PGMOL chief Howard Webb wants an improved stadium experience for match-going fans and is considering the potential of in-game audio from referees.

Speaking to Sky Sports News at the Twinning Project charity breakfast at Wembley, Webb reflected on what changes there could be on the horizon as he continues his policy of transparency with refereeing.

One idea that is regularly talked about is in-game audio, similar to that used by referees in the NFL. It has been used in football before, for example at last summer’s Women’s World Cup, when referees announced their decisions to the crowd.

While Webb did not explicitly say in-game audio is set to be implemented in the Premier League, he did add that it is under constant consideration as the PGMOL looks for ways to improve things for fans.

“We made a commitment that we would draw the curtain back on referring processes,” Webb said.

“Since the introduction of VAR a few years ago, there’s been more focus on process… there’s more scrutiny and analysis than ever before, and people want more information.

“We hope by seeing the considerations that go into decisions, people go away thinking ‘at least I understand how it happened’ and we’re looking to do that more.

“We’re looking to do it within the stadium as well. The TV show [Match Officials Mic’d Up, with Webb and Michael Owen] has been a positive, but we’ve also got to think about the people in the stadium and the experience they have and how we can ensure they’re just as equally informed because these are the people that make our game great.

Refereeing decisions made after VAR reviews were announced to the stadium during the Women's World Cup
Refereeing decisions made after VAR reviews were announced to the stadium during the Women’s World Cup

“We’re working the league, fans groups and the clubs, we’re looking at ways we can get more stuff onto the video board, we’re thinking about ways we can communicate the decision within the stadium.

“We’ve seen examples in FIFA tournaments where referees announce decisions. That might be a direction we go in, we’ve got to decide what’s the best for the English game, speaking to other stakeholders, and then we’ll make a decision we think improves things and takes the game forward.

“Those conversations are always ongoing and have been for some time. I’m optimistic that some changes will be visible by the start of next season.”

One way in which Webb has made things more open between clubs and referees is maintaining a constant line of communication.

Wolves boss Gary O’Neil recently said he has spoke to Webb multiple times this season after a number of decisions went against his club.

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Wolves boss Gary O’Neil says there is a desire across the country to improve VAR

Reflecting on how that process has been, Webb told Sky Sports News: “At the very start of my tenure in this role, I visited every club and said we’re here to engage and to give insights into how the officials make decisions.

“We’ll go to clubs or meet online, talk through a situation and sometimes even get the referee on that call as well so the clubs can better understand the process and rationale. That will sometimes involve us acknowledging where we’ve not made the right decision, although that doesn’t happen as often as people would like to present.

“Most of those conversations are around discussing the process, agreeing to disagree on situations, but we come away with better understanding of each other’s roles. I learn a lot from speaking to managers… it’s an open invitation and extends right through the season.”

Howard Webb on supporting the Twinning Project

“We’re delighted to support the Twinning Project.

“It brings together professional football clubs with their local prisons to give opportunities to those coming out of those establishments, giving them a better chance of stay out and doing that through football.

“It ignites passion and interests people. It’s a good way to engage with people who are trying to stay out of prison.”

There have been a number of firsts this season for referees in the Premier League too, and Webb is pleased to see more pathways opening up across the spectrum.

He added: “We’ve welcomed the new investment that has come into referring. It’s giving us opportunities to focus on things like the pathway that officials move through from the day they start refereeing.

“We’ve looked at ways we can modernise that with the FA as well. We’ve looked at how places we can target with high potential as well and traditionally untapped sources.

“For example, we’re working with the PFA to try to entice ex-players into officiating. It’s not happened often in the past, but we’re looking at why and how we can change that.

Referee Sunny Singh Gill - the first British South Asian ref in Premier League history
Sunny Singh Gill recently made history as the first British South Asian referee in Premier League history

“We’ve shown this year that refereeing can be for anybody. We’ve seen greater diversity in the Premier League with our first female referee ever, our first black referee for 15 years, our first British Asian referee taking charge of a Premier League game.

“It’s all underpinned by the quality those people have and if you’ve got quality, it doesn’t matter what your background is.

“And it’s wonderful to show young people out there that ‘this could also be you because other people that come from your communities have made it to the top’. Good referees come from all over and we want to entice people in to keep that pathway strong and healthy.”


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