Jeff Winter - Exclusive Interview with OLBG

Updated: 28 Football

x-EPL referee Jeff Winter weighs in on controversial calls, VAR evolution, and new proposals for managing player dissent. Plus, his take on the campaign against referee abuse and personal experiences from the pitch.

Jeff Winter - Exclusive Interview with OLBG

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Jeff Winter, Former Refereee

Jeff Winter is a name that resonates with football fans and players for his notable contributions to the sport as a Premier League referee. Born in the heart of English football culture, Middlesbrough, his career on the pitch has been marked by significant matches, most notably the 2004 FA Cup final. Following his retirement from professional refereeing, Winter transitioned seamlessly into the media sector and maintains strong ties to the game through his support for Middlesbrough F.C. and authorship of an autobiography that offers an insider's view of football officiating.

🏟️⚽Career Information

Jeff Winter began his career in football not as a player, but as an official, rising through the ranks to become one of the football community's most respected referees. His career culminated in officiating one of the most prestigious matches in English football, the 2004 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Millwall, which served as his swan song from professional refereeing.

After stepping away from the professional level, Winter continued to stay connected to the game through Masters Football, an annual event that extends competitive spirit to the legends of the sport, past their prime playing years but still relishing the game they love.

🎙️📰 Media Work

Jeff Winter's expertise and engaging persona were not limited to the field. After hanging up his whistle, he embarked on a successful stint in radio with TFM Radio on Teesside, sharing his insights and opinions until June 2008. His reach extended beyond radio, as Winter became a prolific writer, contributing columns to both local and national media. His work and thoughts on football and refereeing are conveniently consolidated on his official website.

✒️📚🏠 Personal Life and Writing

True to his roots, Jeff Winter is an ardent supporter of his hometown club, Middlesbrough F.C., and also carries a torch for Rangers. His autobiography, "Who's The B*****d in the Black?" published in 2006, offers readers a candid glimpse behind the scenes of football refereeing, narrating his experiences and the multifaceted challenges faced by officials at the highest levels of the game.


Interview December 2023 - I don’t know what went through Simon Hooper’s mind not allowing an advantage to Man City against Tottenham, you can’t defend the indefensible

Speaking to OLBG, retired Premier League referee Jeff Winter said he was left baffled by Simon Hooper’s decision to not allow Manchester City an advantage in the thriller with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday

What did you think about Simon Hooper’s decision to not allow Manchester City the advantage in the closing stages of the Tottenham Hotspur game? 

JW: “In the eyes of the pundits and Man City fans, it was a match-defining incident. It was an error of judgment by the referee, you can’t defend the indefensible. However, it’s not just football, which gets the blame for everything, all the ills of the world are put in the hands of football. 

“Before we get to that incident where people are saying it’s a match-determining incident, I saw Erling Haaland miss an open goal from 10 yards earlier in the game.

Jeff Winter speaks out on the recent Man City controversy 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿⚖️

“I would suggest that if he put that ball into the net, you would think on the quarter-million pound a week salary he’s earning, he should have done and the game would have been beyond Tottenham. I’ll fight until my dying day that one incident in 90 minutes determines the result of a game. 

“The referee has made an error. I don’t know if they looked at the possibility of Grealish being offside, it looked like a tight one but as good a player as Grealish is, can we hand on heart say that Grealish would have scored? Let’s get that into context.

“There’s a tackle on Haaland that nine times out of 10, he’s going to be on the ground in absolute agony, screaming for a yellow card with his teammates. The referee has a decision to make. Is it a foul? Can he play on? Advantage is not possession, in that split second, many referees, myself included, have seen the foul. They don’t want an escalation of reaction to the foul, they hit the whistle but the play goes on and you see the ref holding their hands up, saying they’re sorry, I got that one wrong. The best referee in the world isn’t going to get that one right every time. 

