The Janitor in the Panopticon

On the lot of the football referee, omnipotentate sans omniscience.
Share |

Press still from THE REFEREES

So I had a bit of a go at Eduardo Galeano's Football in Sun and Shadow last week. The reader is bound to be relieved to learn this time around that although I find the book infuriating in parts (why doesn't he agree with me, for God's sake?), it's charming in others. Galeano evokes the foreignness of a referee on a field otherwise full of competitors, "this interloper who pants in the ears of every player." The game is all around him, and it has to remain that way: he is tantalizingly close to it, but he must keep apart. "When the ball hits him by accident," Galeano writes, "the entire stadium curses his mother." I've never been a ref, but I have of course stood alongside the playing field, and it has something of the "sacred green space" about it, to use Galeano's words. You sometimes feel like Fr. Dougal in front of the big red button marked "DO NOT PRESS"—you have some deep urge to step onto it. But you know that to do so would be to trespass in some way, or to bring opprobrium upon yourself from everyone else present. Yet this is what the referee must do every game. A game is a kind of ceremony, but he is not the celebrant. He's an invader, a weed nobody has figured out how to banish from the garden. "He's absolutely right to cross himself when he first appears before the roaring crowd," says Galeano.

Thinking of this as the European Championships beckon (with the Official Beckoning Finger of UEFA Euro 2012™, no doubt) brings to mind, in one of those connections beloved of us writer types, the 2009 documentary film The Referees. The movie follows several referees through the 2008 European Championships. We see behind-the-scenes footage: from referees' locker rooms and hotels, from meetings with top UEFA bods, from their homes as their families watch anxiously on the TV. The filmmakers also train their cameras on the officials during the games, and we hear how they communicate with each other via their headsets. At times, it can seem like a comic version of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. In one scene, a linesman's flag flies off its handle as he signals for a throw-in. In another, fourth official Ivan Bebek decides that the match is the best time to inform referee Massimo Busacca that he has it on good authority that there's rain on the way. "What the fuck are you talking ... ?," wonders Busacca aloud. "It's not my problem. Shut up!"

But there's more to it than that. In a sense, The Referees doesn't tell us much about officials that anyone with a click of imagination wouldn't be able to figure out by themselves. Even if we've never heard a word from a ref, we could guess that they are pleased when a game goes well, and upset when they get a decision wrong; that refereeing teams possess an esprit de corps not unlike "real" teams, and that there is a sense of fraternity between all of the teams; that they get assessed, sometimes favourably and other times not, and that they react accordingly, but with restraint; that they like getting promoted and dislike getting demoted. Even so, it's still worthwhile actually seeing all this. In the group match between Poland and Austria, the English refereeing team allows a goal for Poland which should have been ruled out. When assistant Mike Mullarkey informs ref Howard Webb that it was probably offside, Webb winces. It's so brief you'd almost miss it, and it seems like such a small thing. But it in itself constitutes a tangible insight usually closed off to us.

Late in the same game—very late—Webb notices a shirt-tug by a Pole in the Austrian penalty area, and awards a spot kick, which is converted. This time, the call was perfect, but Poland's manager, Leo Beenhakker, flies into a rage that's impressively bratty for a 65-year-old. ("Fucking disgrace!," he rages, a year before Didier Drogba.) But that's only the start of it. Webb receives death threats. He is compared to Hilter. His family home in Yorkshire is besieged by angry Poles. The Polish prime minister says that he wanted to kill the referee. (Death threats are the must-have accessory for the jet-setting international referee. Kill the Referee was the original English title for this film.) Webb's father speaks of it with a mixture of deep pride in his son's achievements and anger at how anyone could respond to a referee's decision with such insensitive sensitivity. Webb himself—a policeman by occupation—takes it in his stride as much as anyone could, at least superficially. "It's all clear? They've got rid of the bombs and the cyanide and the anthrax?," he jokes before his next game.

