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


  1. Love the point about how sensitive they get to referee behaviour that would be no different to them. Great post!

  2. Haha, yes! This is one reason why I enjoy watching EPL referee Phil Dowd have a go at players who are having a go at him.