled.

Why they should do this is beyond me. Why doesn’t the linesman simply put his flag down by his side in such circumstances and let the game proceed in the way that the referee has directed instead of being made to look like an old style communist admitting his crimes against the proletariat?

If that wasn’t bad enough the authorities have contrived to make things even worse.

With the exception of ‘off-side’ we now have the situation in many games where the linesman doesn’t give any signal at all until he sees what the referee has decided and then he indicates his agreement with the referee.

This can happen when the linesman might be fifteen yards from the incident and the referee about forty-five yards away.

We see the referee taking his time to make his mind up and then the linesman indicating his agreement which leads the crowd to think that the linesman hasn’t been watching or doesn’t have a clue what is going on, which isn’t always the case.

So where there has been a controversial decision given against the home team the referee sprints off to follow the game leaving the linesman to run the gauntlet of the home fans where he can hear every word of disapproval.

I have even seen incidents when the referee awards a penalty and then the linesman holds his flag across his chest to show that he too now believes a penalty should be awarded, even though he had not signalled to this effect when the incident occurred. It seems that the ref only consults the linesman when he doesn’t know what to give and at that point brings the linesman into it.

For the more unscrupulous referees, and there is no shortage of such, this is a good way to pass the blame to the linesman for any decision likely to incense the home crowd.

One good example of this is the first leg of the play-off final against the ‘legion of the damned’ in 2000. One of our players was through on goal when he was brought down by a tackle by Craig Liddle. The referee could have given a free kick and let play re-start. Or he could have given a free kick and shown a red card to the offender. As it was he made a great display of consulting his linesman on whether or not the offender was the ‘last man’ and ended up giving a free kick and showing a yellow card. After all the palarver it was obvious to the Hartlepool crowd just who was responsible for Craig Liddle staying on the pitch –to then score a goal against us later on. (Just for the record it was my opinion that the correct decision would have been a free kick and no card at all).

Then there was that silly little man with the black moustache; not Charlie, not Adolph, but Kevin – Lynch that is. I remember the match against you know who in 1997 when Joe Allon scored in injury time in front of the tin shed to win the game for us. Kevin had been giving decisions all afternoon but when that one hit the net he spent an age staring at his linesman willing him to indicate that the goal should not be given, before reluctantly pointing to the centre spot. His indecision was probably because the goal was so late in the game and meant so much to the outcome of the season that he wanted to be absolutely right. Either that or he was remembering some of the comments that had been directed his way in the past at Victoria Park and wanted to get his own back. I’m probably going too far here. After all no referee would be so small minded as to deliberately give bad decisions against a team because he had a grudge against them, would he Mr. Stretton?

Why am I going on about this apparent lack of any disagreement between the lineman and the referee? Because it bloody irritates me - that’s why. Moreover it also irritates the rest of the crowd and brings down unwarranted abuse on the linesman: this latter is not a phrase I use very often, or lightly.

While I’m on the topic of abuse of linesmen it seems to me, from my vantage point in the Town End, that the lads on the Mill House terraces are letting linesmen off pretty lightly these days. I seem to remember that when I stood in that area there was a constant stream of criticism directed at the man with the flag (even when he was right) in order to disorientate him so that we might gain some small advantage for the lads on the pitch. Definitely an area for improvement I think.

Well I’ve made my feelings known but will any change for the better come of it? Not a chance. Still I feel a bit better now that I’ve got it off my chest.