It is a trope as old as time. It was said often back in the day and will inevitably be brought up again several times over this season. We are fated to hear it propositioned multiple more times until either football expires, or we do.

Why don’t players become referees? Why isn’t there a pathway for them to become officials? After all, they ‘know’ the game. They have a feel for it.

They would have the respect of the players and be able to better determine vindictive calf-rakers from incidental fouls. Former pros would improve matchday officiating at a stroke.

And on it goes.

There will be no end to this deeply flawed logic masquerading as debate. Like The Archers, grocery bills rising, and a dead-cert letting us down in our football betting it has always accompanied us and will never go away. 

But, let’s take all of this guff and nonsense and break it down, starting with the first two points that can be taken as one.

The fact of the matter is there are plenty of pathways for former professional footballers to enter the world of refereeing, and this has been the case for a good while.

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From courses to initiatives, to proposals made to fast-track, the FA have shown their hand many times over in being desperate for players to switch tack and pick up a whistle. 

Yet across the decades how many players have actually taken advantage of this?

There was Steve Baines, who played 114 times for Huddersfield and went on to referee many games in the lower divisions in the Nineties.

And in 2019, Macclesfield Town midfielder Peter Vincenti accepted a PFA invitation to attend a ‘Player to Referee Pathway’ course and became a qualified official.

Give or take the odd exception, that’s pretty much it. From thousands upon thousands of pros, plying their trade up and down the levels, in the modern era, that’s it.

You’d get very short odds in the sports betting if you backed as the main reason why footballers don’t become referees the following obvious explanation – they simply don’t want to. 

And such an abysmally low take-up – and an industry-wide absence of enthusiasm - is entirely understandable too, given the stark realities.

Because being a referee requires a completely different skill-set to that of being a player. It demands total control of every one of the senses and split-second judgement. It stands or falls on good communication and courage of conviction.

Add in technology to get a full grasp of, along with dealing with VAR, and to assume a player can be a ref because they share a field is as fanciful as believing a motorist can be a truck driver just because they both drive down A-roads.

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As for ‘knowing the game’, that’s distinctly different to knowing the rules. 

Just look at the pundits on Match of the Day and Sky, throwing their arms up in despair and ignorant to the offside and handball laws.

Former pros know what makes a clever defence-splitting pass. They know who is a ‘great lad’. They know about tactics. Yet ask them to memorize law 12, section D, subsection XIII and they will glaze over and wonder who they could pay to read it for them.

Lastly, and mostly, the reason why footballers becoming refs is such a far-fetched notion comes down to a suspicion of bias.

Sadly we live in a world where conspiracy theories are writ large, nowhere more so than in football where an official originating from the Greater Manchester area must be anti-Liverpool because he speaks with a Lancashire twang. 

How much greater would such suspicions and accusations be should a former Sheffield United player, let’s say, presides over a Wednesday game? Or an ex-Crystal Palace stalwart denies Brighton a last-minute penalty.  

It would be carnage and social media would implode. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.