Video Review: The Referee

4 01 2011

In 2009, film-maker Mattias Löw decided to follow the Swedish referee Martin Hansson on his journey to the 2010 World Cup. It was supposed to be a film focusing on the extraordinary pressures facing an ordinary man. It turned out to be so much more. The unassuming Swede found himself at the eye of a media shitstorm of epic proportions.

The film opens by following the relatively low-key life of a Swedish referee. This is then interspersed with footage of the events surrounding that fateful night of 18 November 2009 in Paris – when Thierry Henry’s handball saw France edge past Ireland and qualify for the World Cup. The juxtaposition is beautiful. Hansson’s simple life on a Swedish farm seems a million miles from the global hysteria that saw questions being raised in parliaments overseas and the esteemed Arsene Wenger labelling the referee “incompetent or dishonest”.

For Hansson, the events of that night seem a very personal tragedy. Speaking months before the match, the firefighter-cum-referee outlines the priorities in his life: “I had to choose between family, football and work. Football always comes first. It controls your life completely.” He was more right than he knew. The fall-out from that night in Paris meant that all Hansson’s sacrifices seemed to be for nothing – he, like the Irish team, would surely not be going to South Africa.

Löw’s film is brilliantly edited to create a purposeful sense of foreboding. The kids in the park wearing their Henry replica shirts may be a delicious cheap shot. But the interview with Hansson’s mother, Birgit,  is particularly painful as she discusses the negative headlines she so hates to read. Tales of death threats and abuse that leave you torn between two notions – 1. How stupid are football supporters? 2. Just how terrible must this referee be?!

I’ll let you consider the first question for yourself but the answer to the second one appears to be ‘not that bad at all’. Hansson was given the job of refereeing the Confederations Cup Final in June 2009 and was still included on FIFA’s list of 30 referees for the 2010 World Cup despite missing Henry’s handball.

Löw leaves the viewer to ponder whether the stress Hansson and his family had to endure was worth him achieving his goals. That’s debatable. What’s certain is that this documentary is well worth 30 minutes of your time. 

The Referee / Rättskiparen [2010] by Mattias Löw




One response

4 01 2011

Excellent stuff, ghost man! Thank you so much for posting.

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