Monday, 26 February 2018

The fusion of Reason (the referee) and Emotion (the player)

Game 38, 2017-18

Let's say that in theory the referee represents Reason, and that the players represent Emotion. The (uncorrupted) referee has no interest in the outcome of any given game, as it's their job to rationally and neutrally implement the rules.

Meanwhile, the players have only two goals in mind - the success of themselves and their team. The desire to score and win is driven by feelings of loyalty and ambition. Anything that thwarts that ambition provokes frustration and even anger (I know this because I played for 40 years).

"Hey, Roald, lend the
ref yer coat, will ya?"
A referee must accept that, as the anchor of reason, they are going to come into conflict with the mental tipping point of performers who, in their dreams, imagine themselves as heroes, even if only for a few hours among a small group of people wearing the same coloured shirt. That's an integral part of the game. There are days, though, when the precarious balance between reason and emotion makes no sense at all. Days when I'm pushed to get emotional too.

On Saturday night it was colder than it's been all winter - minus 7 degrees, with that same persistently penetrative wind that's been chilling our fibres since the middle of last week. And yet again I had the immense privilege of refereeing a one-sided U19 boys friendly match for the vast reward of €14, while all sensible folk were huddled in front of the football highlights or drinking beer somewhere warm. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who didn't want to be there. That's just by way of background.

The second half ran to form. The away team fell four, five, six goals into arrears, and started fouling instead of trying to play. They picked up a few bookings and a time penalty. Two opponents squared
up after a foul and I gave them a bollocking, and when they wouldn't shake hands they both got a yellow card. One of them was the home team's outside right, number 22.

This latter player was fouled in the penalty area in the 89th minute, with his side leading 9-1. I would have blown for a penalty, but before he was fouled he managed to play the ball to a team-mate right in front of goal and so I played the advantage. His team-mate screwed up the shot and play continued. The number 22 came running over to me, absolutely outraged that I hadn't given the penalty. "Well, as you saw," I explained, "I played advantage."

He was still outraged, and said so, but as there was only a minute left I didn't see any point in sending him out for a five-minute time penalty. A few seconds later his team scored again and I blew for full-time. Everyone hastened towards the warm changing rooms, and I hung back as usual to check that nothing stupid happened between players still nursing a grudge. Precisely one player thanked me, which seems to be about the norm for youth games.

I was about to enter the club-house when the number 22 came running up to me and started to bleat anew about the penalty decision. "I'll explain it again, because it's quite simple," I said. "I played the advantage. What part of that do  you not understand?" But on he gestured and blustered - penalty, foul, blah blah blah. Emotion now got the better of me too, so I just stood there repeating very loudly, "I played the advantage. I played the advantage. I played the advantage." A few lingering spectators looked at me, slightly alarmed. The cloth-brained number 22 finally turned around and fucked off, possibly worried that I was losing it.

Camus claimed he learnt about
morality and obligations through
sport. Fat chance of that in my city.
Which I was. Not just because this moron was still questioning a perfectly straightforward decision in an utterly inconsequential match with the score-line at 9-1. But also because I was so, so fucking cold, and I was feeling suddenly peeved at the general anti-gratitude, having come to ref their shitty match for peanuts on a night when even Amundsen would have hesitated to leave his tent for a piss in the snow.

The desire to win at sport makes no philosophical sense. It's not key to our survival. Winning doesn't much enhance our knowledge of the world or the human condition. Aside from the transitory feel-good sensation, the benefits of success are minimal. And in the case of our number 22, it can even lead to a reckless greed for seemingly limitless victory.

That might eventually lead to trophies, abstract honours and temporary smiles of triumph, but it won't make him a better human being. God forbid. Not many players seem to subscribe to the claim of philosopher and goalkeeper Albert Camus that everything he’d learnt about “morality and the obligations of men” he owed to sport.

Reason and Emotion mostly fuse to make competitive sport work. But in cases of rank idiocy, when Reason won't curb Emotion, not even yellow and red cards are going to provide a cure.

Final score: 10-1 (4 x yellow, 1 x time penalty)

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