Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 12:30 UK

Jerusalem Diary: Referees and rubbish

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


Spending last week covering the Pope's visit to the Holy Land got me thinking about football referees.

Avraham Klein. 1970
Pelé, here being urged to get up, was an admirer of Avraham Klein

Infallibility, Catholics will tell you, is a much misunderstood concept. It does not mean that the Pope is, himself, infallible. And so - you might argue, after a heavy night in the pub, or too much nargilah - with referees.

Don't take my word. Last week I spoke to one of the greatest refs ever to don black shorts. "There's no referee in the world who doesn't make mistakes," Avraham Klein told me, on the phone from Haifa.

I had rung him because of the hoo-ha over the Chelsea-Barcelona Champions League semi-final, when the Norwegian ref, Tom Henning Ovrebo, had - by common consent - made a complete ham sandwich of it.

Several Chelsea players had screamed abuse at him or about him. Some of the football chatterati wondered what else could be expected of a ref from a small country, low down the football rankings.

And so, bravely, I thought I would present 74-year-old Mr Klein from Israel with the journalistic equivalent of an open goal. "Do you agree?" I asked him down the telephone.

He did not. British journalists had written the same of him, when he was chosen to referee England-Brazil in the 1970 World Cup - his first of three World Cup tournaments.

Come the game, "there were no problems", Mr Klein reports. You can read a fair amount into the body language of the photo above - Mr Klein telling Pelé, the best player in the world, ever, to stop making a meal of it.

Pelé returned the compliment in Mr Klein's 1995 autobiography (The Referee's Referee: Becoming the Best), describing himself as an "admirer".

Indeed, the whole tournament was, Mr Klein believes, the apogee of international refereeing. The evidence: no red cards. There was no need. Not because the players were morally superior. They just did not dare try it on.

Today it is a little different, he concedes. "Money. What players are earning in one day, one minute. Maybe it makes them crazy."

Avraham Klein,1982
The key to refereeing, Klein believes, is gaining respect

Mr Klein did not want to pass judgment on Tom Henning Ovrebo's performance.

"I've never criticised a fellow referee in my life."

But he did hint that for players to respect refs, the man in black needs to project "authority".

Another flavour of that: this photo from one of the greatest World Cup matches ever - Italy-Brazil, 1982.

Giancarlo Antognoni does that Italian thing with his shoulders. Avraham Klein does that parent-to-toddler thing with his hands.

The money has changed for the referees, too.

Mr Klein says that, in the last World Cup, FIFA paid refs more than $50,000 for a month's work.

In 1982, for the Italy-Brazil match, he was paid $100. He had to pay for his own drinks and sandwiches.


The day of the Chelsea-Barcelona semi-final, I had met some men down the other end of the pay-ladder.

Rubbish tip near al-Bireh
Palestinian scavengers look mainly for metal which they can resell

You smell the rubbish tip before you see it. It lies, in the occupied West Bank, between the Jewish settlement of Psagot, and the Palestinian city of al-Bireh.

Six professional scavengers were waiting for the next delivery.

None wanted to be named. But a thick-set man who told me he was 35, with 10 children, living in al-Bireh, explained the routine: "We come seven in the morning until four in the afternoon. I've been doing it for 30 years. It's not nice work. Aluminium, metal is what we're after. We sell it to a dealer in al-Bireh. We make around 1,000 shekels ($241) a month."

They have a special agreement with the Israeli soldiers to allow them to come to the tip.

And they appreciate the relative profligacy of the people who are occupying what the rest of the world regards as Palestinian land: not only are there twice the number of Israeli rubbish trucks each day, compared to the Palestinians', but the settlers "are better, because they throw out more of the stuff we want".

Here is a selection of your thoughts on Tim Franks' diary:

I love the word "chatterati"! What a great invention! And no, the Pope is not infallible. Not even ex cathedra.
Maria Ashot, London, UK (currently visiting Moscow)

Print Sponsor


Tim Franks 29 March
Views from Cairo



The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific