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newspeter walton

Peter Walton exclusive: Walton received more online abuse during broadcasting career with BT Sports than as a ref 

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In an exclusive interview with, former Premier League referee Peter Walton shot down TNT’s hopes of broadcasting live conversations between referees and VAR overseers and went on to reveal that he disagrees with fellow ex-ref Graham Poll on how to deal with persistent time wasting in football.

Interview Highlights:

  • Walton questions TNT Sports’ decision to do away with role of referee analyst 
  • Premier League should introduce VAR decision announcements over stadium tannoy
  • Received more online abuse during broadcasting career with BT Sports than as a ref
  • TNT Sports are in for rude awakening over plans to show live VAR decision making


Full transcript

Question: Thomas Partey and Julian Alvarez were both booked for kicking the ball away during the Community Shield. Do you agree with this rule change and the decisions?

Peter Walton: “I think the Community Shield should always set the scene for the upcoming season and Sunday’s was a case in point where referee Stuart Atwell clearly understood and implemented the new guidelines. The guidelines, in terms of giving a caution for kicking the ball away, is in regard to time wasting, which we’ll no doubt talk about later but also respect for the game. What we saw yesterday was two players who were being petulant by just knocking the ball away and delaying the restart and thus time wasting. So Stuart took the new initiative to the Nth degree and said enough is enough.

I remember refereeing the Charity Shield in 2008 and we had a similar initiative then regarding respect towards match officials. Portsmouth defender Hermann Hreidarsson remonstrated with my assistant and he received a caution because of the image of the game that we were trying to portray around the world. So it’s nothing new to see the season being set off with quite strict adherence to new policies.”

Q: In the past these new initiatives seemed to often fade out quite soon after being implemented. Do you think that will be the case with this season’s changes?

PW: “I was speaking to members of the PGMOL who actually implement these new initiatives and laws just this week and the word consistency often cropped up in that conversation. What the management team is looking at is having a consistent application of the laws. So if you ask me this question again in December I’d like to give you the same answer but time will tell.

Clearly what we like to see is less need for application of the laws because managers and players are taking the new directives on board and changing their approach, meaning that the message is seeping through the system and then on a downward trajectory throughout the pyramid.”

Q: Mikel Arteta was booked on the touchline. Do you agree with the decision? 

PW: “This is really aimed more at the nature of the game and the spectacle of the game. What we’ve got to realise is that the professional game has a duty of care to our brothers and sisters at grassroots level. What you see on a Saturday on your TV screen you’ll see replicated on a Sunday morning at your local parks. So one of those issues is the behaviour of managers in the technical area and we’ve seen on a number of occasions last year quite high profile cases of managers getting themselves into trouble for remonstrating too much and unfortunately that is mirrored down the pyramid.

So in order to make sure the grassroots players and managers realise this behaviour is not acceptable, even at the professional level you will see managers getting themselves into trouble if they overstep the mark as Mikel did yesterday and I think it’s a good policy. As Arteta said post match he’ll have to amend his reactions.”

Q: Players who bring the physio on have to stay off the pitch for 30 seconds before coming back on the pitch. Do you think this will stop feigning injury? 

PW: “That’s a tweak of an existing law. Players cannot receive treatment on the field of play other than for a potential head injury or indeed a serious injury such as a leg break. So if they have an impact knock where the magic sponge comes out and up they get that’s fine but if they need treatment then they must go off the field. And what referees are being told is that if a player is seriously injured enough to go down for some time then the duty of care to that player is to say look just stay off the pitch, even though they may want to come back on straight away.

It’s a double edged sword of course because player welfare is important but it’s also showing that player that if you do feign injury or exaggerate the nature of the injury then you will be out of the game for a period of time. It’s quite frustrating for the player and the management team but ultimately this is designed to limit the use of ‘dark arts’ and make sure that players who are properly injured receive treatment and time to recover.”

