onestopsport

Stuck In The Middle

In Football on February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Watching the Arsenal-Porto game, and then subsequently the Bayern-Fiorentina highlights, it was clear that mistakes were made by both referees.

Referee Martin Hansson had a difficult evening in Portugal

Martin Hansson had a nightmare couple of minutes at the Stadio de Dragao when he first waved away Tomas Rosicky’s penalty appeal and then allowed Porto to take a quick free kick to take the lead. For this, he endured a long lecture from Arsene Wenger on the sideline (quite why he patiently lent the Frenchman his ear I’m not too sure) and the scorn of seemingly every viewer.

After the game, the fun really started. Watching on RTE, the two of the ‘Three Wise Men’ (and Ronnie Whelan) had an almighty cut off the referee. Predictably, Eamonn Dunphy was the ringleader, as he howled over and over about how the referee has to raise his arm to indicate an indirect free kick, and then get out of the way. Ronnie disagreed. They’re professional footballers. Internationals in fact. They know it’s a bloody indirect free kick.

It was only after a comical few minutes of schoolboy squabbling (which actually reduced host Bill O’Herlihy to giggles at one point) that they saw another angle. Ah, it would seem he did raise his arm early after all. ‘I withdraw my point’ grumbled Eamonn. ‘But not the one about him obstructing Campbell’.

This time, John Giles objected. He pointed out that if Campbell had got goalside in the first place, rather than moping around with his hands on his knees and looking up to the heavens like a lost kitten, then the ref’s position wouldn’t be an issue. Even as the quick kick was taken, he’s aimlessly trotting to the wrong side of the ball. Had the ref been on Mars, Sol would still have to be the Flash to get anywhere near stopping the goal.

They agreed to disagree, and moved on to the Bayern-Fiorentina game. No advantage for the penalty, bad decision. Then the red card, which was clearly given on the advice of the linesman. Then the offside goal, again the linesman.

I actually said out loud, “I guarantee they’ll blame those on the ref and mention Chelsea being ‘robbed’ last year”. Cut to the studio, Whelan, ‘the red card there, looks a bad decision from the ref’. ‘And that’s the same guy who robbed Chelsea of their place in the final last year’, smugged Dunphy. Good man, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

There was time for one last moment of high comedy, as some muggins shoved a microphone under Sol Campbell’s nose. ‘Sol, Sol,’ he chimped, ‘that ref was the same ref who gave the Gallas goal against us, what did you think of your goal?’ So the two perfect beings went on to gleefully lay into the referee, both merrily appalled by his apparent ineptitude.

Sol Campbell jumped at the chance to blame Martin Hansson

Now, I was more than a little appalled myself by my country’s reaction to our World Cup exit. If Hansson had seen the handball, he damn sure would have given it. He was unsighted for a freak incident, and in our petty frustration, we painted him as some kind of mutant Hans Gruber. It was dummy-spitting on a nationwide scale, and to bring it back up here, months later, simply to aid some kind of character assassination was pathetic in the extreme.

Campbell looked like he couldn’t believe his luck. He’d found a willing ally, who would not only completely ignore his own part in the goal, but actively egg him on! RTE will have no trouble getting more interviews from Wenger’s boys, that’s for sure.

So it would seem Hansson and Ovrebo are incompetent, unfit for their job, shouldn’t be allowed to referee another game of football. Get rid of them then. Get the next man in line out on the pitch instead. Until he makes a high profile mistake. Then get him out, and the next man in.

I’m afraid there aren’t that many referees out there, and the unrelenting abuse they receive is part of the reason why. Another is the extreme difficulty of the job. You ever try to do it? Just as a Premiership footballer makes it look easy on the pitch, so it looks much easier to referee from your comfy armchair, with the sound at the right level and the nice high camera angle with replays and commentary.

How many referees have you genuinely respected, for more than a 10 minute period? You could probably count them on one hand.

They are asked to do a difficult job, and given zero respect for it. Players, pundits, managers, even you and me have made silly errors when playing or watching football. It’s only when the referee does it that everyone gangs up on them. Players are paid huge multiples of what the ref receives, but they’re too fragile for any abuse. Managers storm out of press conferences. Pundits perfunctorily apologise and go back on the attack. You and me just lower our voices a notch in the pub and hope nobody noticed.

Everyone else deflects, protects or just completely abdicates their own responsibility. But not the poor referee, they’re not given the chance. In fact, type ‘Tom Henning Ovrebo’ into google, and the first suggestion is ‘address’. Chilling. Ever wonder why so few people want to officiate?

Tom Henning Ovrebo has been the subject of some uncomfortable attention

If we really want to improve the standard of refereeing, then we would have more sympathy and respect for the task they have, or at least help them out. But when fans resist video technology and other advances, they also resist improving refereeing standards. Football fans, because of the age and popularity of the game, are resistant to technology. ‘But the game’s been going on for centuries, and it’s still the most popular in the world, why change it?’.

Fair enough. Don’t change it. Keep blaming the ref for all your team’s failings while you’re at it. But by doing so, fans have poisoned the man in the middle’s chalice, and their own. They are the great football fall guys, the butt of every joke. If they were perfect, we’d have no talking points right?

Great, we have talking points. I hope Arsenal and Fiorentina fans have some enjoyable chats during the week.

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