Brighton and Hove Albion find perfect scapegoat for defeat and why referees should be microphoned - opinion

That 90 minutes at the Hawthorns on Saturday must rank as one of the most bizarre Brighton have managed to put together in some time, possibly since that glorious September afternoon in 2008 when Micky Adams’ Albion lost 1-0 at home to nine-man Walsall.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 8:05 pm
Lee Mason during that controversial decision on Saturday
Lee Mason during that controversial decision on Saturday

Two squandered penalties from Pascal Gross and Danny Welbeck were overshadowed by Lee Mason disallowing Lewis Dunk’s quickly taken free kick, then allowing it, then disallowing it.

Brighton suddenly had a convenient scapegoat for their failure to beat the Premier League’s second-worst team.

In normal pub-going times, Gross, Welbeck, and Aaron Connolly – sorry Aaron, we cannot forget you managing to clear the crossbar with an open goal from six yards out – should all have bought Mr Mason a pint afterwards to thank him from diverting attention from their awful misses.

After all the excitement, I switched channels to watch Wales v England thinking that it might restore some sanity. How wrong can you be? Within minutes of swapping West Brom for Cardiff, there was a refereeing controversy which was spookily similar to the one Mr Mason had managed to cause.

French official Pascal Gauzere ordered England captain Owen Farrell to take a minute to tell his players to calm down and address their discipline.

Whilst Farrell was doing as he was told and England were huddled under the posts, Mr Gauzere blew his whistle to restart the game and Wales scored a try in an undefended corner of the pitch.

What are the chances? Two referees in different sports doing stupid things with whistles which result in game changing moments in the space of two hours. For Brighton fans who also follow England rugby, it was like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Dunk used his post-match interview to explain his version of what happened. His version of course is the only version, because as the Brighton captain also pointed out in an argument which resonated with a lot of the watching public, football referees do not have to talk about decisions. There is no accountability for when they make a glaring mistake, as Mr Mason’s clearly was.

Referees explaining why they have done what they have done after every game as Dunk appeared to be suggesting is going too far. But compare what happened at the Hawthorns to what happened at the Principality Stadium. The reason that we know exactly what was said between Mr Gauzere and Farrell is because in rugby, officials are microphoned.

Everyone can hear what they are saying. You get an insight into how they have made their decisions and the conversations they have with the players around them. As a result, rugby referees are more accountable because there is no ambiguity about controversial incidents. Brighton fans take Dunk’s word on the quick free kick furore as gospel; rugby meanwhile presents indisputable evidence through allowing the watching crowd to hear what has happened.

Football could do a lot worse than follow rugby’s lead. Any sane football fan knows that referees are humans and humans make mistakes. Those mistakes might be easier to accept if you had greater insight as to why they occurred, rather than leaving a vacuum of suspicion to be filled with “Lee Mason is anti-Brighton” or “Mike Dean does not want us to be promoted” to recall another famous Albion-related refereeing controversy.

Having football refs microphoned would also improve player discipline. Would a player be willing to turn the air blue with a foul-mouthed and unnecessary rant at an official if they knew that their every word was being recorded? Probably not. It would therefore provide an instant boost for the FA’s Respect campaign.

Mr Mason has been ruled out of his next few refereeing commitments because of injury. Mr Gauzere meanwhile admitted that he had got things wrong, partly because he could have no defence given that the watching world heard exactly what happened.

Football referees have a tough enough job as it is without having to face questions from the media after every match. Recording their interactions on the pitch instead provides a non-intrusive way of improving accountability and helping fans understand what is going on. As refereeing in the Premier League lurches from one crisis to the next with each passing week this season, it surely cannot make things any worse.