Wednesday 31 December 2014

Rational Ref: Why football players need to leave their handbags at home

Rational Ref: Why football players need to leave their handbags at home

Mass confrontations and amateur dramatics tarnish the game - and even the colloquialism used to describe them could be seen as sexist
Soccer is far more successful in promoting the idea of handbags to the world than either Louis Vuitton or Prada. This fashionable colloquialism describes spiky confrontations where the rowdy participants are not really serious about inflicting actual bodily harm on each other.We see handbags all the time, where players scuffle with one another, call each other names, put their hands on necks and faces, and flick rude gestures.

Essentially, these asinine actions are non-threatening but each individual will have their own personal interpretation of what they deem to be aggressive, intimidating or provocative. When these personal interpretations differ wildly, things start to kick off and we have handbags or what referees officially call "mass confrontations".
Some players have thick skins and never rise to the bait, others will give as good as they get, a few will try to tell the referee what's going on, while others will overreact, which usually leads to a handbag melee.

Everyone wants to pressure referees to "lay down the rule of law" hard on their opponents, while simultaneously badgering the referee to be lenient with them.

Does this sound familiarly hypocritical in light of the Occupy Central movement where there have been plenty of handbags on the streets?

Nicolas Otamnedi reacts after an altercation with Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar at the weekend. Photo: AFPThere were also plenty of handbags during Valencia's 1-0 loss to Barcelona last weekend. When Neymar went down theatrically following a challenge from Nicolas Otamendi, the Valencia defender felt the Barcelona forward was trying to cheat and bent down to remonstrate with him.

As Otamendi put his hand on Neymar's neck and stuck his head in his face for good measure, Neymar pushed his forehead forward, which subsequently led to Otamendi outdoing Neymar's theatrics by grabbing his own face as if he had been heavily struck. Other players joined in the handbags dance, as everyone shoved and shouted to get opponents sent off.
In the aftermath, neither Neymar nor Otamendi's amateur dramatics were punished whereas yellow cards were shown to Gerard Pique and Antonio Barragan for escalating the chaos.

Such moments tarnish the game because at the end of the day it is still cheating, instead of focusing on playing ball.

This is why Sunderland's John O'Shea should be commended for his professionalism against Chelsea last week. When Chelsea forward Diego Costa over-reacted to a strong challenge, pushing his legs and boots out towards the Sunderland centre-half, O'Shea refused to make a meal of it and simply brushed off the potentially explosive incident. Other players would have used the opportunity to play handbags in the hope of influencing the referee to send off Costa.

Sunderland's John O'Shea tangles with Chelsea forward Diego Costa during their clash last weekend. Photo: Reuters 
There is also a serious side to these slang terms. Commentator and former player Stan Collymore is now in the dock for using the term "fairies" to describe Sergio Aguero's reaction of going to ground too easily. Traditionally, "fairies" is used to denote femininity in men, but it also has homophobic connotations.

Collymore's remark was immediately criticised by Football v Homophobia, the worldwide initiative opposing homophobia in the game. They said: "Whatever you think about diving, homophobic abuse is unacceptable."

While anti-homophobia groups have condemned Collymore, a spokesperson for the anti-discrimination group Kick It Out said: "Only Stan Collymore himself would be able to clarify what he meant when using the word. There does need to be greater education around the use of such terminology, as 'fairy' has historically been used as a slur towards members of the LGBT community. It is important these sensitivities are recognised."
Surely feminist groups could take offence to the apparently sexist use of the term "handbags". Therefore, should the soccer community stop using the term and find another more politically correct label for the unsavoury antics? If handbags become a fashion faux pas, how about the term "manbags" or "murses"?

These days, players have no sensitivity or hesitation in using the "F" and "C" words, but as soon as an apparently discriminatory slur is uttered then that's when the lobbyists complain and take it to be abusive and serious.

It is no longer handbags when some words hurt more than others.

Agree of disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2014 
P.S. All the very best to all referees for the New Year!!

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.

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