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“This one is slightly different, Hooper recognises the foul and decides to play advantage a couple of seconds later. I don’t know what went through his mind. I don’t know why he blew the whistle. You can’t defend it, he’s made a mistake, just like Haaland did when he missed an open goal. It’s human error, it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s not referees being useless. Hooper had a very good game, he let the game flow, he hadn’t overreacted but then in the 94th minute of the game, he got something wrong. Unfortunately, he made a genuine mistake and he will be hurting more than anyone this morning. 

“As a referee, people think that referee’s don’t care. You’ve got pride in your own performance and he will realise why the hell did I blow my whistle, why didn’t I give it a couple more seconds. We’ve gone into mass hysteria mode and it’s the only thing to talk about this weekend. All you can ever do as a player or referee, is to hopefully learn from it. It’s not a case like we used to argue about 10 years ago about the ball being over the line or not where it’s factually proven. It’s a ‘might have’ incident where Man City may have scored and won the game but we won’t know that. He was denied the opportunity through a split-second, error of judgment by the referee.”

Q. Might have been a different reaction if Haaland had scored and City were 4-3 up before the incident? 

JW: “Once you’ve got these knee-jerk comments coming in, it’s not helping the game from professional level through to the grassroots. The trouble with these referees is that they ‘don’t know the game’. If that’s the case, what I would propose is that all referees take a weekend off and let’s see how many former players are queuing up wanting to do the job and learn overnight how to be in the right position and get the best angles on incidents?

“We see it in the media every weekend, the level of theatre where it’s two guys, one says it’s a penalty and one says it’s not a penalty, it increases the debate and keeps the program going. It’s part and parcel of the game but let’s see how many will give up their jobs in the studio on a Saturday and always be right. Let’s see if it improves and you know what’s a dive and what’s a foul, especially ones that they have connections with and used to play for. It would be good for charity to see Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville refereeing Man City vs Liverpool. They’ve got more knowledge about football than the vast majority of people.

🚦⚽ Jeff Winter weighs in on the #VAR debate!

Someone has to make the call - will tech in football streamline the game or disrupt the flow?

“Someone has got to make the decision. 20 years ago, those of us who were in the game, all the pundits were saying we’ve got to have the technology, we’ve got to have VAR. The referees are making mistakes, they’re costing managers jobs, I’m sure they are over a course of a season, it’s solely down to referees. People said they wanted this [the technology] and those of us who have spent a lifetime on the pitch have said it’s not like tennis or golf, it’s not stop-start. You can have an appeal for a penalty at one end which isn’t given and 10 seconds later, an appeal for a penalty which is given. 

“VAR comes in and says don’t send that player off that you’ve sent off. We said it would be farcical but that’s what we’ve got now. We’ve got the experts, the people from the FA and those in charge of the referees saying we don’t want the game re-refereed, but that’s what’s happening with every incident. VAR was supposed to be about getting the Thierry Henry handball incident right, on the blindside of the officials, they couldn’t give the referees the blame because they couldn’t see it but now we’ve got VAR dissecting every challenge in the penalty area. 

Jeff Winter offers a seasoned ref's take on VAR

From split-second calls to drawn-out reviews, technology's pause is changing the game's pace. For those who advocated tech in football, are you rethinking it now? 🤔⏱️

“It’s one thing for a referee making a decision and being judged to have got it wrong, it’s another thing for VAR with all the technology getting it wrong so they take longer. If you’ve been in a ground and you’re watching a game of football, and if you see the ball is in the net, the first thing as a referee is to glance at the linesman to see if they’ve got their flag up. Now, there’s a pregnant pause where we’re all standing round waiting for the decision to be made so those that were shouting for technology 20 years ago, I hope they’re eating their words because it’s just complicating the game.” 

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Q. Your initial thoughts on VAR? Have they changed since it was introduced?

JW: “Initially, I was skeptical about the idea of VAR. Pundits were being ultra critical of match officials during my time as a referee. We used to have the comments about goal-line technology where everyone could see in the ground that it was a goal, but when you’re on a football pitch you can’t see where the goal lines are until you’re within 10-15 yards of them. 

