Written by Anietie Ukpe
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Friday, 8 May 2009

image for Ovrebo was right...psychologically speaking Ovrebo's Childplay

If Karl Marx was not given to Satanic ideas, he would have stated that "football (not religion) is the opium of the masses." Which other event would cause grown-up, able-bodied men to weep and fight? And like it has been pointed out, the game has no ennobling characteristics - like Basketball which teaches its adherents to throw banana peels into waste buckets without hitting the tired, sweaty traffic warden at the road junction. But still when the football whistle blasts, we come running after it like the kids of Hamelin ran after the Pied Piper.

Last Wednesday the whistle blasted at Stamford Bridge as English premiership side Chelsea FC took on the Spanish League frontrunners FC Barcelona. It was a good match which reminded me of Nigerian league matches - not because of the standard of the game (this was way above the Nigerian league), but in terms of officiating.

Psychologically speaking, referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, the official who officiated in the Chelsea vs Barcelona match did his best. It was curious for anyone to expect more from a man trained to look into and analyze the inner turmoil of men, and not be inordinately concerned with the outward movements and gestures of the body. The man is a psychologist and a very good one at that!

He has been widely lambasted for ignoring penalties due to Chelsea and he has even had death threats because of what the world considers to be biased officiating. The outrage is so widespread, but we Nigerians find if ludicrous. We Nigerians know that like Yellow Journalism and Yellow Fever, there is also "Yellow Refereeing" and we never cry wolf over it. Even though what is a pancake in Nigeria is usually a poison to the rest of the world, we think the world should learn to swallow its bitter pills the way we eat our pancake.

What the irate Chelsea fans fail to know is that Ovrebo did not fail to award the disputed penalties to Chelsea because of a UEFA conspiracy to stop two English teams from meeting in the final. Rather he did this because, unlike the players, who looked at the outward displays and horrendous tackles, he probed into the minds and souls of the players…and their intentions. The word "psychology" is derived from the Greek words, "psyche" (soul) and "logos" (study of). And he put his profession to practice in the field of play.

He knew that the players who handled the ball did nothing wrong from a psychological point of view. Deep in the inner recesses of their (players') troubled minds, the ball-handling players thought they were using their legs - a pardonable offence in psychology. It is normal, as your grandmother should have told you, in hyperactive enterprises, like drowning, for a man to mistake one part of the body for another - and do please remember that Barcelona was drowning after Michael Essien's blistering strike. Clutching at straws (or balls) at such hazardous times is an acceptable behaviour in psychology - even if it is against football rules.

Like Seren Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855) said in his book The Concept of Dread, "A man who with any degree of seriousness has concerned himself with psychology and psychological observations has acquired a general human pliability." And you would understand why our main man Ovrebo was pliable in the match… and allowed clutching at balls.

Chelsea should have showed more understanding and clearly known that this match was going to be won by having clean thoughts - for this psychologist-cum-referee came to judge the intents and motives of the heart, not football skills. For example, he marched off the Barcelona defender not because he tackled anyone wrongly, but because he saw that the poor man had the intention to do so in the immediate future or next tackle - this was like Mamman Vatsa and company died for intending to execute a coup.

Added to this fact is that a psychologist does not believe in punishment nor penalties. He is trained in how to correct behavior or justify it. This referee is always mistaken by non-psychologists who do not know where he is coming from. In his major tournament debut at Euro 2008, he admitted to wrongly disallowing a goal by Italy's Luca Toni against Romania, and was sent home. But this was a psychological decision, which UEFA misunderstood.

It is also a matter of psychology if he does not like English clubs or has a phobia for them. He has refereed English clubs 12 times in European competitions and never awarded them a penalty. On these occasions he awarded three penalties against Premier League clubs. So it is not exactly that he does not believe in penalties - he does when it is committed in the right 18 yard box. Unfortunately, it never occurred in the right box on Wednesday last week.

Instead of crying "Treason! Treason!! Treason!!!" Chelsea should have asked the man to stay on and explain to them the psychology of his officiating. He would have turned Chelsea players (Drogba included) into gentlemen fit for the Queen's company and palace. Not the ranting, bellicose nutcases we saw on Wednesday.

I am tempted to think, however, that if rugby was not invented in 1823 when a boy in the course of soccer game at Rugby School, Rugby, England, picked up the ball and ran with it; Ovrebo would have done it with a few more refereeing like this one. Somewhere along the line, he would have completely allowed the players to scoop the ball with their hands and run for goal with it. With a referee like this, we expect more variations of soccer (like in the Rugby experience) and hope FIFA would consider allowing some ball handling in every game. Afterall what the leg can do, the hand can do even better.

But if you are still mad at the good, old gentleman, remember the immortal words of John Dewey (1959-1952), a US philosopher and educator, "Psychology is not concerned with the distinction between false and true judgments, as both are equally psychological processes." And so do not be concerned about Ovrebo's false or true judgments, they were psychological processes.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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