Why reality TV-style fan voting will get refs to stop thinking of their image and start doing their jobs
We all know that football fans when whipped into a mob frenzy can take banality to frightening heights.
Sustained cancerous abuse is yelled at players, yet if the subject reacts, they cry to the police about the psychological damage visited on the child who's sat next to them troughout their bile-fest.
They rampage through towns after World Cup exits setting fire to BMWs, simply because they were made by Germans. They even tweet hate messages to cyclist Chris Hoy for having the audacity to be christened with a name like referee Chris Foy.
All indefensible. Except, maybe, for the last one. Because if any of those tweeters were dyslexic, and genuinely thought Hoy spelt Foy, they'd every right to vent their spleen.
How could a Spurs fan watch the tragedy of errors that stole the game from them at Stoke and not want to unleash rage? Isn't that the point of modern social networks like Twitter? Surely referees, who have never been so tuned in to popular culture, realise that.
These are men who clearly believe, like the X-Factor and Strictly judges, that they are bigger than the acts. The Mark Clattenbergs and Mike Deans are The Greatest Show on Earth's (copyright Premier League) answer to Kelly Rowland and Bruno Tonioli.
Men who think the viewing public tune into Match of The Day as much to see Phil Dowd as Phil Jagielka.
Watch them arrogantly strut around, waving away the protestors with contempt, pouting and pontificating, enjoying being the centre of the controversy. Listen to them enjoying talking down to players, relishing their power over household name stars.
My favourite came last year when the cameras caught Phil Dowd proclaiming "not on my watch." Well, what celebrity judge worth his salt doesn't have a catch-phrase?
Harry Redknapp says the solution to the spate of diabolical performances is to have two referees, but that would only lead to double trouble. Ideally they need two heads, to carry their outsized egos.
Because their decision-making process is no longer instinctive or natural. It is based on thinking "how will I look if I call this wrong?"
They err on the side of what is least likely to make them look stupid. Any glimpse of a stud in a tackle, even though a player cleanly wins the ball (like Jack Rodwell and Jay Spearing) makes them reach for a red card.
A nippy player goes down in the box (David Silva against Chelsea) and despite it looking a certain pen, there's no way they're risking looking like they were conned. Especially by a diving foreigner.
There are calls to put refs in front of cameras to explain their decisions, but further spotlight exposure isn't the answer. Does Louis Walsh love or hate being the focal point of controversy? Exactly. Give it a few months and Howard Webb would have an eye-bag job and sport a new thatch.
No, the answer lies in playing them at their own X-Factor game. Every weekend let the public vote off the worst performer. Let's not worry about reputations, or who technically played it by the book. Let's judge which judge is most out-of-step with refereeing in the true spirit of the game.
Let's relegate them to lower leagues for a month, giving them a dose of humility and the chance to remember, away from the cameras, that they're not paid to be Gary Barlow but an invisible man in black.