"What we see doesn't matter—what's important are the allegations they make," says another ref, Roberto Rosetti, regarding the abuse of Webb. The referee is a parody of God. Nothing officially happens unless he deems it to have happened. But he and his assistants can only see so much. Why was this incident called a foul when that identical one was not? Because the ref saw this one, and not that one. The ball crossed the line: surely it's a goal? Ha! Your physics are puny next to the fact that the linesman's view was blocked. (How many miracles have happened this way?) All this power is given to one figure who cannot possibly exercise it fully. And he is mocked for it. Players manoeuvre their way into his blind spot and do dastardly deeds there. They themselves get manoeuvred and dastardized in their turn, and they beg the referee to answer their prayers. (During the final of Euro 2008, Michael Ballack runs up to the ref and screams in his face in complaint over a free kick Rosetti has awarded to Spain. When Rosetti looks away, Ballack slaps Carlos Marchena in the face.) There are so many terrible things in the world—war, famine, penalties given against your team, your thwarted will—for which, before now, you could only shake your fist at the sky. Now, you can have your revenge. The referee has the omnipotence without the omniscience, and for that he must pay.

Theoretically, we TV viewers have the omniscience (even if we don't always use it wisely, as Poland demonstrated). The demand for video assistance might be said to be an attempt to bridge the gap. It could well solve the problems of fouling and cheating, the way blanket CCTV has eliminated crime in our towns and cities. That is to say, it might help refereeing, but it's not an idea concerned with helping referees. They might be gods demoted to put-upon junior bureaucrats now, but if the techno-utopia were ever realised, they would end up as janitors in the Panopticon. In a game where players' fallibilities are tolerated and even indulged (barring outbursts of selective fastidiousness from the footballing public), officials' fallibilities are a disease. Perhaps this is behind the passionate plea at the end of the film by David Elleray, a former FIFA referee, not to introduce such aids. Why should the referee be squeezed out?

To which one might reasonably reply: why not? In any case, that day hasn't come yet, but if it does, The Referees may serve as a time capsule. It brings out a side of football which is worth paying attention to every so often. Simply by moving the camera a little that way, it reverses the normal perspective, putting the players in the background and the referee in the foreground. As I watched it, I jotted down a note that read: "The game is as much about the ref as about the players." This may be going a bit far, admittedly. But the officials are to a football game what tyres are to a car. Everyone's looking at the car's body, be it elegant or practical or obnoxious; but it's the tyres that are the car's only contact with the solid earth. (Also, it's the tyres that get a routine kicking.) The players are in the business of unreality, of making us believe that what they do matters like nothing ever has, and that their victories matter even more. The referee is in the business of reality; he sees things (or tries to see things) as they really are. The players' reward is ecstasy. The ref's is a quiet satisfaction, or just relief. It's not impossible to imagine the captain of a football team saying "We've fucking done it — we've done Euro 2008" to his colleagues as they were seconds away from elimination, as Howard Webb did. It's not impossible, but one can also imagine the response. The game may not be as much about the ref as about the players, not quite, but (the corrupt and the power-crazy aside) there's a fundamental dignity to the job. We can congratulate ourselves for getting drunk on the delirium, and fair enough. But somebody has to be sober. The game really would be chaos without the referee, even if he has to serve as chaos' punchbag to maintain order.

Share |


Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative car insurance for minors

This is quite impulsive post, I liked the way you write and explain all the things clearly. Thanks
inbox blueprint 2.0

Your articles and contents are encouraging.
loan until payday

I will prefer this blog because it has much more informative stuff.million dollar business secrets coupon

As the home of a leading Gold Coast hypnotist, we are passionate about and committed to helping liberate people from unwanted habits, phobias, fears, anxiety, past issues and limiting beliefs, so that they can experience more freedom, joy and improve the overall quality of their lives.

plate to some extra work he put into the batting cages. He said he has been working at a hitting facility in Champaign, three or four times a week. entradas juegos olimpicos rio

This blog is very informative the stuff you provide I really enjoyed reading.

Every week-end I used to pay a fast visit this site, because I’d like enjoyment, because this web site conations certainly fussy material. push button influence bonuses

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff.Virtual CEO lifestyle bonus

Every week-end I used to pay a fast visit this site, because I’d like enjoyment, because this web site conations certainly fussy

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff. Inbox blueprint 2.0 bonus

Thankyou for this wondrous post, I am happy I watched this site on hurray.

