First Person: 'Referees deserve our support - even after Leicester City's clash with West Ham'

Posted by ap507 at Apr 21, 2016 10:35 AM |
John Williams discusses how referees should be cut a little slack to help the game survive intact
First Person: 'Referees deserve our support - even after Leicester City's clash with West Ham'

Source: Leicester Mercury

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I stumbled out of Anfield last Thursday night, ecstatic, exhausted and frankly disbelieving, writes John Williams. Had I really witnessed this? Liverpool had scored four second half goals, including a last minute winner, to defeat a palpably superior Borussia Dortmund team in the Europa Cup. No-one saw this coming. Complete bedlam inside the stadium and bubbling joy outside. A guy passed me on the street and, tears glinting in his eyes, said just two words: 'Only football!'

Instinctively I knew exactly what he meant. That in a society in which the market, consumption and the individual seem so crucial, football can still appeal to more fundamental and important emotions to do with the collective, local solidarity and a simple refusal to accept how the story seems to have been written. Team spirit and the co-joining of fans with a team can overcome superior forces. And sharing triumphs with so many anonymous others is much more important than having any individual success.

This is also, of course, the story of Leicester City: a collective project based around skill, for sure, but also focused on hard work and a core solidarity that binds together local people and the club. Even in a city where diversity rules and almost half the sporting population favour the oval ball, City's journey has grabbed the attention of the whole population. Who has not had a conversation recently in which someone has said: 'I don't normally follow football, but……'?

All of which makes events on Sunday against West Ham a little harder to take. When sport means so much, is invested in so emotionally, dealing with deep disappointment can easily be converted into a profound sense of injustice. Refereeing the game was a very tough job. Because local hero Jamie Vardy personifies this idea of the underdog, of Everyman finally having his day, when he was sent off for diving (and it was a dive) it hurt more – and also threatened the dream.

Worse was to come. Penalty area grappling seen here would not have been out of place at Welford Road – and eventually produced an away penalty from referee Jon Moss. City fans, understandably, just wanted some consistency at the other end. They eventually had their own, some would say, dubious penalty to even things up.

When so much is at stake, referees come under much worse pressures than the players – without their team support and amazing salaries of course. And, sadly, the game has moved in a direction in which most players no longer really help the referee: 'professionalism' today means insistent appealing, constant grabbing and jostling, and, yes I'm afraid, diving.

So it is left to supporters (yes, us again) to bite the bullet and cut referees a little slack. Because even now, making sure the game survives intact is actually more important than winning the Europa Cup - or even the Premier League.

John Williams is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology

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