Thursday, 18 December 2014

Rational Ref: Beyond perfection, referees are the real superheroes

Rational Ref: Beyond perfection, referees are the real superheroes

Referees who display mortal weaknesses are abused or even vilified

Forget Flash, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Referees are the real superheroes in the world of soccer. And like these superhumans who do good deeds and fight for justice, referees are treated as freaks and mutants because they are seen to be different from normal human beings.

Referees are superhuman because there are certain expectations and high standards that they are held to. By the same token, they are also considered to be subhuman. There is no middle ground.

First, referees must have amazing powers of vision plus an extra pair of eyes in the back of their heads just in case they miss anything. If they fail to spot a ball entering the goal, which video cameras can easily confirm, then referees are simply useless and biased.

Referees are expected to spot the slightest contact between players, see through crowds, and identify all kinds of cheating. Referees are expected to perform to the same level as the multiple-camera systems dotted around the stadiums.

Second, they must be indestructible. Referees are not allowed to pick up injuries, whereas players get injured all the time. Injured players are permitted to be assessed by medical personnel on the pitch, are treated with sympathy when they suffer run-of-the-mill injuries, and are given the best medical care for their rehabilitation. Injured referees are just expected to pick themselves up and carry on officiating. If they pull a muscle or accidentally trip over, players, coaches and supporters will instantly be on their backs.

Third, referees must exhibit model behaviour. Referees cannot swear or use abusive language even though they are regularly subjected to vile torrents from players, coaches and supporters. It is ironic that mouthy players who verbally abuse referees suddenly become sensitive and offended by the words "shut up".

Many referees, for instance EPL referee Mark Clattenburg, tell wayward players to "shut it" and players become outraged. They respond with: "You can't talk like that to me" and "you can't tell me to 'shut up'". The hypocrisy exhibited by players and coaches is unbelievable.

Fourth, referees must be infallible. They cannot make mistakes such as forgetting their cards, pens or whistles. Any errors on their part are unforgivable and a deluge of abuse will come their way should they tie their bootlaces or replace a piece of broken equipment during a match.

Chelsea midfielder John Mikel Obi talks with referee Mark Clattenburg as Spanish midfielder Juan Mata looks on. Referees are expected to be superhuman. Photo: AFP 
Fifth, referees must be super conditioned and not need to rehydrate on the pitch. During a match, a referee can easily run more than 10km, which is similar to the distance covered by many players. Players will take any opportunity they can to grab a drink, such as when another player is being treated for an injury. Or players will run to the touchlines to grab a water bottle.

It is astonishing to see goalkeepers drinking far more than outfield players, even though keepers do not run around as much as referees, linesmen and players. Yet, if a referee grabs a drink, he is looked down upon.

Rational Ref has had players remark at half-time: "You need to drink water?" In such moments, it is obvious how some players feel about referees. It is an "us against them" outlook and the psychology of such group divisions has been well researched. This division is the basis of why players, coaches and fans consider referees to be subhuman.

Essentially, whenever authority figures come into the spotlight while performing their duties, they will inevitably be criticised and vilified. In light of Occupy Central, the police have similarly taken a bad rap for simply performing their duties according to the law. A recent poll has shown public sentiment towards Hong Kong police is even below that of the People's Liberation Army.

That's how crazy popular opinion can be when people do not understand the meaning of "rule of law". Before condemning and abusing the police for simply doing their jobs, supporters of the Occupy movement first need to brush up on the law. The parallel here is that referees officiate according to the laws of the game and are vilified because their actions are unpopular and misunderstood.

Referees know players, coaches and supporters give them a hard time. Although this kind of abuse and antagonism comes with the territory, it nevertheless does not make it right. Good behaviour and respect are far more important than cheating, abusing and winning at all costs. This is why referees are the real superheroes in the villainous and immoral world of soccer.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2014

Newspaper Column

It has been a while since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons is because I am now writing a weekly newspaper column, with the aim of raising awareness of the positive attributes of being a match official. Since there are still plenty of readers who still visit this blog, I will be uploading my articles here from time to time.

