It’s not often that a referee can officiate a crucial game with little complaints about his performance, writes top South African referee DANIEL BENNETT in SoccerClub magazine.
As I reflect on what, for me, was a momentous 2015-16 season, I can only be thankful that I was honoured to have been involved in several high-profile games.
While Mamelodi Sundowns won the Premiership title quite comfortably with two games to spare, the real drama was at the bottom of the table where three teams – Maritzburg United, Jomo Cosmos and University of Pretoria – were involved in a titanic battle to retain their top-flight status on the last day of the season.
It’s incredible to think that the PSL relegation and playoff places were still undecided right until the 86th minute of the dramatic Jomo Cosmos vs Maritzburg United match (below), which I refereed.
After trailing 1-0 from the 27th minute, Maritzburg, who needed to win to ensure their survival, scored twice in the final eight minutes to turn the game on its head and swing the relegation pressure back on Cosmos. In the end, the Team of Choice won 3-1, and just as the players and coaches on both sides were under immense pressure to deliver, so too were the match officials.
With a place in the PSL and millions of rands riding on the outcome of this game, it needed level heads and a calm group of referees to ensure a fair contest. As expected, both teams tried every trick in the book to win the game. And as match officials, we were under massive pressure to make the right decisions when called upon to do so. I must say, it was a huge relief, and also a source of pride for us, that there were no complaints from either side about refereeing decisions that may have had an impact on the result.
A week earlier, I handled the vital NFD game between Mthatha Bucks and Highlands Park, which was a ‘must win’ situation for both teams. The three points Mthatha Bucks got out of that match were enough to save them from relegation but landed Highlands Park in a situation where they needed other results to go their way if they were to pip Baroka FC to the title and win automatic promotion to the PSL.
It isn’t easy to officiate a game where the stakes are so high and where, as a referee, one decision could make a massive difference to the future of a club.
It was great to be involved in important matches, though, and fortunately, they went well for me. On the international scene, I had the privilege of refereeing the Caf African Nations Championship (Chan) final between DR Congo and Mali in February as well as officiating in the decisive 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the end of March between Egypt and Nigeria in front of 90 000 fans in Alexandria.
Again, I’m proud to say, in both those games, the teams had no cause to complain about refereeing decisions.
After ending the season on such a high, I can’t wait to get back in the saddle for the new season.
– This article first appeared in issue 70 of SoccerClub magazine.