Oh hey Sean —
The thing is, I love the current refereeing system because it feels so much like real life: isn't what you call the referee's "absolute, flawed, subjective authority" also a perfect description of the way in which we all live our lives? We are absolute authors of our own destiny and yet so often wrong, so frequently blind to the obvious foul, the step out of bounds, the ball over the line! How many times have we all thought about a night, a day, a year of our lives: if only we could see that again, slower, to know what we got wrong? Except for the start of the game and the end, we are all referees. I'm just glad we don't have to wear those goofy orthodontal Q-tip microphones strapped to one cheek.
I think soccer's relentless, Beckettian horror is part of its great appeal: it just goes on, the clock always ticking and the game full of moments that seem, and often are, unfair. No stopping, rarely any do-overs, and never a replay review. The clods of dirt and the accidental whistle are part of the game. When David Beckham skied his penalty kick against Portugal to help ensure England lost its Euro 2004 quarterfinal, he looked back plaintively at the penalty spot, which seemed caked with mud — and moved on. (He and 50 million Englishman will be remembering that dismal moment when England plays Portugal on Saturday.)
In this way too the game feels like real life; soccer is the arthouse documentary to other sports' Hollywood. Even the pitch itself is stripped of artifice, and is the nearest sporting equivalent to life's blank canvas — none of American football's measured hash-marks nor baseball's rigid structure, with its pyjama'd players sidling round and round the basepaths like doped up donkeys round a mill, worried lest they be called out for going too far outside the lines. Only basketball comes close to soccer's free-form, near-naked combination of speed and force. But something has gone wrong with professional basketball: the relationship of the size of the players to the size of the court is out of balance, and so too is the scoring — a basket is too cheap to measure. They might as well be trading electricity.
Loving every minute of it,
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey is the author of The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup