Michael Oliver ‘ruining football’ in predictable, unfounded pile-on of Premier League refs at Euro 2024

Will Ford
Michael Oliver Euro 2024
Michael Oliver got it in the neck for his refereeing of the Germany v Denmark game.

Michael Oliver was trending on social media after a decision he got right and his name was mud from then on. The Premier League ref pile-on is predictable and unfounded.

Michael Oliver would rather have been trending for his UEFA promo as part of the governing body’s ‘Be a Referee’ campaign which was released earlier on Saturday. “My advice would be to try it, see if you like it,” he said. “It keeps you fit, it helps your personal skills and your general life.”

Though it also – and this is far more pertinent to those who could think of few things worse than being a referee for this very reason – leads to widespread abuse, both in real life and on social media, which was apparent three minutes into the last 16 clash between Germany and Denmark.

Nico Schlotterbeck rose brilliantly to nod in Toni Kroos’ corner as Germany made a fast start in Dortmund, sparking wild but very brief celebrations as Oliver whistled seconds after the ball went past Kasper Schmiechel to rule the goal out.

Ally McCoist stoked the social media flames. “That’s soft, I’m telling you that’s soft, it’s a goal!” We’re telling you Ally, it wasn’t. There was barely a decision to be made. Joshua Kimmich had no interest whatsoever in the ball as he blocked Andreas Skov Olsen, the man tasked with marking the goalscorer. If Oliver hadn’t have ruled it out, VAR would have done.

To his credit McCoist later backtracked, insisting “I wanted the goal but he got it right”, but Darren Bent – like many, many others desperate for proof that The Best League In The World has the worst referees – stuck to his guns despite the clear and contrary evidence.

“Looking at it again, usually a tell-tale sign is from the opposition players,” Bent said on talkSPORT, the place for inflammatory, baseless claims. “But the goalkeeper doesn’t say anything, and no defenders says anything. Not one person complains, so if they’re talking about a little minimal block [from Kimmich], come on. That’s an awful decision. Awful.”

We all like goals, but if you’re among those shouting that “IT’S A CONTACT SPORT”, put yourselves in the shoes of a Denmark fan right now. You would be furious, and undoubtedly insisting that it’s a clear foul. Because it is, to the extent that if you were a reasonable Germany fan, you would accept it, as Schlotterbeck and his teammates did, by the way.

The social media posts focused either on Michael Oliver being a bit rubbish or on his inclination to make the game ‘all about him’. We’re not saying he’s brilliant, and may not even be worthy of these great gigs, but the willingness to jump aboard the English Referees Are Ruining Euro 2024 bandwagon is a concern when he should if anything have been praised for a quick and correct decision.

Having a go at him and other officials works in direct conflict with the desire to improve officiating. No one trawling Twitter will have been encouraged to take UEFA up on their proposal to become a young referee. And while we don’t sign up to the view that Oliver and his counterparts should be above criticism, let’s at least criticise them for actual mistakes.

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No matter what Oliver did from then on, his name was mud. Joachim Anderson had quite the 30 seconds at the start of the second half, scoring what he thought was the opener for Denmark before it was ruled out for offside, then falling foul of the snickometer – the usage of which tells you everything that’s wrong with the current handball rule – to concede a penalty which Kai Havertz converted to give Germany the lead.

They were both marginal and incredibly frustrating decisions, but absolutely correct and literally nothing to do with Oliver, as both were decided by VAR. That didn’t stop the pile-on though, as the more PG critics claimed he was ‘ruining football’, much like compatriot Anthony Taylor in the Netherlands’ 0-0 draw with France.

Xavi Simons’ goal was ruled out for offside as Denzel Dumfries was – correctly, by the letter of the law – said to have been interfering with play. It sparked such anger in Virgil van Dijk after the game that he couldn’t bring himself to name Taylor, instead refering to him as “the English referee” as though he’s some sort of fictional villain, no doubt aware of the court of public opinion that’s already sentenced officials from the Premier League.

Instead of concentrating on the part of the official statement from UEFA which confirmed Taylor and VAR Stuart Attwell were “totally correct” in their decision, or the mitigating circumstances for the length of the review, which was indeed out of the ordinary for a competition in which we’ve in the main been treated to a speedy process, Express decided to focus – wisely in their bid for clicks – on the UEFA ref chief’s admission that “the element of improvement is the duration of this review”. 

‘Anthony Taylor criticised by UEFA referee chief over Euro 2024 use of VAR’ was their headline. He was also praised, but there’s no traffic in that, because people a) don’t want to read about referees being good and b) love reading things that confirm their biases. Biases which in this game and others in which English refs have been lambasted in this tournament have – if anything – been refuted.