The referee is a buffoon

RefereeAbusing the referee seems to be a universal tenet of global football culture. In Italy, the daily newspapers grade them mercilessly and not even Pierluigi Collina can help his beleaguered brethren.

The word “wanker” doesn’t translate directly into Italian. Rather, Italians are likely to chant “buffone” at the ref when he makes a bad decision. And yes, pleasingly, that does mean “buffoon.” Be they rude or just silly, I’m fairly sure that there are anti-ref chants in every footballing country across the world. After all, everybody loves a good moan about the referee, don’t they? Not least pundits and commentators. A dodgy decision really helps liven up a dull game, and a few incorrect offsides or penalty claims wrongly denied are a godsend to hacks trying to string out a column about a joy-sapping 0-0.

Like so many things in life, the Italians like to take this to a new and extreme level. All the sports dailies – in themselves manifestations of this same kind of excess – go into exhaustive detail over the quality of refereeing of each week’s games. Every Monday there are features analysing the performance of the match officials in each of the weekend’s Serie A games. And like the players, each ref is given a pagella, a score out of ten.

Pagelle, incidentally, are very important. Fantacalcio, which is a terribly serious matter here, is based on an aggregate of the main papers’ pagelle for each player – none of that winning, losing, conceding algorithm they use in the UK. No, if your defender scored 7.5 in the eyes of the journalists, then that’s what you score, even if he was the one high point in a miserable 1-0 defeat.

But I don’t think that anyone yet plays Fantarbitro, or Fantasy Referees’ League. Perhaps we could start. Each week the refs are graded on their performance, and a league table is published showing their average rating so far over the season.

From this we can see, for instance, that Rizzoli – who ruled out Daniele De Rossi’s perfectly legitimate goal and further denied Roma a penalty during their 1-1 draw at Livorno yesterday (not that I’m bitter) – is languishing just fourth from bottom in the 28 man table. That surely has to be the relegation zone, right? Even though he’s an international official. Trefoloni, another fan’s unfavourite and a man with his very own terrace chant (it’s to do with his wife shagging other men, unsurprisingly enough) is just one place above him, so may also be headed for the drop. Think Graham Poll but less appealing.

So in my Fantasy Ref’s league you would select perhaps a squad of twelve referees of whom only four would then be chosen to represent you each weekend. You’d choose on the basis of who was directing which game, and hence how much cheatyness or thuggery they were likely to encounter. You’d earn the points they were allocated in Monday’s pagelle.

OK, it’s not going to take off, is it? Referees are intrinsically unlovable, however essential. The close involvement of several top officials in calciopoli, starting with the FIFA referee Massimo De Santis, has obviously not helped their credibility or their popularity. What I think is really interesting is the actual scores those currently in operation have all been awarded this season. In a system where 6 is a respectable, acceptable level of performance, only 6 out of the 28 have an average rating of 6 or above. Now, does this mean that 79% of all Serie A refs are officially poor?

Pierluigi CollinaI don’t think so. What it means is that we love to blame the ref. The extent of the media moaning is such that even the game’s authorities now have to regularly discuss the issues of refereeing failures. Pierluigi Collina, internationally acknowledged as one of the greatest refs ever, and voted referee of the year for six consecutive years from ’97 to ’03, was appointed last July to be Serie A and B’s designatore degli arbitri – responsible for the official appointment of referees – amid much talk of a “refereeing standards crisis”.

But even his stature, as possibly the only popular referee ever, has done nothing for the general image of the profession. Acclaimed by fans and players upon his appointment, Collina has done little to improve the standards of the refs under his command – if the scores in the sports press are anything to go by.

I don’t think the sport-watching public will ever be happy with its referees. It is a thankless job: not necessarily just due to unsporting ill manners, but perhaps by its very nature. I think it is no coincidence that Collina’s popularity is so anomalous. We all need scapegoats, and the ref is the perfect candidate. He reminds us, every time he blows his whistle, of the imperfections of the game we are watching, the errors committed both by our team and by theirs. On second thoughts, maybe my Fantasy League could work: it would be one more reason to moan about poor refereeing on a Monday morning.

Read more by Vanda at Spangly Princess.

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