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Jacob Sweetman: Supporting the referees

They are the ones who face the worst of opprobrium raining down from the stands, the referees without whom the beautiful game would be nothing. Sure they can be incompetent, but then (and let's be honest here), who can't?

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Photo by BrokenSphere (Wikimedia CC)

Béla Réthy was happy with his new idea whilst commentating on last week’s international fixture – he repeated it over and over again like a mantra – Germany had become the new Holland and Holland, the new Germany.

It was simplistic to say the least, but the way in which Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose were sashaying their merry ways through the hapless orange clad players’ desperate defensive lunges was reminiscent of the devastating beauty of the side that lost the World Cup final in 1974, after having opened the scoring without their opponents, West Germany, getting a single toe to the ball.

Everything looks rosy at the moment for the game in Germany. The Bundesliga is booming, the national team are playing their best football in at least two decades and the game is awash with young talent. But there are dark clouds still. Clouds of a creeping commercialisation and it’s polar opposite, the spector of hooliganism.

 It depends on which papers you read, or on which side of the fence you sit as to which direction you see these clouds coming from, and on to whose garden they will be raining.

But one thing the footballing world was, mercifully, united on at the weekend was the shock that accompanied the news of Babak Rafati’s apparent attempted suicide before he was due to officiate the Bundesliga fixture between Köln and Mainz. The referee was found in a bath at his hotel by his assistants, who had raced back having already reached the stadium and probably saved his life.

Rafati is now out of hospital and will hopefully be left alone to recover without any unnecessary innuendo or speculation as to his motives. It appears that he was unconnected to the recent police investigations into tax avoidance by top level referees, for instance. However (his reasons notwithstanding) the idea of Kicker magazine’s list of the worst referees (a list which he has appeared in) being compiled every year should probably be looked into again.

The referees are the ones who are guaranteed to be disliked by at least one half of a crowd after every game played, at every level, on every pitch in the country. They are the ones without whom there would be no game, and the ones that, in these days of endless TV replays, are under as much scrutiny as any player. They are the ones for whom a simple mistake can mean the catcalls of “Hoyzer“ rain down from the stands on to, in tribute (if that’s the right word) to the Berlin born ref’ who remains the most visible example of corruption and match fixing in this country.

A few weeks ago the Berlin-Fußball Verband (BFV) held a five minute break in all the games at amateur level in the city – time in which it was asked of the spectators what they would do with their weekends without the men and women in black. Their solidarity is edifying, as are their continued campaigns in all forms against the abuse and even violence being directed at referees week in, week out, but they have got a long way to go until it is wiped out.

Footballers are often held up as role models for the youth of today. This surely misses a massive point. They should play their part, and the hectoring and harrying of officials should be stamped out at all levels, but people who expect these young men to be flying the flag of virtue for our kids should be asking themselves where the lead is really coming from. If we are relying on footballers to show us the way to some kind of moral redemption then we may want to ask ourselves some bigger questions about how the fuck we found ourselves in this position at all.

The BFV should be applauded, and we should all do our own bit by having a little thought or two before we abuse the ref from the stands. He or she may well be incompetent (and we all have our moments) but that is a far cry from being a cheat.