I invite you to the page where you can read with interesting information on similar topics. Lovetraction Lines

This post is really valuable that designed for the new visitors. Pleasing work, keep on writing.

Make the most of mainly premium substances - you will find him or her for: The Psystrology Method

We specialize in cleaning carpet and upholstery as well as providing carpet repair, carpet stretching, and bleach spot dyeing. We know homeowners and business want to feel secure with their decision to get their carpets cleaned. Carpet Cleaning Mattoon IL

Very good topic, similar texts are I do not know if they are as good as your work out. Obsession Phrases

The blog is unique that’s providing the nice material. Please post more interesting articles flyers printing

You have done a great job. I will definitely dig it and personally recommend to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this site.
wood floor installations Passaic

Nice to read this article will be very helpful in the future, share more info with us. Good job! how to determine cash value of life insurance

Hey nice post man! Thanks for incredible info.speak to sell bootcamp bonus

An unbelievable blog. This blog will indisputably be definitely recommended to my friends as well.
Football Training Equipment

Fine method of telling, and enjoyable article to acquire factual statements.College Binge Drinking

Make the most of mainly premium substances - you will find him or her for: Wrap Him Around Your Finger Review

I would be supportive on all your articles and blogs as a result of they are simply up to the mark.
Disability news Australia

against your team, your thwarted will—for which, before now, you could only shake your fist at the sky. Now, you can have your revenge. The referee has the omnipotence without the omniscience, and for that he must pay.
leads tunnel

In this particular article, you will see a summary, satisfy browse this post. Children Learning Reading Review

Why do only so much written on this subject? Here you see more. obsession phrases review

Your blogs and its stuff are so notable and worthwhile it can make me return. payday

It is extremely nice to see the greatest details presented in an easy and understanding manner.
OROGOLD Cosmetics Reviews

I certainly appreciate your stuff provided in the blogs.

I really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us. I assure this would be beneficial for most of the people.
septic fields alberta

I read your blogs regularly. Your humoristic way is amusing, continue the good work! consumer reports

I'd like to take the power of thanking you for that specialized guidance I've constantly enjoyed viewing your blog. fat diminisher scam

The reader/viewer is much more likely to revisit the information and will probably do so on many occasions. It becomes more focused on the said information because it’s very interactive.boca raton personal injury lawyer

The writer understand better the mind of people what they want to learn through their writing therefore this article is outstanding. Thanks!!!

does nationwide insurance give a discount for paying for a full year

Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing... Manifestation Miracle Review

but he is not the celebrant. He's an invader, a weed nobody has figured out how to banish from the garden. "He's absolutely right to cross himself when he first appears before the roaring crowd," says Galeano.
summoners war hack android |
clash of clans trucs et astuces

Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and new initiatives in the same niche. Blog gave us useful information to work. You have done an amazing job! voyance amour eternel

I conclude I have selected the smart and inconceivable website along with interesting stuff. best insurance comapanies for whole life insurance cost

I continuously continue coming to your website once more simply in case you have posted new contents. va online loans

Your composing is purely awe-inspiring that I desired to read such high quality material...
discounts available for car insurance

Hi to everybody, here everyone is sharing such knowledge, so it’s fastidious to see this site, and I used to visit this blog daily. hampton bay

You there, this is really good post here. Thanks for taking the time to post such valuable information. Quality content is what always gets the visitors coming..The Penguin method Review

I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. It is a great website and nice share. I want to thank you. Good job! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work. ready4read

I liked the content you have given here. Very informative.that not how men work review

It’s really such nice information to get advantage from.
cash advance

Your articles and blogs are inspirational.Mobile Optin Review

This is a superb post I seen because of offer it. It is truly what I needed to see trust in future you will proceed for imparting such a magnificent post. hcg injections

Here at this site really the fastidious material collection so that everybody can enjoy a lot.
payday loans no credit check