Liam Hoden’s Doncaster Rovers column: Don’t shoot the messenger on referee criticism

Liam Hoden column
Liam Hoden column

Common sense has prevailed – and how often can you say that in the world of football?

Darren Ferguson was handed a £1,000 fine by the FA after pleading guilty to a charge of improper conduct in relation to comments he made about match officials.

Darren Ferguson

Darren Ferguson

And, specifically, the headline-grabbing ‘shoot them’ remark.

The £1,000 fine may look lenient to some but to me it reflects the true nature of the comment.

I was sat next to Ferguson in the press room at the Keepmoat when he uttered ‘shoot them’ as a response to being asked what can be done about standards.

The comment drew chuckles from almost everyone in the room. We have heard Ferguson make similarly tongue-in-cheek remarks before, with no genuine malice involved.

Video footage of the press conference was used to illustrate Ferguson’s case in his hearing. And the FA panel responded by handing down the smallest possible fine in relation to a guilty plea.

They clearly understood the true severity – or lack thereof – in that single phrase.

And hopefully they also understand the validity of the overall conversation which he led.

The frustration Ferguson felt after the interview and the ridiculously over-the-top reaction was palpable for a good week afterwards.

As much as he knew he had drawn unnecessary attention to himself, he also knew two words had overshadowed the real point he was seeking to make.

With the non-penalty decision against Plymouth, Ferguson reached a breaking point after months of poor, costly judgements from match officials.

The fact he received plenty of support from fellow managers shows he is far from being alone in his feeling.

And anyone that has watched enough lower league football knows that his criticism of fitness levels and judgement are entirely valid.

It is not particularly the fault of the individual referees. They are not full time like their Premier League brothers – who still happen to get plenty wrong.

So it grates that there is considerable focus on the intricacies of a flawed video referee system in the top flight when further down the ladder – where the stakes are just as high in relative terms – even the basics are not where they should be.

Don’t let Ferguson’s sentiments be lost in the ‘shoot them’ comment or in the punishment he received for it.

It’s time to do something about standards.