John Brooks, until recently obscure assistant referee working in England, shot to fame over the weekend when video emerged showing him advising Manchester City players to thank fans who had paid £62 to watch their team play Arsenal. Now his employers seem to think that publicity is too much.
Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the group that assigns officials to English football fixtures, took Brooks off duty for Tuesday's FA Cup match between West Bromwich Albion and Queens Park Rangers. That was the wrong decision, no matter which reasons PGMOL listed for it.
If you missed it, Brooks' sudden fame stems from an incident following Manchester City's 2-0 win at Arsenal on Sunday. After the final whistle, as the players shook hands with the officials, Brooks advised some City players to thank their fans (video here).
Those fans had paid £62 for entry into the stadium. The high cost had sparked intense media attention all week, with City returning more than 900 tickets un-purchased (via Daily Mail).
News floated around the Internet late Monday that Brooks had been taken off duty for Tuesday's West Brom-QPR match. On Tuesday, PGMOL said the decision shouldn't be taken to mean Brooks had come under fire from the organization.
The Guardian reports:
Brooks is a first-year official in the Premier League and because of his relative inexperience there were fears within the PGMOL that he might have been unsettled by the sudden interest. Sources have emphasised that his removal should not be construed as the authorities taking a dim light of his comments about the high ticket prices at the Emirates.
Instead, it has been described as a "sensible precaution" in keeping with the PGMOL's policy that the match officials should not be seen as the story and put under undue pressure.
PGMOL has taken similar action with Sian Massey and Mark Clattenburg previously. Brooks will not receive his normal match fee, according to the report.
The move makes some sense, considering Brooks' status as a first-year official in the Premier League. As an inexperienced linesman, Brooks is likely unaccustomed to the spotlight.
Furthermore, PGMOL can manage officials as it pleases. The organization's purpose, according to one Guardian source, is to "protect our officials." This move can be interpreted as such.
But if Brooks is not being punished, and if he really is being taken off duty through no fault of his own, then it makes no sense to withhold the pay he would have received for working the match.
And if PGMOL's decision-makers are worried that Brooks will be overwhelmed by publicity, they should consider what taking him off a match will do. Instead of shielding Brooks from excess publicity, PGMOL has instead made it seem like Brooks is being punished for saying something most fans would appreciate.
True or not, that will only increase Brooks' suddenly substantial media profile.
To outsiders, it looks like PGMOL is trying to neutralize Brooks' voice. And to outsiders, Brooks only said something that any regular, decent human would do. Since his words didn't affect the outcome of the match, it's unclear what was wrong with them.
PGMOL won't care about that, of course. The organization will—and should—make decisions in the best interest of its officials. In this case, though, it's hard to understand what Brooks did wrong, or how he is being best-served.