A gross and cruel misjudgement did for Manchester United’s chances against Real Madrid

Where's divine justice when you need it? That red card should have been struck by a thunderbolt and burnt to cinders as Cüneyt Çakir waved it officiously


I got clobbered in the street recently. In a hurry to make a doctor’s appointment, I found myself on a narrow pavement behind two enchantingly voluble middle-aged, middle-class women, one pushing a couple of twin babies, presumably her grandchildren, whom she addressed as though they were just home from university, the other gesticulating with wild expressiveness, as though to draw the attention of pilots preparing to land at Heathrow.

What with the roar of the traffic, the screams of the babies and the women’s honking conversation, my hoarse “Excuse me” went unheard. I attempted to slip in on the twins’ side but there was insufficient space between their pushchair and a road murderous with cyclists, so I had to risk the almost equally dangerous option of dodging the other woman’s flailing arms. I miscalculated and she caught me with her elbow full on the jaw. “Oh, my God,” she cried, hearing the crunch, “I’m so dreadfully sorry.” “Madame, you have a right to animated conversation,” I told her, spitting out a tooth. “The fault, comprising impatience and a lack of spatial awareness, is all mine. Think no more about it.” And so peace was made. But had there been a Turkish referee observing us, he would have handed her a red card.

I take it that the significance of this little parable, which also happens to be a true record of events, is not lost on readers who saw, in the flesh or on television, the gross and cruel misjudgement which did for Manchester United’s chances against Real Madrid on Tuesday night. Enough has been said about the legal niceties of this incident in the sports pages of the world’s press for me to pass over them with speed. Ignore those letter-of-the-law pundits who thought the sending-off had merit. It didn’t. Nani, in space, innocently raised his foot in order to control a ball, just as the voluble woman innocently waved her hands to make a point, and as I walked into her fist, so Alvaro Arbeloa walked into Nani’s boot, the difference being that I didn’t roll on the ground clutching a part of me that hadn’t been touched.

Why football hasn’t introduced the hot-spot technology employed in cricket is a mystery to me. If you can tell whether a batsman has nicked a ball by X-raying the bat, you can surely tell whether a footballer has been kicked in the heart by X-raying him. It might be slow, it might necessitate an MRI scanner being rolled on to the pitch, but what’s time when truth is in the balance?

There is something else I don’t understand: why we didn’t wake up on Wednesday morning to find that Uefa had convened an emergency session in the night, overturned the decision and handed Manchester United a passage into the last eight of the European Cup which it would then go on to win? Or failing that, why wasn’t the natural world in disorder when we woke, why weren’t the sun and moon distracted from their orbits, why hadn’t the sheeted dead climbed from their graves, why weren’t owls killing falcons and horses eating one another?

If there were such a thing as natural justice, if the spheres moved in harmony, if God existed, then a thunderbolt would have struck and burnt to cinders the red card waved officiously by Cüneyt Çakir – a man whose name sounds too much like the insults that must get thrown at him, a man too encumbered by umlauts and cedillas, to follow what is happening on the field of play.


"The very reason we play games is to affirm a metaphysical order in imitation of the ideal order we long to see but cannot"


I know – indeed no one knows better – that a game of football is just a game of football. Except that it isn’t. Nothing that we do is ever just what we do. Our every action is a sort of foreshadowing of the essential Great Action whose meaning is locked away from us and might never be revealed. If there is no justice in small things, then there can be no justice in large, and life becomes a random, absurdist lottery for which we’d be fools to buy a ticket. The very reason we play games, or in my case watch them, is to affirm a metaphysical order in imitation of the ideal order we long to see but cannot.

I don’t know when I stopped believing in God, or even if I ever started, but had He wanted my allegiance, all He had to do was reverse decisions too egregiously unfair to be compatible with divine intention. The wrong line call or LBW decision, the catch that wasn’t caught, the low punch that wasn’t noticed, the gamesmanship that shouldn’t have been allowed, the penalty that should or shouldn’t have been given, the rain that shouldn’t have been permitted to fall.

How many times as a boy did I cry out against these miscarriages, not suffered by me personally, not necessarily suffered by a team or a player I supported, simply felt as wrongs that had to be righted. Truly I believed that, spurred by the force of irresistible universal outrage, a sort of Prague Spring of sport, this righting would somehow come about – Henman granted a rain-free rematch against Ivanisevic, Gatting given another chance to play Warne’s ball of the century as he wasn’t ready the first time, Zinedine Zidane’s sending-off revoked in the light of the provocation to which he’d been subjected, Manchester United reinstated as winners, referee and linesmen executed.

At the best of times, we live a hair’s breadth from despair. The innocent die young, the good go unrewarded, the greedy go unpunished.

We love sport because of the brief illusion of equity it brings – so long as we can trust the judgement of those who officiate. Once they err, the entire edifice of fantasy crumbles and we are left with life as it really is, and there is too much of that already.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas