Monday, September 13, 2010

The Liberation Of Punishment

Readers who can be bothered to scroll down the page will find an entry from June telling of my heroic endeavours to defend football referees via a letter to The Washington Post. Back in March, I also wrote about the trials of referees like myself dealing with loud-mouthed parents and coaches who love to combine a borderline unhinged psychosis with an ignorance of the game’s laws. You may notice that I never criticised players in all this. That’s because I still step out on to the field to play at weekends, equipped with fading fantasies about the extent of my visibly diminishing footballing capacities. And because, in this role, I can still have the odd problem with a poor referee.

Like yesterday, for example, when I received my first red card in 36 years of playing. I reckon I’ve taken part in maybe 700-800 games without being ordered off the field. I’m overwhelmingly level-headed – if I’m the captain I tend to rush over to a hotspot to calm things down. If I’m not the captain, I’ll stand back with an air of detached superiority, perhaps shaking my head in the manner of one who knows so, so much better.

However, every player has his limits, and yesterday’s wildly, supremely, gobsmackingly incompetent match official broke all
Oh referee, please
set me free
records for staggering levels of ineptness. I won’t bore you with all the technical details. But five minutes before the end, after an accumulation of farcical calls and a total failure to control an unrelentingly obstreperous opposition team who controlled, cajoled, abused and manipulated him to the point of high comedy, he ignored such a blatant handball right before our very eyes that I asked him, quite loudly, if he had to be expletively joking. Super ref promptly showed me the yellow card for foul and abusive language, perhaps the first decision he’d got right all morning (because the language was an unambiguously foul and abusive reflection of 85 minutes of built-up frustration).

In our league that means a ten-minute spell on the bench, but with the game almost over (and lost, in many ways thanks to the ref), and because I can’t play next Sunday in any case and can easily serve the suspension, I promptly delivered a frank assessment of his overall capabilities as a sporting arbitrator, verbally decorated with further extremities of language designed to enforce my cogent case that he was a disgrace to the game. And just in case his ears were as deficient as his brain, I added a hand signal for good measure (the one the Germans appositely call ‘der Stinkefinger’). This all lead to the red. It felt good. It felt right, even. All those years I’ve played without receiving the ultimate caution, and no one had ever told me how satisfying it was to embrace the nirvana of unbuckled dissent.

By the time I reached the bench I was already calm. At the end of the game, I apologised to my team-mates, who kindly countered with nothing but empathy. In truth, though, I’ve no regrets. Some people are just not born to referee, and they really need to be told. Mind, if I’m reffing and anyone dares to tell me the same thing, I’ll probably send them off. But only because I now know that it will fill them with a sense of profound liberation.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Welcome to the club. I too have been sent off in a football match. If referees can't take honest (and justified) criticism they should wear ear plugs. I wish you'd said: "To call you a baboon would be an insult to baboons".

No Good Boyo said...

I'd like to see a sport where abusing incompetent officials is rewarded with points, pints and, if possible, a graphic re-enactment by cheerleaders.

Mark Sanderson said...

It's been a good few years since I've been red carded. I used to be a bit of a hot-head, but these days I've adopted the detached approach you described, as if arguing with a referee is somehow beneath my dignity; but, there are times, if appropriate, that I do miss letting the ref have it. (A hand signal as well? Outrageous!)

AMD said...

Your conduct towards the referee just shows what a bad role model Wayne Rooney is to boys of your generation!