The Diary: Stop Losing Your Sh*t Over The Uncontrollable

This week, The Diary questions why we constantly wet our pants about refereeing decisions when, if we stop to consider it, they are one of life's eternal uncontrollables...

Last Updated: 27/11/13 at 08:16 Post Comment

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We at the Diary view our remit as going beyond mere entertainment. We believe that this platform brings with it a responsibility to, where possible, improve the life and mental well-being of our readers. A cynic might suggest that the best way to do this would be to stop altogether, but that would be mean. And anyway, nobody ever got paid for their silence, except in those films with all the guns. And silent films. And lots of criminals. We'd could go on, but it'll hurt our original point.

(That said, should anybody wish to pay us for not writing, we will listen to offers. Particularly since we're currently not being paid for writing.)

So we begin with an instructive. illustrative, true story. Some years ago, one of us was on holiday on the eastern coast of the United States. The sky was blue, the sun was sizzling, and the queue for the hot dog stand was long. As we waited our turn, we were treated to the sight of a fellow tourist preparing his freshly-purchased frankfurter with a fastidiousness that went far beyond the typical. First he carefully distributed the onions evenly along his meaty length, then he took the mustard and ketchup and squeezed himself a careful double helix of mustard and ketchup. This was a sausage that could have sat in an art gallery. God's own weiner. And as he raised it to his lips, and as he closed his eyes in bliss-ridden anticipation, a seagull swooped from the heavens and delicately extracted the pimped tube of offal. Nothing remained, bar a mouth full of bread, condimentia, and disappointment.

The point is not that you should be careful when eating mechanically-recovered meat around seagulls, though you should, for they are larcenous and evil bastards. The point is that there are some things in life that are worth kicking off about: if, say, another human being had nicked his dinner, there would certainly have been words exchanged, and possibly blows. But when a seagull does it? All you can do is shrug. Well, swear loudly. But the world is a cruel and capricious place, and bad things happen from time to time just because they do. Sometimes, the universe leaves you with nothing but a bun, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

Which brings us neatly on to refereeing. The Premier League weekend just gone saw all manner of fantastic and funny football. Perhaps the highlight was a masterclass in derby football by Liverpool and Everton, who went at one another in the appropriate cartoon style. Yet following the game, too much time has been devoted to picking over Phil Dowd's decision not to dismiss Kevin Mirallas, following the Belgian's attempt to abbreviate Luis Suarez just below the knee.

What Mirallas was up to isn't clear. It might just have been a terrible tackle. The Belgian press are reporting that there may have been an element of revenge, for in the corresponding fixture last season Suarez trod on Mirallas's ankle, putting him out for two months. And we are contractually obliged to insert a 'Kick Racism Out Of Football Literally!!!' joke at this point. Still, he should have gone (off the pitch, that is; execution might have been a step too far). As Mark Chapman lamented on Sunday morning radio, "We should be talking about a fantastic game of football."

He, and his esteemed panel, proceeded not to, as if Dowd had followed up his misguided leniency by imposing an editorial agenda on the BBC. At this point we should probably reiterate two truths about refereeing that do occasionally get lost at moments like this. First, being a referee is really difficult. That doesn't mean that the current practitioners couldn't be better; nor does it mean they shouldn't try to be better. But let he who has never gone up for a handball only to be made to look like a pillock by the subsequent replays cast the first stone. And second, being a referee means doing something ostensibly neutral while almost everybody else is doing something ostensibly partisan. Which puts them in that strange category of people whose jobs, even when done perfectly, will almost certainly end up annoying somebody. Like traffic wardens.

Anyway, Chapman was right: the way football is at the moment, refereeing decisions take up too much of our time, of our shared cultural space. Understandable for managers and players, perhaps; they're the poor buggers whose livelihoods can be whistled away. But for fans, and for the media? We don't think it needs to be this way.

The trick, we humbly suggest, is to perform a small act of mental re-categorisation. To move referees from the part of the brain marked 'Things That I Am Going To Get Really Angry About' to the part marked 'Inexplicable Acts Of An Uncaring Universe'. Treat each terrible decision not as a thunderingly offensive outrage or a sign of a deep, dark conspiracy, but as a simple slice of bad luck.

In essence, take "we was robbed", and change the identity of the robber from a person to a seagull. People can be incompetent, can be crooked, can be biased, can be any manner of justifiably outrageous things. Seagulls, on the other hand, just are, and when they steal your lunch or crap on your jacket there's nothing to be done. Except cleaning your jacket. A thing that happened, that thing was annoying, that annoyance is natural, that annoyance is no use, that annoyance needs to be allowed to dissipate. Yes, you can borrow a tissue.

We can do this, friends. We can fortify ourselves with a new attitude of serene confidence, and step forth together into a brighter and sunnier world. "Was it a penalty? Yes, it probably was. So it goes." "Should he have been sent off? Yes he should. One of those things." "Did Howard Webb nick your sausage? Yes he did. Such is life."

Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton

You can follow Andi on Twitter here, Alexander on Twitter here, and buy last season's Diary here.

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