The Rational Ref

Referee right to protect players from objects thrown on pitch

HK referee Liu Kwok-man was correct in law and common sense to take players off the field when Iranian fans threw explosive projectiles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 1:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 3:15am

Bombs and missiles in deepest darkest Iran are a part of daily life, but surely not on the soccer pitch? 

Flash! Boom! A pebble-sized explosive detonated dangerously close to players and four match officials – all from Hong Kong – last week.  Judging by the blast radius it’s lucky no one was seriously injured.

Videos have exploded online with various reports suggesting it was a bomb or a grenade. At the very least, the explosive device was a powerful firecracker.

The blast occurred in the final minutes of an otherwise uneventful match in Foolad Shahr Stadium in Isfahan during an Asian Champions League quarter-final first-leg match. With the match scoreless, the 9,000-strong home crowd of Foolad Sepahan  had become increasingly restless. So when  visitors Al-Ahli  from Saudi Arabia won a corner, the fans heckled, hollered and hurled missiles around the corner area near assistant referee Chow Chun-kit.

Chow raised his flag to tell referee Liu Kwok-man  that debris was littering the corner area. Liu ran over to check and was followed by three Sepahan players. They were not happy with the  delay. They started complaining and gestured that things were not that bad. One player bent down and picked up what appeared to be a rock and casually tossed it a few metres off the pitch. Then boom!

The explosion from that “rock” shocked the two match officials plus two players and they instinctively moved for cover. Amazingly, the other player who was complaining the most was unfazed and totally oblivious to the danger as he continued his ranting. Although the five individuals nearest the incident is a small sample size, it is not too far from the truth to say that  the incident suggests one in  five people involved in the beautiful game are so engrossed they forget there are more important things in life than soccer.

The first thing on the mind of referee Liu was the safety of everyone in and around the  pitch; which is what all good, responsible referees are taught. Liu immediately moved away from the area and signalled to all players to leave the field of play. Liu’s action was correct in law and more importantly correct in common sense.

At the time, it was not clear whether more of these pebble-sized explosives were on the pitch, or whether fans would launch additional missiles. Unless the referee is assured the environment is safe, he is empowered to stop, suspend or abandon the match. In the end, the match was suspended for about five minutes and the remainder of the match went by without further incident. The  Asian Football Confederation  is expected to heavily fine Foolad Sepahan for failing to control unruly fans.

There have always been foreign objects and missiles thrown onto pitches. Coins, lighters and pens are common projectiles. Among the weirdest objects that fans have flung, or attempted to fling,  are a stolen scooter belonging to an away supporter and a pig’s head.

The suckling pig’s head made its way onto the pitch in 2000 when former Barcelona hero Luis Figo, who moved to arch rivals Real Madrid for £37 million, returned to Camp Nou as a galactico. As he was about to take a corner, enraged Barcelona ultras baited Figo with the decapitated head of something considered commonplace in Hong Kong but which is apparently rarely eaten in Barcelona.

Other bizarre objects chucked by fans include orange-dyed rabbits, whisky bottles, sex toys, tennis balls, doughnuts, bananas, carrots and beach balls.
The most famous beach ball incident led to an unlawful winning goal. This was three years ago when English Premiership referee Mike Jones  allowed Sunderland’s goal to stand after the ball hit a beach ball and ricocheted into the Liverpool goal.

The most shocking thing was not the incident itself but that everyone, including the professional referee, did not know the rules. The beach ball was an outside agent that interfered with play and therefore the rules state that play should have restarted with a drop ball at the place of the incident.

After the match, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said: “If anyone knew that rule then you are one saddo. I didn’t know.”

The real “saddo” is Bruce and others like him who believe “swatting up” on the rules somehow makes a person unworthy of an existence. There is great reward and satisfaction in being  knowledgeable about your chosen interest, passion or profession. Those who pompously bomb out in their knowledge of the rules deserve as much derision as ignoramuses who throw bombs on to the pitch.