Ask Jenna

You have questions. I have answers.

1.) Is <insert referee here> a <insert team here> fan?
It is a peculiar aspect of footballing physics that, inevitably, every referee – on any given day – is a fan of the team opposing yours. (Except my poor, stupid Spurs; no referee ever seems to be a Spurs fan.)

There is no better illustration of this law of nature than Twitter. In the last El Clasico, for example, Twitter users rather hilariously split down the middle, with 50% decrying “UEFAlona” (the idea that UEFA refs are required to give calls to Barcelona) and the other 50% screaming how match official Alberto Undiano Mallenco was paid off by Real Madrid.

Both sides can’t be right.

Or, you had the situation a couple of years ago where Howard Webb was depicted in Manchester United kit, only to miraculously morph into a Liverpool fan this year when ManU turned into rubbish.

The truth is, most referees are trying their very best to be fair. If they support a team – and many do – they are required to declare it and they’re not allowed to referee for that team or their direct rivals. Ever wonder why you never see Mark Clattenburg referee Newcastle? Because he’s a rabid, lifelong fan.

So, no. That referee probably isn’t a secret supporter of your opponent, sorry.

Your team just sucks.


All referees are anti-Tottenham…

2.) Are the assistant referees always attached to one center ref, or are they “shared”?
This is a good question, and it does differ between leagues and tournaments. But for the most part, in tournaments the answer is the former and in leagues it’s usually the latter. Usually.

FIFA and UEFA evaluate referees not on individual performance, but as teams of three. So, in the World Cup, each center ref is accompanied by the same ARs throughout qualification and the tournament (if selected). They are all from the same country. For the most part, the tournament teams are chosen by the center refs and their FAs.

But UEFA has been known to force a poor-performing or injured AR out of a team, or even replace him with a ref from another country, if necessary. Damir Skomina, for instance, finished this year’s Champions and Europa League seasons with an Italian AR, after a couple of disastrous performances from his fellow Slovenian.

The assistant referees in Serie A, on the other hand, are total swingers. I mean, they’re Italian; one center ref just isn’t going to be enough for them. Even Italy’s World Cup referee, Nicola Rizzoli, hardly ever has his preferred team by his side.

Of course, it could be more than an inherent tendency away from monogamy; Serie A employs “adds” or line referees, which are usually (if not always) other center refs. So, as a league, they require more center refs than most, which means it would be nearly impossible for ARs to follow the same guy around. Even one as handsome as Rizzoli.

In English Premier League, however, the situation is slightly different. The ARs are not necessarily always with the same center ref; Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg don’t always have their tournament teams with them in league play.

In fact, it’s been a concern that Webb and his team haven’t had enough match time together this season before the World Cup.

However, certain ARs tend to stick around certain center refs. Harry Lennard, for instance, is usually with Lee Probert, Chris Foy, or Andre Marriner. Sian Massey, when she referees in Premier League, is almost never seen with anyone but Webb. It’s not a hard and fast rule; just that certain referees tend to work together.

(How’s that for a convoluted answer, which basically breaks down to: “Yes. I mean, no. I mean, maybe…”)


Also, could the Italians get any dorkier?


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  • Howard has done 31 premier league games this season, in 20 games Mike Mullarkey was AR and in 22 games Darren Cann was AR. As a complete team they were together for 16 different games.


    • You actually made me realize I forgot a link. The bit about HW, DC, and MM not having enough time together was brought up in an interview with Keith Hackett (former refs’ chief); it’s not necessarily one I share. I think they spend a good chunk of time together (the Italians spend even less) and they’re all getting a lot of individual experience. I don’t see the FA as deliberately sabotaging Webb, either. But that idea is out there…


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