Q: Championship games on Saturday averaged 5 cards per game. Will this really benefit the league this season if this carries on? 

PW: “This really depends on the players’ behaviour. I like to think that the consistency will be there from the officials and if we see a change over a period of time in the players’ behaviour then we’ll see less cards. If you look at the reasons for those cards I can bet you that three of the five are down to technical issues rather than putting an opponent in row Z with a robust challenge. So if we can get rid of these technical cautions you’ll see those cautions come down rapidly.” 

Q: We saw big chunks of injury time added on to games. Are you in favour of adding on this amount of time to games? 

PW: “Well I’m glad it wasn’t brought in when I was refereeing because I’d have been blowing out of my backside! In my day it was either two minutes or four minutes added depending on how fit I felt. But no joking aside, I think it is good for the game. I was at Northampton vs Stevange on Saturday and we had a total of 22 minutes of added time and by the time I got home my steak wasn’t medium, it was well done!

On a more serious note, FIFA said before the Qatar World Cup was that the ball only being in play for 54 minutes of the 90 per game isn’t good enough. If you’ve paid £100 to go and see a game you want to see the game being played, you don’t want to see the ball in the stands or the game dead. It’s about the image of the game that’s being portrayed and FIFA’s head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina said every stoppage must be accounted for.

So these larger amounts of time being added on will be seen until players and managers temper their enthusiasm for delaying the game and referees have been told to make sure that they play the allotted time. One of the reflective elements of this is that broadcasters, stewards and everyone associated with the game, even trains being prepared to take fans away from the game will have their time being eaten into. There are all sorts of ramifications but overall it is good for the game in general.”

Q: VAR in the women’s World Cup has the referee announce their decision to the crowd. Should the premier league do this? 

PW: “We must make sure that the crowd feels part of whatever is happening on the field because ultimately they pay everybody’s wages. FIFA and lawmakers IFAB recognise this as well. VAR is still in its infancy and we are learning all the time about how best to use it. Part of that is to encourage fans to feel part of the process. We’re reaching the next stage now which is people feeling involved throughout the process of decision making by VAR.

FIFA and IFAB have said ‘why don’t we broadcast the decision to the audience?’ but I think we need more detail about how they’ve come to the decision, not just what the decision is and that will be the next stage. But I think it’s the right move and I think people need to feel as if they’re part of that process and I think the Premier League will be looking at the process quite closely. I think the way VAR is being used is improving and it will get better still.”

Q: TNT will not have a refereeing expert this season whereas Sky Sports will. Do you think this is a mistake by TNT production?

PW: “I’m bound to say it’s a mistake because they’ve done me out of a job! But yes I do think it’s a mistake actually, even taking personal positions out of it, because like it or not match officials are part of that entertainment package that we now see. Fans are getting used to that and I think the majority welcome it because it’s interesting to hear the so-called experts give their view. Again they may not agree with it but that’s the rule or the law.

So by doing away with that I think TNT have missed a trick and certainly Sky, while they didn’t want to be see to be following a competitor’s initiative, as soon as it was known that TNT were not going to have a refereeing expert they said well we are because we can see the value in it.”

Q: Mike Dean was a divisive figure among fans as a ref. Do you think that’s why Sky have chosen him as their expert referee on Soccer Saturday?

PW: “I don’t know the reasons why they’ve picked him but my thoughts behind that is that Mike is fresh off the field and is a known face in the game itself. You use the word divisive, well he can be but most referees are divisive it just depends on if you’re wearing a blue shirt or a red shirt. So I think it’s good that he’s on that panel and it’s good that he’ll be giving refereeing a voice but he has to be careful because broadcasters want entertainment as well.

He’s got a great sense of humour so I look forward to seeing that, but ultimately the law is the law and as long as he lays down what the law is then other people can debate whether he’s got that right or wrong. But yes good for Sky Sports and I’ll be watching keenly. If they’ve got a product that another broadcaster hasn’t got then good for them and we’ll see the results when the viewing stats come out!”

