Having handed out a red card to Granit Xhaka for a professional foul on Modou “Wheel” Barrow in Saturday’s match between Arsenal and Swansea I now stand before you accused of mis-interpreting the laws. Accused by my fellow referees in the papers and found guilty in the court of Twitter. But I beg the court to answer the question, what are the laws of the game? Are they immutable laws? Are they like the laws of light and gravity, something measured and explainable with mathematics and applied with little or no room for error or are they better seen through the eye of the referee, an interpretant, a man who is more priest than physicist? I say the laws of the game are mutable and irrational and that like the gods we can only begin to comprehend their multifaceted beauty.
Law 12 is the law which governs fouls and misconduct. It is written in plain language and has the markings of an immutable law and yet in its heart it is as treacherous as the Genie granting us three wishes. It states that for a foul to take place three things must occur: the offence must be committed by a player, it must occur on the field of play, and it must occur while the ball is in play! This is simple. In this case the ball was in play and Xhaka (a player) kicked in an attempt to trip his opponent. This is a foul.
Now we have a group of six to consider and a further group of four to balance them out. I see some of you are falling asleep but you must stay awake! In the group of six we have kicking an opponent, tripping an opponent, jumping at an opponent, charging them, striking them, or pushing. Even attempting to do most of these are also fouls. In this group the referee must decide how the foul was done. Was it careless, reckless, or with excessive force?
These three qualifiers are ever-increasing levels of offence, like Donald Trump’s twitter account as the year has gone by. Careless just means the player committing the foul acted without consideration. The Genie granting us the wish of wealth might carelessly give us money in cash. Reckless means utter disregard for the consequences to the opponent. In this case that same Genie might give us our wish of wealth not just in cash, but in small bills which would be spilling out of our pockets as we walked down the street making us a target for all armed robbers in the world. And excessive force is both careless, reckless, and also an action which far exceeds the force necessary and is in danger of injuring the opponent. That Genie would just turn us into Donald Trump.
But just like the Genie trickster I get to interpret every action on the pitch with what I FEEL! And I felt that in that game, Xhaka’s kick was “excessive force”. Look, we can’t measure a kick in Newtons, at least I can’t — not in the middle of the game — so I just have to guess wildly at whether there was excessive force or not. Typically, I determine excessive force by the number of times a player rolls around on the ground in agony. Two rolls, foul; three rolls, yellow card; three rolls and a grimace whilst magically rubbing the spot; red card.
But I ask you! Is this not the beauty of our game? This uncertainty in the interpretation of the Laws means that we referees can give writers and fans the world over the gift of bloviating endlessly on whether our calls were right! I mean, just last week I gave a direct free kick when it should have been an indirect free kick because there was no contact on a foul! Oh boy, that was a big error, right? WRONG! All I have to say is
“it looked like there was contact” and I’m back refereeing high profile football matches in front of an international audience.
There’s a saying in football, these things all even out in the end. If you take nothing else away from my defense here I want you to remember this: that’s my job, I’m the guy who makes things weird so that someone else can come along and make them weird in the other direction so that they can all even out! In being an agent of chaos I create balance. It’s a hard job because I have to suffer the slings and arrows of critics constantly, but like the Genier, once I’m out of the bottle there’s no stoppering me.
Laws of the game, Law 12: http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/afdeveloping/refereeing/law_12_fouls_misconduct_en_47379.pdf