“As we’ve seen with technology, when the ball hits the underside of the crossbar and comes down, we’re talking millimeters. It was impossible for an assistant referee to see 40 yards away when the ball was driven in at 50mph. That showed how virtually impossible it was to correct. It’s now brilliant - there’s no argument for goal line technology now. 

Football talk never sleeps! ⚽💬

From pundits' hot takes to passionate fans, everyone's got an opinion. But remember, the ref's decision is meant to be final – even if debates rage on long after the whistle. 🔍🗣️

“Pundits keep coming up with new statements and ways of describing a simple game. Everything else is someone’s opinion. The pundits from either side are bound to have a different opinion. The fans are bound to have a different opinion. We have a referee, that’s paid to make a decision. The laws of the game state that the referee’s decision is final but they don’t now because the referee’s decision isn’t final. 

“I hate the term about referees ‘bottling out’ of a decision, it’s a terrible terminology but referee’s are bottling out of decisions now because they’ve got this all powerful VAR. You can see that a lot of the frustrations that’s going into football which does go through to the grassroots level is being brought about by confusion. People are now asking ‘What is a handball?’ don’t ask me just because I’m a referee, I’m no more knowledgeable than you are because they keep changing the laws. They’ve made what is basically a simple game into something that none of us understand. The players and managers are rightfully frustrated. Their facial expressions say it all. Giving a decision in football is a natural reaction. 

“Someone did a survey and a high-90 per cent said that the referees are giving a correct decision which is a high level of excellence. Now the referees are being put under more pressure to make a decision. If you go to work on a Monday and your boss tells you to do something, what are you going to do? Do you do it or do you stand up to them? 

“Someone did a survey and a high-90 per cent said that the referees are giving a correct decision which is a high level of excellence. Now the referees are being put under more pressure to make a decision. If you go to work on a Monday and your boss tells you to do something, what are you going to do? Do you do it or do you stand up to them? “Suppose you’ve got someone as a senior referee, like Anthony Taylor, and he’s the VAR man. If he tells a junior referee in his second season as a Premier League referee to have a look at the monitor, he’s not going to go against him, because he’s your boss in that situation as a younger, more inexperienced referee. It’s the same situation. It’s not being refereed by the on-field referee.

📊 New survey shows over 90% approval for refs' calls, proving their commitment to excellence in football! But increased pressure is a game-changer. 🏆👨‍⚖️ Even when the boss calls the shots on Monday, will you stand your ground or follow the lead? With senior refs like Anthony Taylor at VAR, will newcomers dare to challenge the call? 🔄 It's a tough play for the less experienced - the on-field authority is shifting!

“Suppose you’ve got someone as a senior referee, like Anthony Taylor, and he’s the VAR man. If he tells a junior referee in his second season as a Premier League referee to have a look at the monitor, he’s not going to go against him, because he’s your boss in that situation as a younger, more inexperienced referee. It’s the same situation. It’s not being refereed by the on-field referee. 

“It’s not that they’re changing their decision because it’s a clear and obvious error. There’s just someone else that’s now refereeing the game which leads to a mistrust and a lack of confidence from the players to the match officials and that’s why the players are always in the referee’s ear, especially if they’ve made a previous mistake. Before, that never happened. You’ve given your decision, end of story. We can talk about it post-match but the decision is made and accepted and we move on. Match of the Day and Sky can stay on all night because we’re constantly talking about VAR. 

“Showing something in slow motion is always going to make an incident look worse than in real time. Somebody has got to make the final decision and why can’t it be the match official that has 10 to 15 years experience? Simon Hooper might play a perfect advantage next week and no one will say a word about it. Despite the fact he had a good game on Sunday, people will want him in the Championship. VAR officials need to look in the mirror and have to take responsibility for some of the mayhem we’re seeing in the game week after week.” 

