There are times in life when I am caught in a Hamlet-like vortex, confronted by something at once ridiculous and contemptible, but my will failing me, at the crucial moment, when I have the target of my ire in my sights. Instead, a day or two later, in the dark winter night, I’m unable to sleep, my mind turning over gestures, words, which might have delivered catharsis. And yet the solutions are pure abstractions, for the moment for action has passed, irrecoverably.
I play for a football team on Saturday mornings in Belgium. At best, the refereeing is ludicrously over-formal, considering how inconsequential the contests between amateurs who choose to surrender a chunk of their weekends to perform baleful and muddy spectacle. At worst, the referees are tinpot Himmlers, barking castigations for the most petty infringements, revelling in their ability to summon adults to attend them as their spout their whims, inviting dissent, brandishing cards and talking-tos, temporary tyrants on their patch of autumnal meadow.
Last Saturday’s man in black, however, was parmi les plus cons. The président de la fédération des arbitres, I was told. Visually, he is a grotesque specimen; obese, with a mouth almost entirely bereft of teeth. His opener was to remonstrate with me severely for wearing wrong colour socks (who could possibly care?). His next was to browbeat the opposing team’s central defender for clutching his head having been hit squarely and painfully in the bean by the ball. He flashed about 10 yellow cards and dismissed two players in what was an otherwise civilised contest. He repeatedly stopped the game when there was no cause to do so other than to indulge his weekly power craze. With the last kick of the game, I was whistled offside and attempted a lob of the keeper. The ogre summoned me, gave me the benefit of the doubt when I told him (mendaciously) that I had not heard the whistle, saying something about how I had risked punishment for showing contempt.
All players on the pitch were united in their bemused resentment towards this obnoxious man who had basically ruined the morning for all of us. And yet many of them were sufficiently meek and deferential to shake his hand after the game.
In my noctural percolations, I imagined why we accept this articificial authority, when it is exercised to such a peremptory and excessive degree as to empty itself of all credibility. I rifled through my mental stock of possible reactions to referees like this who abuse their position. Simply ignore them? Then they would refuse to allow play to continue, to the growing chagrin of the rest of the players who would eventually fall on the side of authority, however jaundiced, so they could get on with the game. Physical aggression against the referee himself? That would have got me banned from playing in Belgium again, along with a probable encounter with the country’s criminal justice system. The most powerful risposte would be for the whole team, or both teams, to reject the referee’s authority; most satisfyingly would be actually to send him off the pitch, so that they could enjoy the match without his inane interference.
Digging deeper and wider into the conundrum, why do we amateurs play serious 11-a-side football, with all the trappings and formalities of the football on the TV – match officials, shin pads and studded boots, playing to the whistle etc. – but none of the fame or financial reward? I think I understand, just about. More inscrutuably, what motivates amateur referees to get out of their beds on Saturday, to patrol and to take grief from idiotic boy-men?
So what should I have done then, to achieve catharsis? My conclusion was that I should have turned my back, dropped my shorts and mooned him. Baring ones cheeks of contempt; that’s an international gesture befitting the people’s game.
Too late to do it to the toothless lardgut, but something to try on a future occasion. The thought was consoling enough to allow me to fall asleep again.
What I actually did instead, on leaving the changing rooms, was to mutter ‘tu es vraiment la ruine du foot, toi’ in the direction of Monsieur le Président. I think he may have grunted his indifference. Why should he care?