For many, the 0-0 friendly draw between Germany and South Africa in 1995 would be quickly forgotten. For former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher, however, the game has a very special meaning.
It was here, leading the goalless draw in Johannesburg, that he had the best moment of his career.
“Before the game, the great man himself, the icon of the 20th century, came down and shook hands with us and called me Dermot,” the veteran official said. 101 Great Goals in an exclusive interview. “Surely if Nelson Mandela shakes your hand and says ‘Dermot, welcome to my country,’ that’s never going to get any better.”
It’s not easy being a referee, and moments like that are rare amid the torrents of abuse they receive from fans who disagree with their decisions or see them make a mistake.
“You only remember the decisions that go against you, you don’t remember the ones that go in your favor,” Gallagher warns. “I’m not saying it’s balanced because that’s not the way to referee, the way to referee is to try to do everything right, and certainly the important decisions.”
The abuse isn’t just limited to those watching, as players often have a lot to say over the course of 90 minutes. And, in his 15-year spell as a Premier League referee, one moment stands out above all others.
“I refereed a guy called Tomas Repka when he first came to West Ham, and he himself said openly that when he came to West Ham he wasn’t in the best place, he was going through a tough time,” Gallagher revealed.
“And I think he was ejected in his first game, he comes back and I ejected him in his next game or the one after that. He really gave me a lot of beatings and abuse when I expelled him. I was never afraid of refereeing players, but I was a bit afraid the next time we met.”
However, such concerns were, in the end, misplaced, with Repka quick to atone for her sins before the clash.
“He came down the tunnel and said to me, ‘I’m really, really sorry, I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I was in a bad place and it will never happen again,” the Dublin-born official continued.
“He was so sincere in telling me that, I really believed him, and it was good as gold in the next match. He just shows that anyone at the wrong time and in the wrong place can react in the wrong way.”
Repka is one of many Premier League players who have a reputation on the pitch, in this case for being a tough man, something that earned him a cult following at Upton Park during his four-and-a-half-year stay in London.
There is concern among fan bases across the country that such reputations could be seen as detrimental to players when they are refereed, such as a striker who is thought to be prone to diving, or a midfielder who is thought to be hotheaded, which that could influence a referee’s decision. decision away from the objectivity of the incident.
And Gallagher recalls a meeting with other referees and a sports psychologist, in which they were presented with exactly this scenario.
“We were asked to describe what we see as a tough player, difficult to referee and not so difficult to referee,” the Irishman revealed.
And the psychologist asked me ‘well, what do you do with this player? [that is hard to referee]’, and another referee said, ‘I work really hard to make sure this guy stops on the field of play, I walk with him, I cajole him, I communicate with him.’
“I actually said ‘why? Why do you have to work so hard on that player, when the best player on the field can get a yellow card for his first inning because he’s a good guy? You should have a blank canvas, and until a player does something wrong, he’s an angel.”
101 he also questioned Dermot about the use of VAR, the idea of referees training with clubs and whether spectators should listen to referees, all of which will be available in the second part of the interview later in the week.