Miles Kington: Why so many sendings-off? A referee blows the whistle...

Do you think having more players makes for efficiency, or do they get in each other's way? Maybe referees are doing the teams a good turn
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The Independent Online

Many football fans are asking why there are so many red cards and strange refereeing decisions in the World Cup. Unfortunately, they are asking the wrong people. Today we are going to put the record straight by putting the big questions to a top referee. All yours, Senor.

Q. Why are so many players getting sent off in the World Cup?

A. You call that a lot? In many games hardly any players are getting sent off. Maybe one, maybe two. On each side. That still leaves nine or ten a side. That is enough.

Q. But surely eleven is the minimum number for a football match, isn't it?

A. No. Eleven is the maximum number. And maybe eleven is too many. Maybe the referees are trying to make the football more attractive by making the midfield less crowded. You know how seven-a-side rugby is much more attractive and flowing than full-scale rugby? Well, maybe the same is true of football and the refs are trying to do their bit to help.

Q. How can a team with only nine or ten players be better then a team with eleven?

A. Easily. So far, in this World Cup, the team which has finished with fewer players has also mostly been the winner. If a team was given sixteen players against a team with eleven, would they be better? Or would they just get in each other's way? So maybe the referees are doing the teams a good turn by sending people off.

Q. You're joking, surely?

A. Yes, I am joking. The truth of the matter is that for the referees, the World Cup is very boring and very painful. They get no praise, only criticism. They run up and down for ninety minutes in their shorts, these poor middle-aged men, with everyone watching their knobbly knees, and at the end of it, they think to themselves: WHY AM I DOING THIS? SOD THIS FOR A TINKER'S CUSS!

Q. Do you mean, Stuff this for a game of soldiers?

A. Whatever. So, the referees have to make their own amusement. And one way is to organise your own private competition,to see who can give out the most yellow cards, and red cards. It is all private, mark you. Nobody knows that the refs are competing to see who can penalise the most players.

Q. You're joking, surely?

A. Not at all. Did you see that Russian ref the other day? He played a blinder! He sent off so many people! I believe there is a special prize for the ref that can send half a team off before the final whistle. Nobody has quite done it yet, but ...

Q. ... but Graham Poll got near.

A. That's different. As you know, Graham Poll gave the same man three yellow cards before he sent him off, which has never happened before. I would imagine that Graham Poll was on a bet to do just that, but I have no intelligence on the matter.

Q. Has a player ever been sent off during a penalty shoot-out?

A. Yes. I believe a Belgian player was once sent off for wasting time before taking his kick. That was brilliant. The referee who did that is still honoured in the profession.

Q. Do you think a player will ever be sent off before the match starts?

A. That would be the ultimate. It is what referees dream of. There was a rumour once that in a match between Peru and Chile, who are ancient enemies, one of the players kicked an opponent before the match started.

Q. And was sent off before the game?

A. Alas, no. But as soon as the game started, the ref blew for a foul and booked the guilty player. Interestingly, the man he had kicked immediately started rolling on the ground in agony, even though the incident had taken place ten minutes before.

Q. Are you enjoying the World Cup?

A. Sure. But the best moment for me was when Italy got a penalty in the 93rd minute against Australia.

Q. I felt sorry for Australia. It didn't look like a penalty to me.

A. I felt sorry for the ref. Here he was, thinking, Oh no, another half hour of damnable extra time! My feet are killing me! Quick, a penalty! And he did it. Brilliant!

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