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Q. The IFAB have suggested including sin bins for players that show dissent, what are your thoughts on this? Would it kill the game?

JW: “I don’t think it would kill the game, I’ve been an advocate for it because we’ve got a disciplinary system now where a totting up after five cautions, a player then gets suspended for the forthcoming game. If he’s a top player, it’s the opposition for that game that gets the benefit. 

“There would be negatives to it that teams would be more defensive for those 10 minutes but surely you would think the penny would drop if your numbers are being reduced, perhaps you won’t scream and shout at the referee or kick the ball away. You’d like to think that would lead to better player behaviour and better management of the game. 

“I listen to the comments that experts make. We’re seeing a lot more injuries and games are going on not for 90 minutes but well over 100 minutes. I blame the referees and authorities for that because one of the reasons for that is time wasting. 

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“Throw-ins are a great example where back in my day, players would try to pinch two yards for throw-ins, now it’s more like 15 yards. Everyone now tries to clamp down on abusive language but then when the referees do start to do that, the worm turns because the player that gets a yellow card after 10 minutes and then a second yellow after 60 minutes, people say that the referees want to be the centre of attention. All of a sudden the referee, who has been encouraged to take further action, is now the villain of the piece.

“Injuries can occur by players standing around. A manager made an excellent point that if a player was in a sin bin for 10 minutes on a freezing cold night, then had to go out and in the first sprint, pulls a hamstring. These knee-jerk reactions are why we’re in a mess now. With handballs, we played football for years where it had to be a deliberate act but they keep tweaking the rules to make the game better but they don’t, it makes the game worse.

“Will sin bins work? I’d like to think so, but can they be managed? I used to hate being a fourth official because you’re not making the decisions but you’re an easy target for the benches to be screaming at. Will the fourth officials have to now keep an eye on sin-binned players that have had nine minutes fifty-eight seconds because then the benches are screaming that they want the player back on but your mind can be taken somewhere else as part of their role. Are we going to have to get more officials? I don’t know where we’re going to get all these officials from. We can’t afford to have games not being played because there’s a shortage of referees and that’s through to the grassroots level.

“With all this angst across football, there’s more and more youngsters fancying refereeing but packing it in after a few games. Instant punishment that might encourage players not to react and do something of the things they do, like dissent, I used to be in favour of it but in the presence of current lawmakers, let’s look at all the implications of this. 

“In broad terms yes, but I’m not totally convinced. Independent timekeeping is something that can be looked into. Managers get irate about how long we’re playing for. There’s more goals scored after 90 minutes than there ever has been because we’re playing seven minutes of added time nowadays. If you’ve got a stadium clock and there’s a match assessor in the game or it’s a job for someone else, I’ll stand there in the stands and press start and stop on a watch which gets shown in a stadium because then we’re not arguing about it. This could have been brought in many a year ago. 

“Speaking as a football fan, my level of enjoyment for the game has gone downhill. I listen to every comment that every fan says because I’m largely in agreement with them. There’s much more dissent and arguments than ever.”

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Q. The Daily Mail launched a campaign recently to stop referee abuse. During your time as a Premier League referee, what was the worst experience you’ve had in terms of abuse? 

JW: “I can’t answer that because I can’t think of one. Yes, there was dissent. In my day, we used to manage players, if a player came up to me, he’d get a mouthful back. Nowadays, the game has changed and the players have changed. Players would say to me fair point Jeff and get on with it but now, players will say referees can’t talk to them like that. Now with referees mic’d up, people can hear what they’re saying. 

“A referee that swore at a player, you wouldn’t see them again. In my day, we’re not talking about nasty abusive language, we’re talking about industrial language, the things that the players will do on the training field all day long. 

“An expletive is a request for a throw-in, a request that you give a penalty is accompanied by an expletive. There are worse words on a football pitch that you hear on a drama after 9pm on the TV. I’m not condoning it but it’s a fact of life.”


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