WHILE many sports stars will invariably thank some kind of religious icon for their sporting prowess or team’s victory, the reality these days is there is a “man upstairs” who, arguably, has more influence over the proceedings – the video referee.
And while many English rugby fans were bemoaning the decision made by Stuart Dickinson in Saturday’s World Cup final, one North-East man knew exactly what the man in charge was going through.
Ashington referee Dave Pearson had the power at his fingertips in the same World Cup, when he was in the box for four of the nine games he officiated in this year – working the others as a touch judge. And he believes all video referees have the hardest job in the modern game.
“Of the four jobs you can do – referee, touch judge, reserve referee and video referee – being the video referee is the hardest,” he said. “You can be sat back smoking your cigar as such and the ball goes over the 22-metre line so you have to start paying attention. Then the ball goes over the five-metre line and you just hope the player puts the ball down!
“I’d imagine Stuart Dickinson’s heart rate was higher than at any other time. But he got the decision right. On the stills that have been in the papers you can clearly see Cueto’s left foot touched the touchline when the ball was in the air.”
The new technology may have added stress to the life of officials, but Pearson believes the benefits massively outweigh any drawbacks – even including language barriers between officials and television directors which can make life tricky for the video referee.
He added: “I’m sure you get the right decision the majority of times, and I also think it adds to the drama of the event. The crowd can see the replay at the same time as the referee, so knows exactly what is going on. It adds to the occasion.”
And having been on the end of criticism after not referring a decision to the video referee during a Six Nations game in 2006, Pearson readily accepts referees have to take the flak if they do make a mistake.
“In that Ireland versus Italy game in 2006 I made a mistake and, just like a player, if you make a mistake you should expect the flak,” he said. “I didn’t refer the decision to the video referee and I gave the try.
“It was quite funny in a way eventually because the Irish coach, Eddie O’Sullivan, was under pressure at the time and everyone was saying the decision saved his job.”
The realistic attitude has helped the 41-year-old move on from that incident and become a top referee in the Guinness Premiership, something which eventually gave him the chance to officiate at the World Cup – an experience he will never forget.
“Running the line at a full house at the Stade de France was just brilliant, The atmosphere was electric and with the way they did things – the teams lining up in the tunnel and everyone walking out together – the hairs were standing up on your neck.
“Some of the best games involved the minnows, such as the Portugal versus New Zealand game, because the crowd noise was just amazing and while it would have been nice to be refereeing the game it was just amazing to be there.”
The experience has left him wanting more, with a man who began refereeing at a ground known colloquially as Dog Muck Park aiming to be the man holding the whistle at the 2011 World Cup.
“I only started refereeing at 26 years old because my job took me away from my club – Seghill – and the new coach said I couldn’t play for the first team if I couldn’t train.
“But I’d been bitten by the rugby bug, and once you get bitten you have to do something about it – and that was refereeing.
“My first game was Ashington 3rds – I still remember it now. The ground was known to the locals as Dog Muck Park and I never even thought about doing it professionally. But when I got to the National Panel I thought ‘there might be something in this’. Now everything I do is geared up to being a referee in the 2011 World Cup.
“I won’t be too old to do it, and I’m keeping fit. I think the referee has to be as fit, cardiovascular-wise as the players. If I’d known when I started what I know now, I would have started refereeing earlier.”
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