Dear reader. Because of some recent events, I have written this open letter to ‘The Referee’. I hope that you, before you make a quick judgement, can take the time to read my satirical letter until the very end. It was written ‘with a wink’, as they say in Dutch, and I hope you understand I still have the utmost respect for 98% of the referees, and I’m grateful that they make it possible for us to play the sport we love every single week. However, sometimes it’s not the people with the biggest heart for soccer that get to wear the referee’s outfit. To those people, I’ve written this letter.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand it. After a soccer career that could’ve been so great if it hadn’t been for that knee injury, and a stint as a trainer of your local club’s Under 7’s, you decided to become a referee. A good opportunity to be involved in soccer every Saturday, while still having the possibility to develop a shameless beer gut.
Let me start by saying that I’m not talking about every referee, absolutely not! I’ve seen them as well, those scrawny, insecure boys, barely 19 years of age, that suddenly are put in charge of a fifth division women’s game. You have to face those ladies in their late thirties, with raspy voices from years of smoking, that throw insults at you at the top of their lungs everytime you make a questionable offside call. And there you stand, at ten o’clock on your free Sunday morning, while it’s freezing four degrees. So often I suspected that those boys first had to spend some time crying their eyes out in their little dressing rooms after every match, to get over that horrible traumatic experience they just had. To them: my deepest, deepest respect.
I also understand that there are countless referees, both nationally and internationally, that really do it because they love the game so much. Those people that don’t hesitate to lead a match between the sixth and ninth teams of their local clubs, regardless of how terrible the weather may be. Afterwards, their reward will be nothing more than a beer on the house, while these days they’re also at risk to have a few teeth knocked out of their mouths if they make the wrong decision at the wrong time. Men and women that will not be scared away, and to whom refereeing a game in the lowest division is the perfect way to spend their weekends. To them: my deepest, deepest respect.
But I’m talking to a completely different group here today. It’s actually quite like the situation with soccer hooligans: it’s the 1 or 2% that ruins it for everyone else. It’s that extremely tiny collection of referees that give the whole population a bad name. And I’m extremely sorry that it is that way. But I do feel like we need to talk about it. Sure, you can miss an offside every now and then, even at the highest level. We’re all people: you can and should make mistakes. And that every time you blow your whistle, players, staff and supporters of one colour are going to be mad at you, well, that’s something that comes with the job. You knew that beforehand. But one of your primary tasks is protecting the players on the field. From each other, from opponents, and from supporters. How sad it is that that’s even necessary. In that area, soccer has a lot to learn from other sports, like handball and field hockey. But it is what it is, and you are in charge of the important task of allowing everyone to practice their hobby safely and enjoyably.
And if you can’t, or won’t accept that responsibility? In that case, I sincerely hope that you’ll find a hobby sometime in the near future, where you can be the boss of your own universe. Whether that’s collecting stamps, building model trains or working on old cars in your garage. And I hope, and I really mean it, that it’ll make you a happier person.
But please, dear referee. On behalf of all the players, male and female, young and old, and all your colleagues that do their job week in, week out, with so much love and passion for the sport, I urge you to stay away from the soccer pitch. Leave it up to us to make the game we all care so much about into one big celebration. We try so hard.
Thank you so much.