While at live matches, I have turned to the spectator next to me on numerous occasions, demanding an answer to “who’s this clown?”, just to get the name right when I yell at the referee. The events that unfolded over the last ten days, however, are making me question my contribution towards a toxic culture of berating officials to a point of criminal abuse.
What made the outcries in the last week significant are the implications they bore. As his team let three vital points slip in their fight to fend off relegation, Mark Hughes scapegoated the referee Mike Dean, questioning his judgement for not sending off Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso in the first half for his stamp on Southampton striker Shane Long. Alonso’s subsequent ban proves Hughes had a point.
Dean’s compatriots did not have the rosiest of days in the office either. Anthony Taylor failed to award a penalty for Jamaal Lascelles’ handball at St. James’ Park in a 2-1 defeat for Arsenal; while Paul Tierney failed to penalise Craig Dawson for his challenge on Ander Herrera in the box, a decision that just might have delayed Manchester City’s coronation by a week or two at best.
But the severity of these implications is miniscule compared to what happened at the Bernabeu in the Champions League. You know what happened; Real Madrid’s contentious penalty, Gianlugi Buffon’s charge at referee Michael Oliver, and the straight red for Buffon, his first in the Champions League, and on his last ever match in the competition.
The statements that followed the full-time whistle did not deserve to dominate headlines after such an exuberant quarter-final. But hitting “translate from Italian” on the Buffon quotes left a foul aftertaste. The 40-year-old veteran stated that the English referee had “a bag of rubbish for a heart”, and refused to backtrack afterwards by saying he “stands by all of it”.
On hindsight, one can understand the emotional and financial toll it took. This was Buffon’s final shot at securing the elusive Champions League medal, Juventus had a lucrative 7.5 million Euros semi-final pay-out on the line, as well as runners-up or winners pay-out had they gone all the way.
Imagine the chutzpah it takes, having to officiate in a match of that weight; not only awarding a penalty in lightning speed, but also pulling a straight red on a football legend as your decision is about to kick his side out of Europe. Michael Oliver, at 33, displayed the true clarity required of an official, separating the heart from head. And for this, he and his wife, a referee in Women’s Super League, faced a tirade of abuse that ranged from death threats over text messages to having strangers shout abuse through their letterbox.
Oliver returned to officiate West Ham vs Stoke on Monday night, and was greeted with enormous support. Where Buffon failed to display the class he has personified over the years, Oliver proved his professionalism by going about business as usual.
The exemplary jibe at a referee came from Jose Mourinho last week after the West Brom defeat – “Paul Tierney was unlucky in one decision but I don’t blame him at all – it’s football. It’s a penalty and nothing else, but I think we deserved to be punished.”. It truly speaks volumes when Mourinho has the mildest response among all that we heard.
This certainly won’t be the only case where vilifying multiple refereeing decisions will dominate the discussions, but it’s a pity that it robbed the charm of a week that should go down in history as footballing legend.