Sheffield United: Referee chief to meet with Heckingbottom as extent of time-wasting is revealed

Kevin Friend, who now manages referees in the English Football League, is scheduled to meet with Paul Heckingbottom tomorrow to discuss the Sheffield United manager’s concerns about time-wasting and play acting during games.
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Heckingbottom has complained vociferously about both practices in recent weeks, insisting that paying supporters are being short-changed by the failure of match officials to properly police them.

After being reassured that he is motivated by the desire to take part in constructive dialogue rather than simply berate those under his command, Friend, the PGMOL’s Select Group Two chief, has agreed to discuss the matter with Heckingbottom at the Randox Health Academy; where United will be finalising their preparations for Saturday’s game against Blackpool.

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“Kevin and another referee are coming in,” Heckingbottom said, confirming he welcomes the opportunity to speak with Friend. “I’ve been in constant and constructive dialogue about this after matches and, the trouble is, I don’t know what is a foul in some situations anymore. You see late challenges and then a hand in the back gets given and sometimes a card. I want the refs to show me what’s a foul now and what’s not so if I’m having a go at the fourth official, then I know I’m right.”

“The big one for me, certainly at home, is the amount of time teams are taking over goal kicks and such like. Sometimes it’s over 30 seconds. Then, if you bring in set-pieces and throws, it becomes extreme. Personally, I think the refs can do something more about it than book someone in the 81st, 82nd minute or whatever.”

Heckingbottom’s frustrations grew when he was handed data, compiled by United’s analyst Alex Delve, which underlined how commonplace delaying tactics and procrastination has become.

Former referee Kevin Friend is set to meet with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.Former referee Kevin Friend is set to meet with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.
Former referee Kevin Friend is set to meet with Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

Birmingham City, who held the Championship leaders to a draw at Bramall Lane immediately after the international break, spent an average of 27 seconds over each of the 14 goal kicks they were awarded during the contest. The ball was in play for only 60 of the 90 regulation minutes, with seven being added by Darren Bond, who oversaw the contest. Three days later, Queens Park Rangers, who condemned United to the second of three league defeats they have suffered this term, were awarded 19 goal kicks, which took an average of 30 seconds to be taken. Their corners and free-kicks required an average of 29 seconds to be executed. When other stoppages were taken into consideration, the ball was actually in play for less than an hour.

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“Everyone does it and I understand, I get, that there are times when people slow it down such as at the end of games,” Heckingbottom continued. “But not from minute one.”

Although United have failed to win any of their last three outings, United remain above second-placed Norwich City on goal difference. Given the state of play in the table, Heckingbottom felt it was important to raise the matter now in order to avoid being accused of making excuses.

“We’ve shared all the data with Kevin,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how angry I might look with them at times but I’ve always tried to be alright with them, the refs. I know you get good decisions and bad ones, it happens. But this can be easily monitored.”