Alan Biggs: Try and ‘Hackett’ at being the ref

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Refereeing is always in the spotlight... ever wondered what it must be like to operate in the centre of it?

For instance, what happened in some of those so-called “showdown” meetings between Keith Hackett and Premier League managers? And how did England’s former head of refereeing steer Howard Webb to a World Cup final?

The answers will come by way of a fascinating new book offering an unparalleled insight into the largely secret world of match officiating. In partnership with renowned sports artist Paul Trevillion, Sheffield’s Hackett entertains and educates in comic strip form.

“You are the Ref” is a decades-old winning formula and the brainchild of the brilliant Trevillion himself, who saw his creation make its newspaper debut in 1957.

Now former FIFA official Hackett has broadened an illustrated quiz-style format, based on the laws of the game, to include topical issues.

Hackett has never been an undercover man, much as refereeing has tended to be cloaked by those who run football. Here he brings a transparency to officialdom that can surely only benefit both the officials and the game.

He welcomes the imminent introduction of goalline technology - something he fought for as manager of Professional Game Match Officials - and suggests that another innovation should not be far behind; an independent timekeeper, taking away the clock-watching from match officials and freeing them to concentrate on the game.

The image of Sir Alex Ferguson jabbing a finger to his wrist inevitably arises here. Not that Sir Alex is always Mr. Angry where referees are concerned... Keith reveals a touching letter sent to him at the end of his active career by a manager he openly admires.

Among his exchanges with managers there are several with high-profile bosses who are named in the book, which is due out on April 25th. There is the one who made a complaint and had to be told - politely - that he didn’t know the rules... the one who protested about his striker being unfairly treated and was told by Hackett he was right... and the one who, a few years ago, asked Keith what referees were paid.

He was told: “45K.” The boss in question said that this was roughly what some of his players earned, meaning per week! The manager (Arsene Wenger) was shocked to learn that £45,000 was the annual figure at that time.

Another tale concerns a former England captain and ex-manager of this parish who would want to referee every game he played. Come a game when he was knocked unconscious and the referee on the day (Hackett) rolled him onto his side, effectively helping to save his life. Keith writes: “After that incident, he would ask me, not shout!”

These enriching personal anecdotes are sprinkled throughout a book that explains every aspect of the referee’s role, from pitch inspections through to mass confrontations (of which Hackett was once at the centre of one of the most spectacular of the age). All the laws are demonstrated in pictorial form.

And Hackett is forthright with his views - among them that players should be tested on the laws of the game and that not enough is done to help ex-players become officials.

This will be a must-read for any lover of the game, be they a manager, player, fan or journalist. Or a referee come to that!

* “You are the Ref” A guide to good refereeing. Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett. Bloomsbury £14.99 (to be published on April 25th).

Milan will do what it takes to stay up

Watching Sheffield Wednesday labouring for a shot on goal last Saturday, the thought flashed through my mind that only Michail Antonio was carrying a threat. So losing Antonio for the rest of the season after his subsequent injury was a grievous blow.

Is there a solution for Dave Jones beyond another dip into the loan market? Options are limited because some players are more important than others.

Remember Ben Marshall last season and the need to replace him with someone equally influential. Of course, Antonio was that man. It’s come full circle now. As things stand, Jermaine Johnson could be due another run if the Owls are to recapture the flank threat lacking when Antonio has played as a striker.

Beyond that, the midfield appears to lack a bit of composure and creativity, showing why Jones has never closed the door on bringing back Ross Barkley. Maybe another chance for the more expressive Rhys McCabe?

Whatever, if I was an Owls fan I’d be confident that chairman Milan Mandaric will do whatever it takes to help Jones keep the team in the Championship. And it might take a financial investment on the higher end of the loan scale to bring in the sort of quality needed.

Stevenage goals could be crucial

Making all your defensive errors in one match - as Danny Wilson suggested Sheffield United did at Stevenage - is no bad thing. No reason, either, to suppose that the 4-0 defeat was much more than a nasty blip.

But what is of some extra concern is the damage it did to the Blades’ goal difference. So tight is the race for automatic promotion that goal difference could prove crucial in the final reckoning.

United did have a decent advantage over Brentford in this respect but there’s now a gap of just three goals (+17 versus +14). The second-placed Bees bring a two-point lead to Bramall Lane on Saturday where the onus is on Wilson’s men to turn the tables.

Incidentally, leaders Doncaster have an identical GD to the Blades. With only four points the difference, this is an added element to the battle ahead.

Doing nothing can’t be an option

Don Valley and the Olympic legacy project: It comes down to a choice between doing nothing or doing something.

Richard Caborn has been criticised in the wake of announcing the £40m scheme amid claims that is unrealistic. Where’s the money? Can it really be fully financed?

Valid questions maybe. But Sheffield’s former sports minister, brought in by the council, has chosen to do something.

Doing nothing surely isn’t an option for Jessica Ennis’s home city.