WHO needs referees? There are thousands of them at every match, in every tap room, office and shop floor who can do the job better than the man in the middle.

Refs are no good anyway. They get every decision wrong, need thick spectacles to match their brains and are too old and fat to keep up with play.

They're just the fatherless blokes in black who are in it for personal glory.

No wonder managers and players snarl abuse at them and their assistants during matches.

Already this year Gordon Strachan has launched a double-barrelled verbal assault on one during Match of the Day, Spurs' striker Les Ferdinand has described another's performance as the worst he had ever experienced - including those on park pitches - while Bryan Robson accused another of being "a homer".

They're not alone. A weekend never goes by without at least one Premiership boss and several others down the divisions blaming the sins of the world on the man in black.

At Gigg Lane on Saturday Norwich boss Mike Walker wasn't going to let a golden opportunity to take the scalp of Roy Pearson of Peterlee.

The official was still in the clear while he was turning down two strong Bury penalty appeals. But once he decided, somewhat harshly, that Robert Fleck had handled in the box, it was open season.

"Bury's best player was the fella in black," snarled Walker, followed by: "He thought 'I haven't given them three penalties so I'd better given them this one'."

Does the young man with dreams of officiating at a Wembley or World Cup Final and beginning his career in the local Sunday league sixth division suddenly lose the use of his eyesight and common sense once he crosses the touchline?

Or maybe something happens along the way to turn this apparently normal law-abiding working man into an enemy of the people.

Or maybe, just maybe, there's nothing wrong with him at all.

Maybe he's doing the job as well as humanly possible and deserves a little support for having to control 22 highly skilled, highly paid and highly strung footballers as well as he does.

It's just a thought.

Far be it from me to try and change the rules of the fast growing sport of referee bashing just when the main players are starting to master it.

You've got to admire the different approaches of managers to try and get refs to overturn decisions or at least put pressure on the man in black to give them the benefit of the doubt next time.

Some prefer the subtle approach - the quiet, composed: "I never comment about referees but he did us no favours" tactic while for others it has to be the all guns blazing character assassination.

Colin Todd deserves credit for maintaining his sporting approach to referees while all around him are losing theirs.

He has succumbed to temptation on the odd occasion such as when Dean Holdsworth was recently denied a penalty at Spurs. But in the main his stance on keeping a dignified silence is a lesson to others.

Danny Wilson might have hit on something after Scunthorpe referee Neale Barry sent Adrian Moses off in Sunday's FA Cup sixth round defeat at Newcastle.

After the almost mandatory "scandalous decision" comment he suggested: "You have to have a bit of give and take."

His advice was aimed at referees but what a more dignified game it would be if managers and players got together and adopted it as their own motto.

Failing that, they could always read Law 5 of the Laws of Association Football which says 'The referee's decision is final' and accept it with character and common decency.

- Neil Bonnar

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.