Why I hate referees, redux

I have long loathed referees. From my childhood, when a zebra cost the Vikings one of their best chances to win a Super Bowl in handing the Dallas Cowboys a victory by allowing not one, but two blatant push-offs by Drew Pearson. Almost thirty years later, I don’t think there’s a Viking fan who regrets the bottle with which somebody clocked the ref responsible.

Basketball refs are the absolute bottom, as they haven’t made a correct travelling call in decades and hardcore NBA fans like the Sports Guy openly joke about the corruption of David Stern’s personal referee, Dick Bavetta. Need to get the Knicks or Lakers into the next round? Don’t bet against them if Bavetta is on the floor.

Soccer refs run the gamut, from Collino to the pink-clad Brazilian league prancer who has to be seen to be believed. But all of them, from the world-class FIFA level on down to the local high school have a terrible, terrible habit that probably reduces global scoring at least 5 percent. If the ball is loose in the goalie’s six-yard box and the referee can’t see what is going on, he will always blow the whistle and call a phantom foul on the attacking team.

That’s precisely what happened to England this afternoon, as they scored in the 90th minute to go up 2-1 just before the final whistle against Portugal. They hadn’t played well and Sven showed his Italian roots by trying to go into a defensive shell for 70 minutes after Wayne Rooney got hurt, but they did score. Except, according to the referee, who was some 20 yards away from the action and in no position to see, John Terry committed a foul on the Portugese keeper as Sol Campbell was heading the ball in.

It was a horrible, horrible call and I wouldn’t have blamed Sven if he’d pulled his squad off the field in protest. The linesman, who was standing right there, signaled goal, but was overruled by the idiot referee. One thing soccer refs should learn from basketball refs is to let play go on in the last minute of the game, especially when they can’t even see what is happening!

A lot of fans hate penalties, but I quite like them. It’s always interesting to see who chokes under pressure. For all that he’s possessed of the golden foot, Beckham shouldn’t ever be allowed to take penalties as they are primarily about psychology, not skill. He missed, unsurprisingly, as did Rui Costa – another midfielder, for some reason highly skilled midfielders are quite often bad at taking penalties – and then, the almost completely useless Vassell managed to take a lousy one that put England out.

Portugal was the better team once Rooney went out, but it’s ridiculous that a stupid Swiss ref should be responsible for knocking England out of the tournament. At this point only the Swedes look like they can play with France, although you can never rule out the headcases from Holland, who can look awful against a weak team and great against a strong one.