Being a referee in a top league is arguably one of the worst jobs in the world.
You can argue that they get to be involved in a great sport, 'play' at all the top stadiums, interact with all the top players and get paid to blow a whistle, but I can't see how anyone would want to be a referee if you consider the amount of abuse they get from both sets of players, both sets of fans and both sets of coaching staff.
I admit that I wasn't a friend of the men in black during my playing days, as mentioned before, once you've had your knees operated on a few times because of some bad tackles, you blame the referee as much as the guy who kicked you. But as old age creeps up, and I get to sit and watch a lot more, I find it incredible that there are people out there who continue to take a whistle so that others can play.
As much as I feel that referees must do everything in their power to make sure they do not make mistakes, like staying fit, playing a bit to actually see how things happen with the ball and talking to players to get a sense of their personalities, I also feel that there has to be a concerted effort to protect the man in the middle from the violent abuse that is being dished out at the top games around the world.
The simple truth is that referees are only human and will keep making mistakes, some bigger than others. The game has got so fast, that we can't even rely on slow motion anymore - we need super slow motion - and even then we can still argue whether it was a penalty or a goal or whatever.
The ref gets a split second to make his mind up - and most times they get it right. I was watching Monday Night football on SuperSport and Terry Paine said something that I think is really important - we spend too much time discussing the few negative things instead of focusing on all that is wonderful about the game.
There should be more discussion on how Ronaldo takes free-kicks, or how Cesc Fabregas always seems to be in space. We should be analysing how Fernando Torres finishes everything that comes his way, or Steven Gerrard's incredible technique.
No back chatting
There are rumours that next season the English FA will enforce an "area of exclusion" around the ref - so that no players can come within a certain distance of the man once a decision is made. I think this is a step in the right direction, but will wait to see how it is implemented before making judgement.
I think the first step should be using something that has been very effective in rugby and that is simply no back chatting. Players must keep their mouths shut (easier said than done) and get on with the match. I think the captain of each team should be allowed to question a decision or get his point across, but no other players, unless asked by the ref, should get involved in any discussion.
I don't want to see technology introduced in the game, I think it will become too technical and might end up becoming pedantic. American Football is actually only 60 minutes of actual play, but because of all the stops and starts, replays, yellow flags, action replays, video challenges etc, the whole game takes up to four hours.
It is up to those of us who watch the game, who play the game and who love the game to look after it. This means respecting the laws of the game, the spirit in which the game is supposed to be played, respecting the opposition and finally, being thankful that there is someone who is willing to take the whistle so that others can play. There is a lot more to be thankful of, so let's appreciate the beauty of the game and respect the man in the middle.
There are times when I really think that if you play the game honestly, you will get your reward. I think those players who go out to hurt other players or who try to cheat their way to free-kicks and penalties, end up getting nothing. Not always - ask John Terry after he kicked the ball back to Arsenal but put it in the corner flag - and Chelsea ended up scoring from the advantage! But most of the time, it goes against you.
I watched the Chiefs v Sundowns Nedbank Cup match recently, and although Chiefs dominated proceedings, they failed to take their chances again, and ended up losing on penalties. But the critical incident for me was when Sundowns had a man down injured and goalkeeper Brian Baloyi tried to kick the ball out.
Chiefs' Fabian McCarthy kept it in and carried on playing even though the ref was signaling for him to kick it out. Matters got worse when Sundowns striker Aldave fouled McCarthy to stop the game. Chiefs defender Jimmy Tau ran in to add his two cents and Sundowns' Brent Carelse kicked the ball against Tau's legs.
Now this reads like a mouthful, but it was nothing but handbags at six paces. But Tau went down like he had been shot, grabbing his legs and rolling around. The ref couldn't have seen what happened as it was all behind him, but he spun round and sent Carelse off!
McCarthy should have kicked the ball out, and Tau shouldn't have rolled around like he had his legs cut off. The football Gods were not amused, and punished Chiefs by dumping them out the tournament.
The sad truth for the once mighty Amakhosi is that they do not have enough quality on the field, they don't take their chances in front of goal, and now they are resorting to unsporting behaviour. I hope this is the last we see of this behaviour as Chiefs are often the shining example of all that is good in local football.
George is Media24's group soccer manager and represented South Africa during the 1994 Soccer World Cup qualifiers.
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