Football, bloody hell
“Football, bloody hell” is one of the great quotes of the beautiful game, authored by Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary former Manchester United manager, after his side scored two stoppage-time goals to stun Bayern Munich in the 1999 Uefa Champions League final.
Since that time, football has conjured many magical moments to elicit memories of that special night at the Camp Nou in Barcelona — including our very own Bermuda team during an historic run in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.
Saturday night at Devonshire Recreation Club was not one of them.
Many of the social ills around football are not the fault of the world’s most popular and populous game — football, rather inconveniently, just happens to be caught up in them.
That said, it is the responsibility of leaders within the game to show the leadership for which they were elected or appointed when their product is being dragged into the gutter by the very same people for whom they are putting on a show.
The fans, or at least a small minority of them.
If continuity of play has been a concern for authorities at the Bermuda Football Association, what with two years of disruption brought by the global pandemic, the last thing they needed was a work stoppage by referees because of unruly supporters.
But that is precisely what happened on Sunday when the few officials who have made themselves available to turn out for the undermanned Bermuda Referees Association determined that enough was enough after visiting referee Steffon Dewar was subjected to the worst of Bermudian hospitality the night before.
The Jamaican’s international pedigree is well established, his previous assignment before stopping off in Bermuda coming as a fourth official in the Concacaf Champions League round of 16, first leg between Santos Laguna and CF Montreal in Mexico on February 16.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for local referees was the sight of Dewar being verbally abused by players and spectators, physically threatened by a player, and having drinks thrown at him by the same “fans” — all of whom represented the winning team!
The first is pretty much par for the course wherever you go, but the latter two are just not on and represent a black mark on one of the island’s two national sports.
There is no need to repeat the play-by-play from the fixture between home side Devonshire Cougars and Devonshire Colts in the nominated Derby Weekend in the BFA’s schedule, but the fallout was swift from the referees, who refused to turn out for four scheduled matches in the Premier Division and First Division.
Their dwindling numbers meant there had been already three matches postponed last weekend, so it is pretty safe to say football is in crisis mode.
Unfortunately for observers, when the news is bad, the BFA goes into hiding.
This present administration has form for going into bunker mode — remember, the public still remain clueless about the disciplinary results of a 2020 assault on a coach by one of his own players that left him unconscious at Somerset Cricket Club, the video of which went viral on social media — and here we have history being repeated.
A public relations disaster.
The line coming out of the BFA is that it is protected by its constitution from revealing in public the results of disciplinary matters. This is a relatively new development, and no doubt unique in this age of transparency and accountability.
To say it is not international best practice is not enough. It is not best practice, period!
Outside of an initial notice on Sunday that the matches “have been postponed due to action of the Bermuda Referees Association”, there has been nothing on this matter coming out of the governing body for football in this country, and one that is part-funded by the public purse — despite much prompting from the media, at least in this parish.
That is not acceptable.
Almost 48 hours to the minute of the Sunday notice came word yesterday that last night’s scheduled FA Cup fixture was postponed. Pretty obvious in the present climate, but even that came a mere 6½ hours before scheduled kick-off. And then, hours later, another scheduling update with no further news on the referees dispute.
The absence of any reasonable statement or response to the media — which by extension means the public — amid a crisis situation not only exposes a vacuity of leadership but is tantamount to a slap in the face to Bermudians and the “football family”, who have been left in the information wilderness while, presumably, the BFA works behind the scenes to heal the rift with the referees and mete out what must be meaningful punishment to the offenders, the announcement of which may require a Pati request.
Sounds ridiculous? It is ridiculous.
We thought we had turned a corner when the BFA acted so quickly to put out a social-media fire last month after it was accused of corruption by one of its affiliates’ executives.
The offending tweet was removed and the offender and his club apologised within a BFA statement. It was a good day for the BFA.
But good days for the governing body have been few and far between in the interim, as this situation with the referees has been brewing with every update that yet another match has been postponed.
Upon prompting for further explanation, given that earlier postponed matches around the Christmas holidays were affected by the outbreak of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, came the admission that there was indeed a referee shortage.
The lot of a referee is an unenviable and thankless one; ditto for umpires in cricket.
They are there to be shot at, figuratively speaking, are paid a pittance and generally go through their careers having lost more friends than they have gained, such is the under-appreciation for them and their craft. It is for that reason that they should have one another’s backs in times of strife, exemplified by the laudable action taken to down tools when a colleague was targeted — let alone one who was here only to help out.
But, save for a few social-media posts highlighting the achievements of Bermudian officials overseas, the referees have gone dark, too. And for that, they must also come under the microscope for not having formally expressed their position to the Bermuda public, most of whom have been very sympathetic to their cause.
Devonshire Rec president Mark Steede deserves credit for speaking out and condemning the acts that took place at his club. But for his words to have any lasting currency, they have to be backed up by appropriate punishments — which the BFA, if it is so inclined, can then extend to all of football.
As a commenter said in one social-media thread while supporters pontificated in the absence of anything official coming out of the BFA or BRA, this episode sets a terrible example for our young people to follow.
But fears about their futures down the road need to be fast-forwarded to present day, if the stabbing scenes involving 15-year-olds at the National Sports Centre are anything to go by — on what turned out to be a dismal day for “organised” football.
Again, antisocial behaviour is a societal problem, not a football one. But when the drama lands on football’s doorstep, the least we can expect is for someone to answer the door.
• UPDATE: this opinion has been amended to correct that the assault on the Southampton Rangers coach took place in 2020 at Somerset Cricket Club