Gary Neville is spot on - Liverpool, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest complaining to the PGMOL is embarrassing

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Nottingham Forest have become the latest Premier League club to publicly complain about referees - but it's a dangerous and damning trend.

Should Ivan Toney’s comeback goal against Nottingham Forest have stood? Forest don’t think so, and have joined the letter-writing campaign begun by Arsenal and Liverpool earlier this season. The recipients of these stern missives? The PGMOL, the body that oversees Premier League match referees. But the person most peeved at all the irritable epistles being sent back and forth? Gary Neville. And he’s absolutely right to take the clubs to task.

Liverpool began the trend after their 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, all the way back at the end of September. An opening goal from Luis Díaz was wrongly chalked off for offside, only for VAR to fail to rectify the error. You may recall it as the “good process” of meme and legend.

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Liverpool issued a public statement castigating the PGMOL, describing that process (not inaccurately) as “unsatisfactory” and the apology they received as “unacceptable” while also threatening to “explore the full range of options available given the clear need for escalation.” Of course, there were no options available, despite Jürgen Klopp’s frustrated calls for the game to be replayed, but they got an escalation anyway.

That escalation came via social media, with a torrent of abusive messages unleashed upon the referees responsible and the various governing bodies directly or tangentially responsible. Nothing was achieved in terms of improving the outcome for Liverpool, obviously, but the nationwide campaign of hate against officials gained a little more momentum. The entire incident, by the way, played out in the same month that a man in Merseyside was violently assaulted in a car park for siding with the abused referee of a local under-7s game.

Arsenal hopped on the bandwagon after Anthony Gordon’s controversial goal against Newcastle United, which triggered an unprecedented triple VAR check (for offside and for two different possible fouls) but which was allowed to stand. The Gunners demanded that the PGMOL “urgently address the standard of officiating in the Premier League” while Mikel Arteta ranted about the “disgrace” in live television interviews. The fact that quite a lot of neutral viewers couldn’t decide whether or not the goal should stand didn’t matter – they had been wronged and had to attack those responsible.

Now Forest have made a public show of demanding an explanation from the PGMOL over Ivan Toney’s controversial goal in Brentford’s 3-2 win over the weekend. Toney, apparently embracing life as a pantomime villain in his first match back from an eight-month ban for betting breaches, physically moved the referee’s foam before a free-kick and promptly scored from the marginally better position.

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Forest are probably right to be annoyed – despite Toney claiming that he was allowed to move the ball “a yard either way”, that doesn’t appear to be in the laws of the game according to IFAB, although it’s possible that the Premier League have communicated that some movement is permitted in accordance with their own guidelines, which don’t always follow the laws precisely. Liverpool were certainly right to be upset, and Arsenal… Well, maybe. Anyone who pronounces with certainty that goal should have been allowed or disallowed should probably be ignored. But whether the decisions were right or wrong is not the point.

Clubs making official statements, using their social media platforms to attack the PGMOL and writing their equivalents of angry letters to the editor about the local pothole problem inevitably creates a frenzied social media storm, and the already excessive abuse doled out in the direction of referees at all levels dials up yet another notch. The treatment of referees in this country, from grassroots levels up to the top flight, should be viewed as a national disgrace, not a vein to tap into. And clubs know fine well what they are doing when they kick up their fusses and make a public show of them.

This isn’t to suggest that officiating standards shouldn’t be challenged and that poor performances shouldn’t be placed under the microscope, but that process can happen in a dignified, private manner which protects the referees involved from further harm. And this is where Neville’s comments come in.

The former England right-back not long ago described Arsenal and Liverpool as “embarrassing” for their public excoriations of the PGMOL. Now he has reiterated his feelings with a refreshing degree of clarity and understanding. The refs should be doing better and are under enormous pressure at the moment. It’s in the clubs interests to work with them to make them improve. This public posturing is unnecessary.

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"Speak to them and email them to gain clarification in private but they don’t have to 'announce' they’ve written to the PGMOL. It’s not going to change the decision and it’s not going to help anyone! It just adds to the pile on."

And he’s absolutely right. Fans get irritated enough by ostensible mistakes by referees without being geed on, and the culture of abuse is bad enough without clubs weaponizing their fanbases, whether that is their intention or not.

Referees need to get to grips with VAR somehow, even as it shines an even sharper spotlight on their failings. That is not in doubt. Mistakes have substantial ramifications and processes need to be re-evaluated to reduce them. But referees are human and will screw up. VAR, for all its technological bells and whistles, is still operated by people and is therefore fallible. But the very fact that they are human should make the abuse they face all the more abhorrent. People seem to forget there are other people, regular flesh and blood people, on the receiving end of their vitriol.

Certainly, nothing has ever been achieved by the airing of these grievances. Decisions are not reversed, points are not reinstated, and they get an apology regardless of whether it is demanded. So what is the point? Nobody benefits. Except, perhaps, for Gary Neville, because he gets to be right for a change.

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