Every honest football fan knows he or she has occasionally howled at referees and linesmen only for the contentious decision to be proved to be flawless. Every honest footballer knows his entirely subjective view of an incident may not be accurate. And we all know footballers make many more costly mistakes than officials.
Yet weekend after weekend, there is the closest scrutiny of judgements seen as plain wrong, debatable or merely unpopular with one set of fans or the other.
As the season reaches the time when vital points are at stake, at both ends of all divisions and in decisive cup ties, controversy inevitably become more intense.
Oh how the Norwich fans raged at Andre Marriner in our game, convinced poor Andre Wisdom was the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice when his challenge on Fabio Borini led to a penalty and Sunderland’s first goal.
Howard Webb, now retired and doing a spot of punditry, ended that argument with the observation that had Wisdom’s offending foot been any higher, he’d have been off he field (as Borini might have been, too, heading in his case for A&E).
How they roared with disapproval again as Dieumerci Mbokani won nothing after going down like a stone at minimal contact from Kaboul, probably paying the price for just one too many optimistic tumble in the box by desperate Norwich players.
Over at Leicester, referee Jon Moss’s efforts were judged at Facebook by a Foxes-supporting former colleague of mine, James Bennett, as “one of the worst refereeing performances of the entire Premier League era”.
Was James’s gripe with the last-gasp penalty equaliser that had West Ham’s Andy Carroll oafishly claiming Moss’s decision was “not acceptable”. Or was he angry that Leicester defenders, notably Robert Huth, had got away for so long with fouling Hammers’ players in the box before a penalty was awarded?
No, he was not. He was angered only by decisions that went against City, and in particular the sending off of Jamie Vardy, who lost some of the massive respect his goalscoring has won him this season after his furious reaction to the red card.
As for the second yellow, Graham Poll – also now commenting on the breed of refs who succeeded him in the Premier – had this to say: “Angelo Ogbonna did raise an arm but it was Vardy who sought contact with Ogbonna’s legs and then clearly dived to try and win a penalty. Moss 100 per cent correct.”
The first Vardy booking? “Correct – perhaps harsh but the timing of Vardy’s challenge was ill advised.”
Poll conceded that each team might have been awarded a penalty before the incidents that did lead to spot kicks, starting with Huth blocking Winston Reid with his forearm seconds before Leicester’s opener. So Moss got some things right, some wrong: “didn’t make any howling errors but did have a really tough afternoon,” as Poll put it.
I do not blame James Bennett or the Norwich fans. I have left countless games convinced of injustice against Sunderland – with Webb and Poll among the perceived culprits – and on some of those occasions, my anger has been shown by television to have been completely misplaced.
And the spot-on penalty aside, Marriner – hitherto a referee Sunderland fans dreaded seeing as the choice for important games – was uncommonly kind on some marginal decisions.
We occasionally hear at Salut! Sunderland from Dr Tom Webb, a senior lecturer in sports management and development at the University of Portsmouth, on football issues.
Here are his fresh thoughts after another weekend of controversy: “It is nothing new to see referees under scrutiny and under pressure, however much of this situation appears to have been of their own making. The movement of referees from allocated matches provided unnecessary scrutiny prior to any football been played, or any referee decisions analysed.
“Referee decisions will always be subject to scrutiny, but we should remember that the majority of the laws of the game are subjective and that is why they often create talking points.
“However, research has shown that this scrutiny from the media is nothing new and when we move into the end points of the season the games mean that much more, and there is even more at stake.
“We have to go back to the systems, training and support that is in place for the referees rather than criticise individuals in this scenario. We need to better understand how decisions have been arrived at, how and why referees are performing as they are and what can be done differently if change is deemed necessary – merely criticising and focusing on one match official will only give so much information.”
One respectable point of view is that disputed decisions are probably quite healthy for the game, which thrives on the cut and thrust of partisan banter as well as cool-headed analysis. Another is that dodgy calls tend to even themselves out over any given season.
Either way, supporters the world over are certain to go on believing the man in the middle doesn’t know he’s doing.
And TV does not always remove doubt; I have watched the Vardy dive, or Ogbonna foul as you prefer, several times and am still not 100 per cent sure. Only Vardy has that degree of certainty about his intention. If he was genuinely and unfairly knocked off balance, he is entitled to his bitterness and if he was not, he failed in an act of downright cheating that would otherwise have gained an unwarranted penalty and caused a fellow-professional to be shown the red.