If you ask former Canadian soccer international Glen Johnson, the best referees should be seen and not heard.
“The best officials, you don’t notice them,” Johnson told the Straight by phone from his Burnaby workplace on August 8. “You just don’t notice them, and the game plays its way through.”
Which brings us to the subject of Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen, who officiated the Olympic semifinal between Canada and the U.S., where Canada led for most of the game but lost 4-3 in extra time.
(The Canadian women beat France 1-0 in extra time Thursday morning [August 9] to take the bronze medal.)
“She definitely affected one of the most important games in the history of Canadian women’s soccer for sure.”
Now Johnson, the first player ever signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps, in 1974, believes Burnaby striker and hat-trick hero Christine Sinclair will pay a price for her blunt comments directly following Canada’s gut-wrenching loss.
“I think the comment that Christine made was a bit extreme and a bit emotional after the match, referring to ‘the result was known before the starting whistle,’ ” Johnson said. “Having said that, at that level, other than some 12-year-old referee refereeing eight-year-olds and calling foul throw-ins and such, at any level whatsoever now, they don’t call keepers for [delaying the game by] six seconds. I didn’t even know it was six seconds, to be honest.”
The best keepers in the world run all over the box in the English Premier League every match, according to Johnson, a striker whose soccer career also included a stint at West Bromwich Albion in England.
“They bounce it in place for six seconds before they punt it,” Johnson said. “I noticed even in the Euro now, the unintentional handball now being a penalty, and that’s what the rule was. But, you know, it says 50 kilometres an hour [speed limit] outside my window here at work. How many people drive that speed? So lack of common sense.”
At UEFA Euro 2012 there were at least 20 handballs inside the box, he added.
“A shot was hit at pace, the person didn’t have time to move, and it struck them,” he said. “I don’t know, somebody who was being paid a lot of money to fix something up couldn’t even call it, because it’s so not intentional and unavoidable. So they didn’t blow them in Euro, and in a match that important, it should have never, ever, ever, ever have happened.”
Now FIFA has said it is investigating the Canadian team over its comments.
“What was said by the players, you’ve got to be a bit careful,” Johnson added. “And it’s hard to be a bit careful when you’re irately emotional after losing a game that you never, should never, lose.…That is the highest level of soccer in the world for ladies, period. So it’s a World Cup final, basically. And Christine is one of the best players in the world, undoubtedly.”
Johnson joked that her father was “a butcher” when he played for the firemen’s team locally. However, he was effusive in his praise for Sinclair.
“To score three on the U.S. is wonderful, and to lose as a result of an unwanted and an unwarranted call is a crime,” he said. “And probably the U.S. are going to win the gold now. I don’t know if our girls are going to...be able to bounce back mentally. I hope they do.”