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Quality Shines Through

Personally, I do not like criticizing match officials. First of all, I believe it is undignified to do so. Second, just like you and I, they are just there to do a job. Most of the time, what they make from officiating is a pittance compared to what many of us do; and considering the sort of abuse they sometimes tend to get from players and coaches alike, one sort of wonders why they are there to begin with.

Sometimes, though, they descend to levels so low one wonders if they even deserve what little money they get paid. To illustrate the point, take the case of this morning’s straight red card shown to our tiny spitfire of a high school striker Enzo Gherardelli by the referee of our third and last group match in the current NCAA-South season played at the First Asia Institute of Technology and the Humanities (FAITH).

As you would have surmised from his surname, Enzo is of Filipino and Italian parentage. Not your archetypal mixed breed – and particularly one with a Caucasian father – Enzo is five-foot-something; if at all. He often nicks the ball off my feet during scrimmage because I do not see him when I look around to see who lurks near me.

What the boy lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with a brave fighting heart and an engine of the finest Italian technology. Even on bad days, he will give the team more than one hundred per cent and run his socks off all day long.

This morning against Colegio San Juan de Letran of Calamba, though, was by no means one of those bad days. Letran is nowhere near the caliber of some of the teams we regularly play against in the Rizal Football Association (RIFA), the Metro Manila schools league we are part of. However, the pitch resembled something of a cabbage patch and was the sort that would not serve favors to passing teams like ours.

Within twenty minutes, though, Enzo had put us firmly in control with two finely taken goals. Letran’s defenders were all reasonably taller than Enzo; but they could not cope with his speed, particularly since they were playing with a high defensive line.

A two-goal lead is not something to sit on, since there was still so much of the match left and even if our own goalkeeper was not really being tested by the opposing forwards. So, the boys continued to press forward to add further to our tally.

It was during one of these penalty area sorties that Enzo was handed what in perspective was a totally unfair and undeserved red card – marching orders, for those who are not into football. I was looking through the lens of my camera when the incident happened. Enzo was chasing after the ball at the edge of the penalty area and through my lens I could see that the tall defender behind him had clipped his heels and backside.

A foul should have been called there and then; and a penalty awarded to us. The referee was no more than fifteen yards away. Unfortunately, since none was given, Enzo retaliated for the abuse he was receiving.

Where the referee was indecisive in handing out the penalty kick, he wasted no time in brandishing his red card. Bizarrely, Enzo’s tormentor received an unbelievably lenient yellow card; no more than a warning, in other words.

I do not condone Enzo’s retaliation. Hitting out at an opponent, at any level in football, is always a straight red card. That said, the referee was not very far away and could not have missed the infractions prior to the retaliation. Had he blown his whistle at the obvious fouls being committed on Enzo, there would have been no retaliation to begin with.

There was a bit of a lull as the team contested the sending off. During that lull, the boys told me what I missed while I was looking through the camera lens. Apparently, the very same defender who got off with a lenient yellow card had first planted a jab at the back of Enzo’s head and then an elbow at the side of his face! Either one of these were red card offences!

Had Enzo been a seasoned European professional, he would have gone down feigning life-threatening injuries. We do not teach our boys that sort of gamesmanship, though; and Enzo, being the honest player that he is, continued to chase after the ball in spite of the abuse he was receiving.

There are many match officials in this country who are either badly trained or are not very smart. I make it a point not to complain. They simply are representative of the mediocre state of the game in this country, the current successes of the national team aside.

However, when there is blatant disregard of fairness, especially in a game involving schoolboys, then something just has to be said. As a football person, my feet are always firmly on the ground. I know the match we played the morning was not the World Cup. Neither was it the sort that would get us in the papers.

However, the essence of any sport – at whatever level – is for contestants to pit wit and sinew against opponents in an endeavor where fairness is of the utmost necessity. Lose that fairness and the endeavor becomes a farce.

How this morning’s referee could have failed to blow his whistle on the obvious transgressions being committed against Enzo prior to the boy’s retaliation when he was standing just a few yards away, that is the sort of unfairness that tarnishes the beautiful game and makes a farce out of it. That he would issue a red card to Enzo and a laughable yellow to the Letran defender, in terms of idiocy, that has no description.

This decision was of the sort that could have referees of high-profile matches barred by their associations. It was simply unacceptable!

The referee was by no means the only one culpable of bad decisions. In the second half, some of the offside calls against us were so blatantly wrong I could only shake my head and wonder what rules book the poor guy had read when he was taking his officiating seminar.

For the record, despite being reduced to 10 men, we were never seriously troubled at the back and even managed to get a third goal to kill off the match. At the end of the day, quality shines through despite the aggravations.

[Today's goalscorers: Lorenzo Gherardelli 2, Renz Dimaano.]

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