Q: TNT Sports is hoping to broadcast live conversations between referees and VAR overseers in Stockley Park. Do you think that will realistically happen?

PW: “That’s FIFA’s decision rather than the Premier League’s and at the moment they haven’t given dispensation for that to happen. So as we sit here today that won’t happen but over a period of time, going back to that previous question about the announcement of the decision by the officials, people will want to see that layer peeled away to reveal how things happen and decisions are reached. We can share conversations post match, so we can see the decision making process in hindsight but during the match it’s a no from FIFA and I don’t think that will change in the foreseeable future.

We have to think of the game around the world and whilst we are pretty progressive in this country there are other federations who are not so progressive and FIFA have to look after everybody, not just the English game. So we’ll wait and see but I do think that something of that nature will happen ultimately but not just yet.” 

Q: ​​One match official reportedly claimed: ‘It will now be a rarity if a top-flight game lasts less than 100 minutes.’ Do we risk alienating the ‘TikTok’ generation of fans who have poor attention spans? 

PW: “Time will tell but if you’re a fan of a club it doesn’t matter if you’re new generation or old generation, you’re going to want to watch your team. The Tik-Tok generation may well be watching clips and highlights rather than the whole game even now. So if the game lasts 110 minutes or 90 minutes I think the TikTok generation will just see what they want to see.

When it comes to attention span, if Northampton Town are winning 1-0 and I’m sitting there in the stands watching them and the referee holds up 10 minutes I’ll be absolutely barking mad at him. But if they’re losing 1-0 and he holds up 10 minutes I’ll be so happy it’s unbelievable. So like any fan it depends on how their team are doing at that stage.

I just think that it will add to the excitement of the game as indeed VAR has added to the excitement of the game without people even realising it. It’s almost a sublime thing that’s happening in the background but we’ll soon get used to it.”

Q: Would you like to see Mark Clattenburg refereeing in the Premier League again now he has quit Egypt?

PW: “He was an extremely good referee and what I class as a natural referee not a man made referee. The players and managers respected him and I think his high profile games proved him worthy of that reputation as someone at the top of the tree. I think his career is taking him in other directions now. I think we’ll see him on TV again soon, actually on Gladiators.

But I think he’s made the decision to move on. It’s a loss to the Premier League for sure because he was a good referee but I think we’re in a stage now where were beginning to catch up in terms of the next generation of referees and the experience they’re gaining.”

Q: I notice you don’t have a Twitter/Instagram account. Did you face more online abuse when you worked for BT Sport or when you actually refereed? 

PW: “Social media has just bypassed me really, if my daughter had her way I’d have an account on every platform but I just never have and never will. In terms of online abuse there are plenty of people around me who do have those apps and they do inform me of how things are on there and for sure when I was refereeing and I’d make an error then I’d be given operational advice by many supporters of that particular team.

But what I found when I was working for BT Sport was that I was getting operational advice from all sorts of people and not necessarily advice! But I think I got more abuse for want of a better word in my latter years as a broadcaster rather than as an active referee. But that’s the nature of the beast.

Everyone’s got an opinion which is fine but when it gets personal that’s a bit disappointing because I’m only saying what my opinion is and trying to back it up with law and I don’t make the law I only implement it. But it’s a way of life and you have to be used to it and I’m used to it.” 

Peter Walton
Peter Walton
Peter Walton

Peter Walton is a former English Premier League referee. He officiated his first Football League match in 1986 and quickly established himself as a competent and composed referee. His big break came in 2003 when he was promoted to the prestigious Premier League referee panel. Walton's career achievements and highlights include officiating the 2005 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Manchester United and major UEFA competitions and FIFA World Cup qualifiers. He played a pivotal part in the implementation of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the Premier League. Since retiring from active refereeing in 2012, Peter Walton worked as a referee analyst for BT Sport's coverage of the UEFA Champions League.