You do not have to delve particularly deep into the more irrational crevices of internet hysteria to find a barrage of abuse directed at Michael Oliver following Diogo Dalot’s sending off for dissent at Anfield on Sunday.
The defender received two yellow cards in a matter of seconds for protesting a throw-in which he believed should have gone Manchester United’s way towards the end of the goalless draw against Liverpool. The verdict from some fans: “Nothing short of disgusting”, “the worst officiating I’ve ever seen”, and a referee needing to be “taken off Premier League games” for good. Oliver was also accused of having “main character syndrome”.
Sky Sports pundits were on board too, albeit with less industrial language. “What does dissent twice even mean?” Gary Neville asked. “How do you break up one rant into two bookings?” Jamie Carragher agreed it was “incredibly harsh”.
Oliver’s decision came amid a clampdown on dissent led by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body responsible for officiating in English professional football. This season, following the introduction of a charter to instil tougher penalties for bad behaviour from players and managers, bookings for dissent have risen by 88 per cent at all levels of the game (including women’s football).
i understands the charter was met with huge support from across the governing bodies.
And referees themselves are firmly behind Oliver, with his display in Sunday’s match described as “outstanding”.
“His action to second-yellow Dalot was a great example that referees at the top level have drawn a line in the sand in regard to dissent and poor behaviour,” Martin Cassidy, CEO of Ref Support UK, tells i.
“The PGMOL and the FA informed all clubs before the season began that they will be addressing abuse and dissent robustly.
“Clearly players and managers have ignored this and carried on like they have for many years. This has resulted in record-breaking disciplinary sanctions, red and yellow cards and punishments of managers for unacceptable behaviour.”
Dalot’s sending off proved even more contentious because Darwin Nunez was spared a second yellow for a similar offence, the Liverpool forward kicking the ball away and then sarcastically applauding the referee. However, it is not known whether Oliver saw Nunez’s second offence in real time, though it was picked up by TV cameras and broadcast to those watching at home.
“Players and managers only have themselves to blame if they can’t keep their emotions in check and carry on setting poor examples to young players by their infantile behaviour,” Cassidy added.
Oliver, who received similar abuse after declining to send Manchester City’s Mateo Kovacic off against Arsenal earlier this season, has also been the subject of death threats on more than one occasion following high-profile incidents in the Champions League.
Indeed the crisis surrounding treatment of the officials, which has come to a head in English football over the past few seasons, is far from unique. On Tuesday, Turkish fixtures will resume for the first time since being suspended on 13 December after a referee was punched to the floor by a club president during a match. MKE Ankaragucu president Faruk Koca was arrested and later resigned.
In the Premier League, PGMOL chief Howard Webb says there has been “real success” in addressing participants’ behaviour, confirming last week that there has been a reduction in the number of times referees have been surrounded by players.
“It takes time to change behaviours,” Webb added. “We will keep doing it because of the events in Turkey and the need to have a positive direction of travel, not just this season, but for good.
“That is the only way we can set a really strong and powerful example at grassroots level. We will not back down in that respect.”