It really is time to step in and help men in the middle

I’ve done pretty well with the amount of football I have been able to watch over the past few days.

We were in Lincoln at the weekend to visit our daughter at Uni, so we watched City v Villa in a local pub and then hot-footed it down to Sincil Bank to witness a fantastic 3-3 draw between the Mighty Imps and Stockport. It was a great advert for non-league football and was a real topsy-turvy game which also had eight bookings, a missed penalty and an equaliser for the home side in the fourth minute of added on time.

We sat near the away fans and there was some added amusement for us in seeing several of them led away for getting a bit over-zealous in taunting the home supporters.

On Sunday we then caught the best bits of Everton v Liverpool in the Uni bar and I rounded it off with the highlights of Manchester United v Chelsea in the hotel room.

Then, after getting back to Dereham, I watched the action in our Monday night five-a-side league.

My main point for mentioning all these matches is the thing they had in common.

Yes – the man in the middle formed a big part of the debate after each game.

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Surely Phil Dowd should have sent off Chris Herd for that late tackle on Wes Hoolahan? That could have given City the extra edge to help them to victory (and he could easily have given us a penalty for the first-half push by Ron Vlaar on Elliott Bennett).

The Lincoln manager’s first comments after the six-goal thriller was about the visiting keeper not being sent off when he gave away the spot kick.

Where do you start analysing the incidents involving with the two refs at Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge? And in the Norfolk Fives on Monday, the official was called all the names under the sun by several players for decisions he made.

Whether you play in the local park on a weekend morning, or watch the biggest matches in the afternoon which attract multi-million worldwide audiences, it happens so frequently that we go home talking about the man in black (or one of the other colours in the range they wear these days).

It is not a new thing and there have been countless campaigns to improve the standard of refereeing and reduce the abuse they get.

Somehow, though, the situation gets worse and if it is not dealt with we will lose more and more officials and we just won’t have enough to cover all the games.

Training for referees has to improve and more of the big decisions have to be right.

Beyond that, there has to be extra help for the man in the middle who has a thankless job. The fourth official should have told Dowd about Herd’s foul on Wes and there are so many occasions like that. We’re all fed up with talking about technology in football – let’s see it used. If pundits and fans can see replays within seconds, they have to be used to help the refs.

In addition, players and managers also have to play their part. The pressure on officials is often well over the top and players crowding around them is not acceptable.

I’m sure the example set by the professionals then finds its way down the football pyramid on to the village playing fields.

We all want to be talking about the skills and endeavours of 22 men in the two teams – not one bloke with a whistle and two cards.

Let’s hope at Carrow Road on Saturday we don’t even know Andre Marriner is there.


Have you written your Christmas list yet then?

It seems the festive decorations have been in the shops since about the time we got stuffed at Fulham.

Now that fireworks night is virtually upon us, I’m sure Yuletide ditties from Bing Crosby, Shakin’ Stevens and Maria Carey will be blaring out in the shops from any day now.

I normally refuse to get involved with anything relating to the season of goodwill until at least December 1.

However, I’m making an exception this week as I look ahead to City’s matches between now and the big day.

Last year we tucked in to turkey and pulled crackers with 21 points on the board from 17 games.

So, for anyone asking, what I want for Christmas is the same number of points by December 25, 2012.

City will have played one more game by that day this year, but I’m sure we’d all agree we’d take 21 from 18 as a basis for the survival plan.

With seven in the bag from nine matches so far, it will a tough ask.

Before the win over Arsenal, I would have said it would be nigh on impossible. The improvement we have seen since gives me grounds for hope.

Can we pick up 14 points from Stoke, Manchester United, Sunderland and Wigan at home and Reading, Everton, Sunderland, Swansea and WBA away?

The glass of sherry would taste extra sweet if we can – and it would provide a fine appetiser for the tasty two-course dinner of Chelsea and Manchester City at Carrow Road on Boxing Day and December 29.

• Hero of the week: I hold my hands up and admit I groaned (not booed) when I heard Michael Turner was playing against Arsenal. I also am delighted to say he stuck it to me and his other doubters with an excellent display alongside Seb Bassong. May he carry on going from strength to strength. Wear that hero gong with pride this week Mr Turner.

• Villain of the week: There are so many choices this week. I could name half a dozen refs, but in the light of my main piece I haven’t picked on one. Luis Suarez could be a contender, Sir Alex is never far away from a nomination and some fans may have gone for Paul Lambert (on that note, I feel he did a brilliant job at Norwich but has gone now, so I can’t worry about him any more). So my boo boy gong has to go to Villa keeper Brad Guzan. His string of fine saves cost City the first away win of the campaign and two vital points.

• Highlight of the week: Am I the only one who regularly dozes off in front of the telly on a Saturday night? No, I thought not. At least being in the Premier League gives me a better chance of watching City’s highlights than in the Championship – and when we were in League One I hardly ever bothered to try to make it through to after midnight for 20 seconds of action. Even being on Match of the Day presents me with a challenge to stay awake and so I assumed I had drifted in to slumberland when Alan Hansen praised the Canaries. And then others said they had heard it too. Great Scot, what a turn-up.

• Funniest moment of the week: I’ve seen some fairly strange things in 35 years or so of watching football. But “linesman’s boot falling apart stopped play” is a new one – and, yes, honestly it happened during the league cup match between Dereham and Yarmouth last week. Sole-destroying for the poor chap.

• Prediction of the week: Regular followers will know I can’t normally tip a waiter. So it is with a mix of a little pleasure and a huge amount of amazement I find myself top of the guess league (prediction table) among Norwich City columnists. Ok, I’m level on points with Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham and Steve Gedge, who write columns for our sister paper the EDP. I assume it’s alphabetical order which nudges me in front.