By Don McMahon
The core issue with being an official is one’s integrity. IF the referee or his/her assistants lack the moral courage and integrity, even in making a difficult but self-evident call on the field, even ONCE, then they are certainly very susceptible to being ” influenced” by those who make it their profession to do so…the mafia, the gamblers syndicates, the rich and powerful, the media giants etc.
These power brokers can offer the officials certain ” guarantees” that will determine the depth and degree of corruption/fixing/match manipulation and collaboration such officials are willing to offer.
Lets have a look at the first issue mentioned above; an official’s integrity. I have mentioned before that EVERY official has what we call a “ moment of truth” in almost every game they officiate.
The example I once used was in a game where the referee was feeling threatened and under pressure ( I was an assistant) because the two teams were inveterate enemies for cultural, ethnic and religious reasons and there was a large enough crowd to be a threat to his security IF he made the “wrong” calls.
The spectators (about 1250-1300) were evenly split between the home team and the visitors and there had already been a few fights before and during the game.
The away team was leading 1-0 and as the end of the game approached, I could see that the referee was getting more and more nervous and hesitant to punish the home team and looking for an opportunity to “even things out in the end”. Well it soon enough presented itself as he had an “incident” in the penalty area where the home team striker did a 9 out of 10 Olympic quality dive.
Usually he would look at me quickly to see if I saw it as a dive or penalty and I gave him the secret sign all officials agree to beforehand to confirm or deny the foul. I denied it but he awarded the penalty and the game ended 1-1. He told me after the game that he was in “mortal” fear because he’d had a bad experience with the home team in a previous match.
He also admitted that he knew it was a dive and that he’d seen it as a golden opportunity to save us all without too much “ risk” or consequences. I kept my mouth shut because he was, afterall, the boss and one doesn’t criticise one’s boss or colleague in public but I told him later that day that I was going to report his actions to the referee chairman, which I did.
Since the chairman was a great friend of his, I knew it was like pissing into the wind and also knew that I’d pay for it later….which I did in spades. That referee lost my respect and support that day and I never officiated with him again. He became a national referee but was removed from the list almost as fast as he got on it because of “irregularities” in his officiating.
The second issue is how the fixers can spin things their way without being too obvious and transparent.
- The mafia have decades of expertise and experience in strong-arming vulnerable officials in almost every sport. They can intimidate and pressure naive officials very easily with the carrot and stick method…..they carry extremely large versions of both tools.
- Gamblers (private) are less vulgar in their scheming. They depend on total secrecy and “discretion” to arrange things. However they have great resources at their disposal and if it doesn’t work out, plausible denial ability….after all its their word against ours.
- Syndicated gamblers (Asian/Eastern European etc.) are extremely well-organized like the mafia but they also profit from their “ sterling” reputations….a double entendre if I ever heard one. They have henchmen who are very convincing and don’t need to resort to strong-arming an official(s) but simply rely on the plethora of officials who are seen as potential “ associates” and the rather prolific “ generosity” of their backers. If the official reports them, they disappear or bribe the law to turn the other way.
- The rich and powerful own so much that they feel they can do whatever they want with impunity and total invisibility, which for the most part is true. Not only do they benefit from mafia-like organizations but from existing corruption among politicians, administrators and law enforcement, as well as a network of other rich and powerful people to protect them. So basically the official who is targeted is already stuffed and delivered and can see his or her career suddenly nose-dive if they refuse to “cooperate” or IF they blow the whistle (another double entendre) on these cheats. It is, as the physicists say, a zero-sum game.
- The media giants are certainly complicit in the spinning and misdirection, smoke and mirrors game that football seems to have been subject to for a long time. They may or may not be directly involved in the corruption of footballers or officials per se but their refusal to consider that the game is slowly turning into a pantomime and their wilful blindness to the horrible state of affairs in officiating, especially in England, is a major contributory factor to the Beautiful Games tarnishing. If a referee knows that the media will almost always side with the authoritites and in fact be their willing syncophants, then what hope does one or a few honest officials have in combatting corruption. My career, which was on track to Fifa status, ended abruptly when I tried to highlight the lack of integrity gradually entering officiating through an article I wrote in our local referee handbook. This was less than well received by the powers that be! My next NASL game was a horror, with the referee (who I later found out was a colleague of my referee chairman) blasting me from one end of the dressing room to the other for a minor error. Even the assessor, who was present, had to warn him to desist. That was the beginning of the end for me at that level and I soon found myself off the candidate list for FIFA and the NASL. I have NO regrets for doing what I did because to have kept my mouth shut like most of my colleagues, would have brought myself and the officiating profession into disrepute…..however not everyone agrees or agreed back then….but that’s life.
I am sure Walter and our other referees, active or retired, can attest to some or all of what I described here. That is why I write on UA. By doing so it brings the Arsenal and the game into integrity and nobility contrary to much of what is floating like scum, on the net today.
Do referee colleagues actually KNOW who is bent or being manipulated or are we as clueless as the average supporter?
I am speaking from experience when I say that a few may suspect but very few actually KNOW which of their colleagues have joined the dark side. I had my preferred teams and players when I officiated, and they were usually the ones who were gentlemen/ladies on and off the field and whose clubs honoured the integrity and fairness of the game.
Anniversary of the day: how times change.
19 February 1977: Arsenal 2 West Ham 3. Although it was the sixth consecutive game without a win there was a little comfort taken from the fact that Arsenal had scored, after four games without a goal. Brady and Stapleton got the goals.
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