Cut our football referees some slack

For 40 years of my life, I have never met a football referee outside of a football match.

Do you know a football referee? Do you know anyone who knows a football referee? Have you ever met anyone who would gleefully introduce themselves as a football referee?

No?

And don’t you think that’s weird?

I know a pet food taster. I’ve even met someone who makes a living from foodporn – arranging sesame seeds on burger buns.

I am well aware that there are thousands of football referees out there, hiding behind their regular day jobs, emerging only on weekends like a ninja with
their too-tight shorts and armed with annoying whistles.

But why are they in the shadows?

I have had the privilege of befriending a proud football referee ever since moving to Kemaman, Terengganu.

Proud of his part-time profession, Rizan Salleh, better known as Mat Jang, would always introduce himself as a football referee first.

Recently, he delightfully informed me that he had signed up his son for a referee course during the poor boy’s semester break.

Why would a parent do such a thing to their child?

During my younger days, kids who liked football but were hopeless at it would normally end up becoming goalkeepers, ball boys, or fans. That way, they are
still part of the team or part of the club.

A referee isn’t. You run around constantly, for 90 minutes, in a pond of hatred, which is mostly directed at you.

For most referees, the ultimate goal is to work your way up through the ranks to the top flight and officiate at the big games of the Malaysian Football League (MFL). And the money is peanuts.

A referee officiating in the Super League – the highest tier competition – earns RM500 per match. If you manage to be called upon to officiate the finals of the Malaysia Cup, you would be pocketing RM800.

And in this entire country, less than 25 people will be included in the ‘select group’ of Super League referees. Which means, the probability of me bumping into a pet food taster is much higher.

The thing about being a pet food taster is that you don’t have to run in the rain, cover nearly half a marathon, dash 35kph occasionally, manage the conduct of 22 overpaid adults, or be jeered by the thousands of spectators – at the stadium and at home – while having to spot an infringement, all at the same time.

To make it all much worse, our football league will soon introduce VAR – the video assistant referee. This tool, even though helpful and precise, has the potential to further diminish the integrity of our referees.

First, the referee awards the goal. Later, he consults the VAR officials who spot an infringement, or an off-side, in slow motion. Now, the referee is forced to blow his whistle, cancel the goal, which in effect, reinforces the very loud monkey chants of spectators, and sends a depressing message that; “Yes, it’s true what you have been saying all this while”.

You’d think that VAR would have our referees more relaxed and composed, but no. It’s piling on the pressure.

I now see why Rizan signed up his son for a referee course. I now get it, when he says that being a referee is all about character-building.

If any person can remain competent through the abuse, and do it again week in, and week out, they would certainly develop the tenacity and qualities that would enable them to thrive in this modern and connected world.

And kids today need that trait.

Like many Malaysians, I would have also been in awe and admiration of Norazlan Ismail, the taxi driver who recently walked more than 300km from Skudai, Johor, to Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur, with a memorandum for
another round of withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund.

But having a buddy who is a football referee, and because having watched a fair bit of our football league this season, I’ve decided that I’d rather walk 300km back to Skudai with Norazlan, than to ever be a football referee.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13. Image courtesy of Muhammad Yunus Zakariah.

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