“You don’t notice the referee during the game unless he makes a bad call” – Drew Curtis
“There’s nothing better than a good, blind referee” – Bobby Heenan
“Coaches will do what they can but it doesn’t necessarily bother me. You are an international referee for a reason. If things like that are going to ruffle your feathers, don’t bother doing the job” – Alan Lewis
“I play the game as honestly as I can. If the referee gives a penalty, there is nothing you can do” – Wayne Rooney
Some years ago, I witnessed a local match organized between my neighborhood and another hood. A local councilor had organized the match as part of his Youth Empowerment Programme. All these politicians sef; wetin concern youth empowerment and football match? Anyway, everyone looked forward to the D-day when the two hoods would clash. It would be a clash of the titans!
I volunteered to be on the coaching team of my hood. We gave our team a worthy name – The Indomitable Rabbits. Some of the players felt the name was demeaning but we finally decided to stick with name. I mean, c’mon, who cared whether we were called rabbits, squirrels or earthworms. What mattered was winning the match by any means necessary and getting the 100 thousand naira grand prize.
So we started preparations. We went from house to house requesting for players. Kalu accepted the invitation; he just came back from a trial at Rangers FC. We also invited the hood weed dealer, Okwe for training. He was stocky and about 5ft 8inches tall. We decided he would be the best guy to marshal the defence. We also invited Sammy, the fox. We called him the fox because his speed was out of this world and he could maneuver his way around any defence. Drogba, the Chelsea fan sold cement at a shop in the neighborhood and we invited him to partner Kalu up front in the attack. Emeka, the chemist was going to partner Alibo, the barber in midfield. We invited a total of 14 people and training commenced – serious and intensive training three times in a week. After two weeks of rigorous training, we were ready for the match.
On the D-day, we arrived at the Layout, where we would play the match. Many people from our neighborhood came to cheer us; Mama Nkiru prepared moi-moi and akamu for our players while Theresa bought ice cream and pure water for the team. The other team was ready too – burly men wey no dey laff at all. Men paa ji na okpa!
By 3:30 p.m., the councilor declared the event open. The referee was a man we knew – he ran a brothel not far from our neighborhood. Two of his friends would perform the duties of the linesmen while the fourth official was the councilor’s driver. By 4 p.m. on the dot, the referee blew the whistle to signal the first half had begun. Kalu raced towards the enemy’s goal post and took a shot which deflected off the defender and we had the first corner. Everyone cheered our players. A couple of minutes later, Kalu was at the heart of our attack once more and he combined effectively with Drogba who took a shot outside the 18 yard box and we scored the first goal. There was jubilation everywhere. A lady ran up to Drogba and planted a kiss on his cheek. The game resumed afterwards and we kept shooting from every angle. Shouts of ‘mercenary’ and ‘meeshii’ filled the air. The opponent’s coach was visibly angry at his players and the councilor seemed to be having fun. By the time the first half was over, we were 3 goals up while our opponents didn’t have any shots on target. We were happy.
The referee signaled the end of the first half. We were already basking in the euphoria and joy of going home with 100 grand. I turned around to watch our opponents but they were nowhere to be found. I only saw their coach talking to the referee in a friendly manner. Anyway, that one no concern me sha.
Later, the second half was about to resume. Our players were back on the field but yet, the opponents were nowhere to be found. The referee threatened to end the game and award the win to us if they didn’t show up in the next 10 minutes. All of a sudden, we saw them emerging from the nearby bushes, jumping up high in the air and shouting on top of their voices. Smell of weed and skunk filled the air. Their eyes were bloodshot red and it became evident that they were busy getting high during the half-time break. A few minutes after the restart, Kalu was hacked down from behind by a defender on the other side. Chaos erupted and the referee didn’t issue any cards. Soon the opponents scored a goal; a player visibly pushed our defender out of the way and took a shot. The referee allowed the goal to stand instead of awarding a free kick against them.
Frantically, I looked at my watch; we still had about 2o minutes left. No problem sha, we could still hang on till the end. But the referee and the opponents had other ideas and evil plans. It was clear the player on the opposing team scored their second goal with his hand but the referee yet again allowed a dubious goal to stand. About 5 minutes to the end of the second half, Drogba was unable to continue playing. Two of the opponents intentionally went for his legs and succeeded in crippling him for the time being. Yet again, no cards were issued to the culprits. In the extra time, the referee awarded two quick penalties against us and the opponents won the match. It was 4 – 3!
The councilor handed the cheque of a 100 grand to the opponents amidst joys and celebrations. Unsurprisingly, the referee was also rejoicing with them; he had murdered the game. But we had other plans for the referee. After the opponents had entered their bus and left, the councilor did same and the referee left too. We traced him to his compound that evening from the field and gave him the beating of a life time. We also carted away with some valuable property which we sold and got some cash for. It wasn’t up to 100 grand but at least, it was compensation money.
Throughout history, the outcomes of a lot of football (soccer) matches have been decided by the incompetency of referees. Just last year, I sat watching Manchester United and Liverpool play and Mark Clattenburg was really making wrong calls. I wished I could be able to magically land at the field at that moment and knock the referee the phuck out. It was that horrible and my beloved club lost that match.
Just this weekend, Africa witnessed another daylight robbery on the football pitch. The referee who was in charge of the match between Tunisia and Equatorial Guinea at the ongoing African Cup of Nations awarded a doubtful penalty in favor of the hosts and another unsympathetic free kick. The hosts eventually won the match and advanced to the semi-finals. There I was at the bar watching the match and wishing the Tunisian players would gang up and beat the hell out of the referee. Inglorious fools!
It is high time FIFA and other continental soccer bodies established rules and sets of punishments for referees that don’t do their duties effectively. And I suggest the punishment for awarding a dubious penalty would be stoning the referee to death by the affected team. Ouch, that was harsh!
*drops pen and walks away angrily from the table*