Please let me know if you find these articles about referees interesting. Further, if you would like to see certain topics raised and written about, you are welcome to make suggestions.

You can email me at

Thank you

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Barton's Comments About Tevez Justify HKRef's Open Suggestion to the FA

Finally after 18 months, Joey Barton has spoken about what happened between him and Carlos Tevez during that fateful match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers that resulted in Barton getting a 12-match ban from the FA.

Carlos Tevez provoked Joey Barton, and Barton fell for it hook, line and sinker. Pic Andy Hooper.

At the time, HKRef suggested that Tevez must have done something to provoke Barton to elbow him. The FA did not bother taking retrospective action on Carlos Tevez and therefore sent out the message that it is uninterested in seeking real justice in the game.

IMHO, Barton is a dedicated, talented and committed player. His weakness is his temperament, which many players recognize and therefore exploit. This is because Barton has gained a bad boy reputation due to the consequences stemming from his uncontrollable temperament.

Referees can learn a lot about officiating effectively from this kind of knowledge about players.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

RefCam: A Referee's Perpective

The following incidents occurred from the Referee's Perspective during the MLS All Stars match against Roma on Thursday 1 August 2013. The match finished 1—3, with 2 YCs.

Ref Cam: Sights and Sounds from the 2013 ATT MLS All-Star Game (YouTube)

Here's what Referee Hilario Grajeda looked like rigged up with the RefCam (which appears rather bulky).

From the start, Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic (red 15) appears to be one of those players who persistently badger the referee to give things in their favour. Experienced Referees can spot these type of players a mile away.
C'mon Ref, what are you doing?

Later, Pjanic (red 15) fouls MLS All Stars captain Thierry Henry (blue 14). Pjanic looks at the Referee apologetically to make sure that he is not booked.
 Nice, clear and firm signal to indicate a direct free kick
 Don't book me Ref! I'm a good boy ... honest ...
Notice also the big screen from the Referee's view. A simultaneous double whammy!

Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis (grey) catches the ball and Referee Grajeda raises his ams with all fingers splayed out. He waits a second or two and then gives two thumbs up. What is this signal? What message is the Referee trying to communicate and are players paying attention to him?

 Wait ... wait ... goalkeeper has the ball ... wait ... thumbs up ...

In the 54', Pjanic (red 15) fouls Landon Donovan (blue 7) and Referee Grajeda, who appears (at least from the RefCam perspective) to be quite a distance away, cautions Pjanic.
 Is it clear to the players, match officials and spectators who the Referee has given a yellow card to?
Donovan takes exception to Pjanic's unfair challenge.

The RefCam is a great experience that the MLS (or PRO?) is offering to soccer fans. Letting people see what the referee sees … or doesn't see … can only be a good thing if we want to provide a better understanding of the important and fantastic work that Referees do. Let's see more RefCams!

Related Post
Able Referee Assistants Must Assist Referees Ably

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hong Kong Killer Pitch

Hong Kong played host to the Barclays Asia Trophy on Wednesday 24 July and Saturday 27 July. The three EPL teams were Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland, with reigning local champions South China making up the quartet.

Sunderland coach Paolo Di Canio called the 40,000-seater Hong Kong Stadium a "killer pitch" due to its poor drainage during torrential downpours. Spurs boss Andre Villa-Boas was not happy because his team lost 1—3 to Sunderland plus his Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen twisted ankle ligaments on the sodden surface. Villa-Boas flew in his own head groundsman to help with the pitch conditions at Hong Kong Stadium (see story here).

Here are some photos of Hong Kong Stadium during the BAT pre-season tournament ...

 First day's first match (Sunderland vs Tottenham) and the pitch is getting cut up

 The pitch conditions worsen. Pic courtesy Getty Images.

Hong Kong groundstaff doing their best to keep dry from the rain and mud-free from the pitch. Pic courtesy Getty Images.

Second day's second match (Man City vs Sunderland) and Spurs' head groundsman flew in and advised laying sand in the muddy patches of the pitch

The match Referees for the BAT tournament were EPL referees Anthony Taylor and Neil Swarbrick, who were joined by Hong Kong Referee Liu Kwok Man.

