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A Different Level of Bad

Those of you who follow Phil Younghusband on Twitter know that the lad tries ever so hard to blend right in and frequently tweets in Tagalog. Lest we all forget, though, the lad was born and raised UK-side and still carries many of the idiosyncrasies of the Brits.

Such as, the ability to express himself in the Queen’s language in the colourful way that Yanks just seldom ever seem to match up to.

Yesterday evening, Younghusband was in action for his club team Rizal-Smart San Beda FC against Smart Stallion of Barotac Nuevo in a semi-final of the PFF-Smart Club Championship at the University of Makati stadium. San Beda eked out a narrow 2-1 win and earned the right to play in a two-game final, the first match of which is to be played this Saturday.

Younghusband will miss that first match of the final after apparently having earned a caution for – of all things – bringing a bottle of water onto the pitch. Fellow Azkal Simon Greatwich, seeing Younghusband’s tweet about his suspension, was incredulous: “Frickin’ refs don’t have a scooby out there! I used to think English refs were bad! Not anymore!”

For everyone’s benefit because the hell we all really care about how London Cockneys talk to one another, “scooby” is contemporary English slang for “clueless.” Younghusband replied by calling the officiating “a whole different level of bad.”

I was amused by the exchange between the two; but if I am being honest, they were being mortified by something we who have been in Philippine football all these years have known all along.

Although the Younghusband brothers have starred for the national team for several years now, it has only been recently that the two have been involved in local club football. It goes without saying that it is only now that they are finding out for themselves the sort of atrocious officiating that can drive a coach with a full mop of hair on his head bald in just a few years.

Personally, I do not like criticizing referees. It is a discipline imbibed from my college coach, the late Baltazar Dimasuay, who used to preach bringing referees “to our side by being dignified towards them.”

Match officials, after all, are also human beings; and it goes without saying that it takes a brave man to stand in the middle of 22 players with heightened testosterone levels tearing at each other’s shins. In the local game, they are also pitiably remunerated; and particularly in consideration of the sort of abuse they frequently find hurled against them by players, coaching staff members and spectators.

Frequently, the abuse is deserved; albeit, one wonders if the referee is to blame or – instead – their association and its recruitment, selection, training, match-assignment and compensation mechanisms. Many of the rules of the games are too open-ended to begin with; and FIFA can be as notoriously slow as the Catholic Church in making amendments to its rules and principles.

Because of the open-endedness of the rules, certain levels of training and intellect are, therefore, required of those whose task it will be to implement these within the course of a game. How many of those who have the intellect will actually bother to undergo training and obtain accreditation to become match officials considering the meagreness of the pay?

I do not mean to be disrespectful; and in fairness, I had encountered a handful of match officials over the years who had been excellent. In the same breath, there were probably more that – to put things plain and simply – just did not have it!

I can probably write a whole book on the range of contentious interpretations that local referees had made down the years which I myself had been witness to. For this article, I will cite just a few.

Even during my active playing days in club and varsity football, one of the interpretations that used to have me scratching my pate was the offside call local referees would make if a corner was taken short and then the ball was played back to the one who took the corner. If the entire defending team had stepped up to expose the taker of the corner kick, then yes; it was an infraction as per the offside rule.

However, local referees would automatically call this offside even when the taker of the corner kick had moved down in the direction of his own half of the field. Watching a World Cup match between Italy and Brazil in 1982, I saw an Italian take a corner short, move down to receive it back before delivering a cross. No offside was called as was but proper.

To call attention to this obvious misinterpretation of the offside rule by local referees, during a FIFA coaching seminar given by former West German national and Bayern Munich coach Dettmar Kramer, I asked the speaker during an open forum to clarify the matter. Kramer explained it the way I thought the offside rule should be implemented within the context of a short corner; but the representative of the referees’ association naturally and loudly argued to the contrary.

Imagine! That was Gerd Müller’s and Franz Beckenbauer’s former coach that he was contradicting. To be fair, though, I am in no position to say if this interpretation is still being – erroneously – called by current match officials.

Playing for my club in the early eighties in what was then Division I football, this big burly African player of the opposing team climbed all over my back to win a header. The guy was heavy; and so naturally my body bent forward at the waist because of his weight. The African guy, therefore, spilled all over me and fell onto the ground. To my dismay, the foul was called on me. I protested to no avail.

I know in basketball that was the equivalent of what we call in Tagalog sahod. If I was backing onto him, fine; I could accept that the foul was, indeed, mine. But he climbed all over my back before I could jump! Jumping at an opponent – or so the rules said at the time – was a foul. Why was I called for the foul and the freekick given to the opposition? I continued to witness the same situation called in what I thought was the erroneous way even when I myself was coaching teams of high school boys.

Finally, another frequent erroneous call – or, at least, to my mind – was when a player swung his leg to clear a ball and an opposing player stooped down and got in the way. There continues to be a rule for dangerous play; but the rule is premised on when a player swings his foot to deliberately endanger an opposing player. Where is the foul – pray tell – if it is the opposing player himself who puts his head in harm’s way?

I know referees are taught to make calls based on perceived intent as well as the subsequent result of an action. In this case, if a player attempts to clear a ball that is within kicking height, anyway, what intent can there be except to clear the ball? If the kick results into danger to an opposing player who stoops down, who caused the danger? I used to watch the old English Division I matches on TV and English referees would not call these fouls.

I can go on forever, but I believe the point is clear to anyone reading this. My word, back in the old days with my teams, sometimes the referees were so bad that my boys would derisively refer to the officiating as “no blood no foul.”

So Phil Younghusband booked for bringing a bottle onto the field? Technically, the referee was probably right; yet we see this overlooked by officials even in God knows World Cup matches beamed live all over the globe. In truth, the officiating is not really a different level of bad because it has always been that bad to begin with. Just somebody please do something about it! Please!

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