THEY’RE abused, threatened and reviled, blamed, pilloried and taken for granted.
Ranked somewhere in popular perception above teachers and policemen but below politicians as authority hate figures, they are of a certain breed.
We expect them to be pompous, officious and vindictive and, to be fair to the often unfair, some are.
But that’s fine.
They can have their 90 minutes of power every week, they can order people about and be right even when they’re wrong - and give you the look that says they know it and don’t care.
Because they’re in charge.
They can have all that plus their half-time orange and their bus fare home if it means hundreds of thousands of people across the country get to play football every week.
But of course most referees aren’t like that.
Most refs give up their Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings to go and run around in all weathers taking all kinds of stick from those few hungover half-wits who should have stayed in bed and slept it off rather than trying to run it off while ranting at the ref.
There would be no history or culture of local football without the men and women who do their bit on the parks of the city and this country without even the hope of a freak goal, fortunate 40-yard pass or lucky Duncan-Ferguson-style header to talk about in the pub afterwards.
Bless ’em, they deserve a break.
And on Saturday they got one.
Every local referee can take heart and know that however badly yesterday morning’s game went, or any other game might go, they will never be as unspeakably, inexplicably wrong as Peter Walton was at Southampton on Saturday. In charge of the Saints bame against Brighton Mr Walton, Premier League referee that he is, dropped the mother and father of all clangers.
He’d already turned down a Southampton penalty appeal when he judged that Brighton defender Lewis Dunk had brought down José Fonte INSIDE the penalty box in the 58th minute and awarded a spot kick.
Even a Portsmouth fan would have told him the ‘victim’ was way outside the area.
Crops have been planted in smaller areas, wars fought over less substantial pieces of ground than the gap between the foul on Fonte and the edge of the penalty area.
Having played and watched football for longer than these knees care to remember that’s without doubt the worst decision witnessed.
Add to that Blackburn Rovers’s illicit second goal at Wigan on Saturday where Pedersen ran with the ball from a corner without it being played by anyone else and it’s not been a good weekend for top referees.
Of course all this is only 90 per cent curable.
Having TV pictures witnessed by a fifth official in the stand for the referee to consult would have helped with the non-existent penalty and the corner-kick wheeze - even though no-one spotted it as it happened.
But we will never have cameras on park pitches.
So the next time your Sunday morning ref astounds you with a decision or appears to be deliberately getting things wrong just to make your hangover more excruciating remember it could be worse.
You could have had Peter Walton.