Back in 1972, before comedy-drama was erased from its lexicon, ITV screened “Another Sunday and Sweet FA”, a delightful hour of sporting whimsy from the pen of the great Jack Rosenthal. It featured the legendary Joe Gladwin as coach of the Parker St Bus Depot XI, who fought it out with Co-Op Albion seconds. David Swift played Mr Armistead, a terminally harassed Sunday referee, officiating matches amid the chimneys and cooling towers of Salford. He bore the players’ ill-informed abuse with fortitude, before deciding, on yet Another Sunday, that enough was enough.
With time running out, he connected with a cross and like Peter Osgood circa Old Trafford 1970, bulleted a header past the disbelieving goalkeeper, before running in Big Match-style slowmo back to the centre-circle. As incredulous players crowded round him, the put-upon Armistead gleefully silenced the protests by quoting law 9. “the referee is part of the field of play.”, and blowing for time.
Law 9 is still there. The referee is still part of play, but the laws of the game are lost on many managers, notably Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp, whose selective memories and serial complaining summon images of a footballing Victor Meldrew, or the wonderful foot-stamping Kim Jong Il in Team America.
It’s a fair bet that no-one gave Redknapp a copy of the Laws after Spurs’ defeat at Stoke last season before he raged at Chris Foy over alleged handballs and penalties not spotted; his on-air f-word cheapening his argument further. Laughably, Tottenham fans, no doubt fired up by Redknapp’s crass rhetoric, aimed some choice online abuse at Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy, thus demonstrating both ignorance and an inability to take defeat – and they’re not the only ones with this problem.
Abuse of officials is not the preserve of the professionals, though some of their behaviour is hardly a model for the rest. A quick trawl of Google would reveal how dangerous the lot of the amateur official has become. Last March, an 18 year old referee needed nine stiches in his mouth after being attacked during a Sunday game in Coventry, while back in 2008 a 16 year old fourth official needed hospital treatment after being assaulted at a memorial match in Ramsgate (for a player killed in a road accident). He had asked some of the crowd to stop swearing and put out their cigarettes. Similar assaults rose by a quarter in the year to Feb 2011 (BBC figures.)
Of course, no part-time ref dodging the brickbats and dog-dirt on a Sunday morning can point to a monitor to show players what really happened. And until the accursed technology arrives and makes a Rugby League circus of senior football, we are stuck with human beings making human decisions and altering matches. Because, as the law says, they are part of the game.