Why I’ve always loved the whistle

Referee (File)
Referee (File)

Johannesburg - Who would want to be a referee?

I have been asked this question many times, and I always give the same answer: I really don’t know.

Choosing to become a referee is akin to being in love or feeling an itch in your heart that you cannot scratch.

Ever since I started officiating way back in the 1970/71 season in Ireland – and continued doing so after arriving in South Africa in 1985 – my passion for this aspect of football has remained at fever pitch.

The love for refereeing may have something to do with a desire to see that soccer is played according to the Fifa Laws of the Game.

Some say it has to do with the power that goes with the job, while others attribute their passion to their sheer enjoyment of serving as judge, jury and executioner.

For me, it has to do with my love of the game.

While my three brothers preferred to engage in the more leisurely activity of golf, I opted for a career with a whistle. Of course, I have experienced ups and downs over the years, but I can honestly say that not for a single moment have I regretted choosing this path.

Let me give you an example of one or two of those ups and downs.

I remember being taken out of Atteridgeville, Pretoria, in the boot of a police car after one particular game – such was the animosity shown by soccer spectators towards me over some of my decisions.

On another occasion, I was taken out of Tembisa Stadium in an armoured police vehicle after being barricaded in the dressing room for nearly two

I have been spat at and physically assaulted. I have received death threats by the dozen, face to face and over the phone – we didn’t have emails and social media then. Heaven only knows what it would have been like if we had.

Nope, it ain’t easy when you try to do your best to be fair and honest to both sides, whose only focus appears to be on winning the game at all costs.

If that means cheating, diving, lying and being downright deceptive to clinch that all-important victory decision, then so be it – this seems to be the order of the day among the teams.

What makes the job even harder is the fact that teams and supporters appear to think that the referee is against them and their team. These same teams and supporters are either unfamiliar with the laws or have selective amnesia when a ruling goes against them.

The hardest thing for me to take is when I see colleagues past and present being exposed in the media for not doing their job.

At the risk of being repetitive, I want to state again that I do not criticise referees or their assistants for what they are doing, but rather for what they are not doing – and, clearly, some of them are not doing their job.

I recently read a comment by former English Premier League and Fifa referee Mark Clattenburg, who is now the head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia, that he once changed his mind and awarded a corner kick to Manchester United when he knew it was a goal kick.

He said he did so – he deliberately and knowingly gave a wrong decision – because of the way in which former Manchester United and Ireland captain Roy Keane screamed at him. Speaking to the NBC podcast Men in Blazers, he said he was “petrified” of Keane.

My response to that is, if he felt that way, he should not have taken up the appointment and deliberately cheated by not awarding a goal kick.

Clattenburg is no stranger to controversy. In the same podcast, he also admitted that he “wanted Tottenham players to self-destruct” in the infamous match against Chelsea last year, which handed the title to Leicester.

Those kinds of admissions from a retired Champions League final referee do nothing to enhance the already tarnished name of refereeing.

Coming from someone with such high profile is not only disgusting, it also brings the name of each and every decent match official into question.

And it opens a huge can of worms as to how many more men in black have deviated from doing their job.

I deliberately exclude our female counterparts as there hasn’t been any evidence of such behaviour on their part so far. Maybe we men folk can learn a thing or two from them.

Suffice it to say that anything that brings the good name of refereeing into disrepute is unwelcome and harms the reputation of one of the oldest professions in the world. The sacrifices that are required to reach the top in this sometimes unforgiving “sport” are many.

You have to have an understanding partner as the job demands long hours of physical and mental training, and, in some instances, financial costs as well.

Happy whistling!

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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