Sunday, December 30, 2012

Referees: Who ARE These People?

You know them as referees – those guys in the worst uniforms with their whistles and assorted cards. When you agree with them, you praise them. When you disagree with them, they are your mortal enemies. In reality, they are actually human. They have families and day jobs, just like anyone else. But they are not like the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, they take on the most despised job in calcio, and they take abuse from management, coaches, players, and fans. Are they actually human? Who are these people?

One of the best refs ever to grace Serie A, Collina only *looks* crazy

Referees have day jobs. They are dentists, financial advisors, hospital directors, hairdressers, and more. To be able to referee international matches, they must also be fluent in multiple languages. Many are very educated, having completed both college and their myriad referee and technical trainings. In order to referee at the Serie A level, they must climb the ranks, officiating in many Lega Pro and Serie B matches first. To remain a referee, they must also continue training and they meet often to review various matches and learn to improve. Plus, there is the physical training, as they must find time to stay in top shape as well. They are all tested regularly to ensure they have the speed and stamina to keep up with the players. Oh, and somewhere in there, they find time for their families.

Sounds fun, right? Those are just the basic requirements. It is apparently some kind of honor, because when you break down what it takes to become a referee and all that it takes to be assigned to a match as a head ref, the money just isn’t worth it. A good referee in Serie A who is assigned enough matches as a head ref per season can earn up to €70.000, but they are the exception, not the rule. An assistant ref assigned the same number of games earns half that much. And it is all downhill from there. When you consider all of the time they spend training both physically and technically as well as all of the time they invest to climb to that level, they are investing as much as the players, but have to have day jobs, too, and will never even make a fraction of what the players do.

Those punk players are just waiting for the chance to card you in return.

Plus, there is no amount of money that can compensate for the hate they receive. In addition to constantly being accused of matchfixing or taking bribes, their lives are under a microscope. Amongst Italians, their every life detail is known – and discussed – each week as soon as they are assigned a game. It’s not just suspicion, or even superstition. Italians know if the ref ever attended a match for the opposing team, or said anything favorable at all about them. And if that is the case, they are convinced that the match is fixed, days before it is even played, at least in the eyes of the fans. The media affords proverbial dossiers on every ref for every match, including details like every questionable call they ever made to where they were born and where they currently live. The Hollywood paparazzi have nothing on the Italian calcio media.

On the pitch, they must always stay calm. You know, like when that psycho looking player who just stamped on his opponents face is coming at you because you are holding up the red card for him? Yeah. Stay calm. Or that manager, who makes at least twice as much as you at both of your jobs, is waving his arms maniacally and screaming at you with those possessed eyes? Sure, just stay calm. Or what about those 30,000 fans in the stands who disagree with that last call you made? You know the ones with the tattoos everywhere, biceps as big as your thighs, and lighting something other than flares up there? The ones screaming for your head on a platter? There’s only 30,000 of them and one of you, so just stay calm, right? Between you and “security,” who might also be biased, I’m sure you’ll be safe getting to your car. Or even home, since they all know where you live.

Coaches and players forget to give you personal space (or respect)

And don’t worry about that one bad call you made, you will have plenty of time to see it again and again and again and again on every single channel from now until next matchday, or maybe even for years if you really screwed up. And you’ll be watching it from home, because if you make one mistake that is bad enough, you’ll never ref again. Coaches and players make mistakes, and they are maligned, but a ref’s mistakes are forever.

Nevermind the conditions under which those mistakes are made. There are dozens of cameras in a stadium, each with zoom capacity, too. But there is only one head ref. There is no humanly way possible to always have the perfect vantage point for every play, so you do your best, and trust your linesmen. They are also limited by vantage point, or may have seen something different than you, but the final decision rests with you, thus also the final blame. Nevermind that there are weather and other visibility conditions that can impair your view (like smoke from those “flares” previously mentioned.) Or the players that are in the way, the angle something happens, or the split second opportunities for human error, too. Not even technology could always get it right, and when your job is to ensure that the game keeps flowing, there is not time to stop and process the information your eyes received until it is all over.

Probably WC2010's best ref, Rosetti, sent home for trusting his linesman

In summary, these people are friendless, and often victims of witch hunts or worse. They spend every spare second of their time training to have the skills needed for the most hated job in calcio. They get paid next to nothing compared to the other people involved in the game, and one mistake can cost them this, their second job. They are harassed and maligned no matter what they do, and sometimes they and their families even threatened. So who are these people? What kind of person would do this, when the negatives outweigh the positives? Who seeks out this job, and studies and trains and tries to excel at it?

My only guess is that they truly love calcio. Maybe more than the rest of us. For without them, the game could not be played. They must truly enjoy the thrill of seeing thousands of fans enjoying the game, even if those thousands of fans hate them in vociferous and sometimes physical ways. They are there to support the coaches who scream at them, the players who threaten them and argue with them. They show up, on their own time, to facilitate what brings so much joy to the rest of us. I have no idea what kind of person would do this, day in and day out, but I am truly grateful. I am grateful for all of their sacrifices and for all of their hard work and training to facilitate the beautiful game. At least until the next one makes a bad call against my team.

This post inspired by the music of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized"

Happy New Year! 

Our next match is a Friendly
Pro Patria vs. AC Milan
Thursday, January 3rd • 15:00 CET (9am EDT)