Words: Max Freeman-Mills 
Main Image: Offside Sports Photography

Look, there’s nothing wrong with mistakes from referees. Frankly, oversights should be ignored and sympathised with, in the most part, or we’re going to find ourselves desperately short of refs in a few years. Sure as day follows night, strikers miss chances, goalies let in howlers, and refs sometimes, shocker, get it wrong.

But there’s cocking up a little bit, and there’s professional negligence on a scale that stands the test of time, earns you a name and a blackened reputation for good. These are the fuck-ups that can barely be un-fucked; mistakes baffling enough that you’re probably due a bit of professional disdain.

Giving the wrong player a red

One of the refs on this list who successfully moved past his mistake with basically no consequences, Andre Marriner dropped a major-league bollock in 2015 when he sent off Kieran Gibbs for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s very much deliberate handball (quite a piece of movement from the Ox, actually, and if that had been going in we’d call it a decent save). Still, the outcome was actually no suspension for either Gibbs or the Ox, so we’re not sure of the lessons from this one. Other than on Marriner’s end: don’t get player’s identities mixed up, mate, don’t do it. Bad.

Seeing a goal that didn’t happen

What’s fun about this is that, in the version of events Stuart Atwell’s linesman must have thought he watched, when Reading’s John Oster has hooked the ball back across goal, it must have been a piece of delicious flair, instead of an attacker keeping the play alive. Even so, it’s hard to watch this clip and decide where exactly the supposed goal came
it must make even tougher viewing for Stuart and his pals.

Not seeing a goal that absolutely happened

Bit of a vintage look to this one, which is for the best, because, Christ on a bike, can you imagine the fuss modern players would make about it? Referee Les Mottram has not just missed the ball getting pinged in by Dundee United; he’s also missed the Partick Thistle defender catching it as it rebounds out and apologetically handing it to his goalie. All in all: they fucked it, but would you look at the civility it’s all handled with? Lovely.

Giving three yellows to one player

We all assume various sensible options, but what the ref actually writes down with their diddy pencil on a yellow card after waving it is, ultimately, a bit of a mystery to us all. You’d presume it was someone’s name. Or at least shirt number. It must be something, though, and it feels possible that Graham Poll wasn’t doing it right when he booked Croatian Josip Šimunić once, twice, then a third time at the 2006 World Cup against Australia. Fair cop to Josip, obviously, for just staying on when the red doesn’t come out.

Fully ignoring your linesman flagging for offside

The refereeing team is a carefully organised unit, but it’s not always totally cooperational. You can, as the main match day ref, choose to overrule your counterparts if you’ve got reason to believe they’re wrong. Doing this is a bold shout, though, especially when it comes to linesmen—is there really any chance at all that you’ve got a better view of the offside line than them? Their literal one job is to look at that line. Well, Ray Tinkler seemed to think so when he ignored the flag to allow Arsenal a goal against Leeds in 1971 and got himself embroiled in a spot of bother for his troubles.

Scoring a goal and then letting it stand

Giving this guy the benefit of the doubt, his body language looks to have an extremely high sheepishness quotient. MKE Ankaragücü actually got a result, a 1–0 win over Beşiktaş, when referee Ahmet Akcay accidentally headed in a cross. He’s got the grace to look embarrassed, but thankfully goes right ahead and awards the goal, like a man who knows he’s in the vice-grip of official rules. Beşiktaş look like they’re not sure who to blame, but they’re coming to the conclusion that it’s probably Ahmet Akcay. Which is fair.

Letting a ball boy score one

Laudable intentions, really, to make sure that not just the players and the refs, but even the ball boys on the sidelines get a chance to pop one in with the crowd watching and baying.
Silvia Regina de Oliveira can’t have been looking as the little tyke sidled up, touched the ball home, and then slinked away. She still awarded a goal, mind, and got suspended for her troubles, but, in fairness, if the ball’s in the net it’s in the net.

Completely losing your sense of humour

Gazza goes with a genuinely funny, nice and cheeky move, here, handing the ref back his dropped yellow card with a flourish. Good simple joke, but Dougie Smith isn’t having it
gets his card back, fishes around in his pocket, realises he’s holding the thing, and then bloody books Paul for cheek. Is this a mistake in the traditional, rule-based sense of the word? No. Is it a painful moment of jobsworth professionalism where a bit of a laugh would have made for a lovely vignette? Yeah.

Not sending a player off for a genuine assault

Ben Thatcher got a huge old ban for what was not a nice bit of play at all, the forearm smash on Pedro Mendes, but the FA caved on that because the literal, actual police said they were going to wade in if they didn’t. They weren’t really meant to be allowed to suspend him, since Dermot Gallagher, ref on the day, gave a yellow card for the challenge—one of those yellow cards that he surely regretted the actual instant he clocked it wasn’t a red. Like when you buy the wrong beer and have to sit there and drink it because the pub is too busy to kick up a fuss.

Actually kicking a player

This is the big one; condemnation central. A year ago, French ref Tony Chapron got a rush of blood to the head that you could easily argue wasn’t even all that bad, in our post-Suárez, post-Cantona world of casual violence. Then again, he quite literally kicked Nantes’ Diego Carlos after they tripped each other up on the run, before sending him off as part of the package. He’s not a ref anymore, sadly, and was given a tidy six-month ban for his troubles.

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