A referee gets mobbed — for being good!
Around the world referees are forever criticised by fans, players, managers and the media but an Uzbekistan official has managed to buck the trend, receiving an unusually warm welcome after being named Asian Football Confederation (AFC) referee of the year.
Fans at Tashkent airport blew horns and trumpets to celebrate the return of Ravshan Irmatov, a candidate to referee at next year’s World Cup, after he won the award for a second successive year.
“I am overwhelmed by this reception. I am thankful to all those who came to greet me,” Irmatov said. “I have seen this kind of reception only for the players and this is unprecedented in Uzbekistan. I hope I will fulfill their expectations.”
In bizarre scenes, fans were jostling through crowds to try to shake hands with Irmatov, who was returning from Kuala Lumpur where he collected his award on Tuesday.
“He made Uzbekistan proud for the second consecutive year and I hope he will continue to fly our flag in the years to come,” excited fan Ulugbek Salimov said
Whatever next? Manchester United boss and frequent referee critic Alex Ferguson treating match officials to fine glasses of wine after games or Serena Williams praising line judges for good calls?
It is an interesting change and maybe Irish and Egyptian supporters should forget their gripes about missing out on South Africa and get behind their officials at the World Cup. Oh wait, they didn’t make that cut either!
PHOTO: Referee Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan gestures during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games qualifying round soccer match between Qatar and Japan in Doha October 17, 2007. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad