Alan Gunn, the referee of the 1990 FA Cup final, once said that game’s law enforcers “are stage managers, not performers”.
Following the release of audio between Premier League referees on the pitch and those assisted by video, fans have been given a direct line to the crackling dialogue on the walkie-talkies behind the scenes.
For the first time since the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) ahead of the 2019/20 season, Howard Webb, the chief refereeing officer of the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited), ran through the discussion behind decisions made in five Premier League matches on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.
But why has it taken the best part of four years for the curtain to be tentatively pulled back? Here’s everything you need to know about the release of the stage managers’ instructions.
During his time as general manager of the Professional Referee Organisation (PRO) in MLS, Webb oversaw the release of VAR audio every weekend – a practice that is still continued.
As long ago as March 2021 – before Webb joined the PGMOL at the end of 2022 – FA chief executive Mark Bellingham expressed a willingness to release audio between match officials. “I think it’s absolutely worth exploring,” Bullingham told Sky Sports News. “Our starting point has to be that anything which adds value to the fan, and demystifies any part of the decision-making by referees, has got to be something that we’d consider, of course.”
Yet, it wasn’t until Monday 16 May 2023 that the mist behind VAR decisions began to dissipate.
“We made a commitment to be more transparent,” Webb explained on Sky. “I think we know and recognise that people want more information about refereeing processes, particularly since the advent of VAR. We want to draw the curtain back.”
Webb added: “We’re looking to do this as much as we possibly can and obviously tonight is something new, we’re making a small step forward. Going into next season, we’ll be looking to do more of the same.”
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The general response to this unveiling was positive, with fans…