The standard of officiating in the women’s game has been a subject of debate for some time, but it arguably reached a nadir at the weekend in the game between Reading and Manchester United.
United were leading 1-0 when Reading got a free-kick on the edge of their area, which Jo Potter struck towards goal, but United captain Katie Zelam blocked with her head and the ball sailed behind the goal. Both teams seemed to gather themselves for the corner, only for referee Kirsty Dowie to inexplicably point to the penalty spot.
Players from either side looked suitably baffled, but Fara Williams stepped up – having already had a penalty brilliantly saved earlier in the game – and leathered the spot kick home, earning her side a 1-1 draw.
But even Williams accepted that the incident was indicative of a wider problem in the WSL with officiating, as she told exclusively the Offside Rule: WSL Edition on Monday.
“I mean, you can see from the reactions of the players that nobody appealed that handball,” Williams said. “So that would tell the referee a little bit about whether it was or it wasn’t. I’m not going to say to her “no referee, it’s not a handball” if she gives it because I’d just missed a penalty.
“I thought the referee at the weekend – and not just the weekend, through the WSL this year – has certainly been below par, in my opinion…it hasn’t been good enough.”
And it wasn’t just individual poor decisions that were a problem.
“Some of the some of the injuries and marks and scars that people [got in] the game yesterday. I have a big one myself on my leg, [which was unpunished] through poor officiating. I don’t really know how to change that. Obviously, there is another level, I don’t know if they can bring that next level of officials into our game. It could be a cost thing. I’m unsure what it is, but certainly the level right now, I believe – and I’m sure managers and players believe – isn’t good enough.”
Williams pointed to poor communication between officials and the players as a big problem for the WSL.
“I’ve been captain at Reading this season with Tash Harding being injured. You go into the officials’ room beforehand and you say, ‘we’ll talk to players, we’ll talk to captains and if we can we’ll give you reasoning [for decisions].’ And they just don’t. They don’t.
“I feel like you go into there, you hear the same stuff week in, week out and…they don’t want to cooperate with you on the pitch. They don’t want to help you out. They don’t want to try and calm players’ frustration because.
“People work hard every single day now and even harder than they probably did ten years ago to try and make this game, the game everybody wants to see. But I feel like they’re ruining people’s games and players are getting frustrated.”
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