Next up, just two days after the end of the BAT, Manchester United play Kitchee (local league runners-up) on Monday 29 July. United manager David Moyes attended the BAT on Saturday 27 July to inspect the pitch. Understandably, Moyes called off the planned open training session for Sunday 28 July, in the hope that the pitch would be "playable" on Monday (see story here).


Tottenham 6 South China 0

Manchester City 1 Sunderland 0

United Refuse To Train At 'Killer' Hong Kong Stadium

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Shinpads and Shinguards Play An Important Role

In the modern era of soccer, with powerful professional athletes playing at terrifying speeds and commitment, it is amazing and alarming to see players wearing close-to-nothing protection. What does it take to get the proper message through to their 'tiny' minds?

Newcastle United's physical and boisterous midfielder Cheick Tiote plays with tiny teeny shinpads. Pic from EPA.


Are you Ferguson in disguise? Echoes of Everton bad boy as Coloccini sees red in 'friendly' match (Daily Mail)

Related Posts

Mike Dean Masterclass Display Part 1

Probing Lee Probert Part 3

Shinpads Guard Against Stupidity From Others

Shinguards Should Protect Properly

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Lebanese Referee Jailed in Singapore … Sings

The Lebanese Referee jailed in Singapore has revealed how match-fixers "advise" match officials how to rig games.

"The best way to rig a match [is] to award penalties"

Referees already know this ... and if you look at the example here of Niger Referee Ibrahim Chaibou on 1 June 2011, it is quite obvious that he is fixing the match. So what has FIFA or Interpol done about charging Chaibou?

Singaporean businessman and match fixer Eric Ding Si Yang. Pic from AFP

Related Posts

Suspect Referee Performance: Nigeria v Argentina

China's Golden Whistle Admits Accepting US$44,000 Bribe

Lebanese Referees Guilty of Accepting Sexual Bribes For Match Fixing


Referee given match-fixing tips on YouTube, court told (SCMP; paywall)

Jailed official tells court he received links from businessman on how to make 'wrong decisions'
Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 3:59am

Agence France-Presse in Singapore

A Lebanese referee jailed for accepting sex to rig matches testified yesterday that a Singaporean businessman used YouTube to show him how to fix a game.

Ali Sabbagh, speaking on the first day of the trial of Eric Ding Si Yang, said the businessman sent him "20 to 30" YouTube links by e-mail to "teach me how to make wrong decisions".

"The videos had too many decisions where the decision made by the referee is not the right decision," he said.

Ding is accused of providing Sabbagh, 34, and two other Lebanese officials with women who gave them free sexual services before a match in Singapore in April..

Sabbagh and the other two officials were withdrawn from duty and placed under investigation before the match. He was found guilty in June and sentenced to six months in jail, while his assistants - Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb - were also convicted and have since been released and deported.

Sabbagh said that in a series of e-mail exchanges late last year, Ding told him that the best way to rig a match was to award penalties. Sabbagh quoted Ding as saying that "nobody will stop you, nobody will do anything ... When the corner comes, just blow and say pushing and pulling ... If there is anything in the penalty area, you can blow your whistle".

He said Ding gave him assurances that he would not be asked to rig matches that would affect his career within the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Sabbagh, who is scheduled to be released from jail on August 3, told the court he was the one who first proposed that Ding "arrange for girls" when the three match officials were in Singapore for the AFC Cup tie between Singapore's Tampines Rovers and India's East Bengal in April.

Sabbagh said Ding asked them to choose between Colombian or Asian girls and "we all told him we want Asian girls".

He added that Ding had likely offered the free sexual favours with the expectation that they would help rig unspecified AFC Champions League matches to be held in South Korea, Qatar and Iran. "He [Ding] is very interested in these matches, there is too much spectators, there is too much goals," Sabbagh said in stuttering English.

Ding seemed relaxed but appeared to show disapproval at parts of Sabbagh's testimony.

He faces a maximum of five years in jail and fines of up to S$100,000 (US$80,000) for each of three counts of corruption. He separately faces two charges of stealing evidence and obstructing police after declining to disclose the password to his laptop computer. He denies the charges.