Hey ref, can I have a haircut?
A dancing chemist, a British bobby and doppelganger for a Hollywood star, a Swedish millionaire, and a hair salon owner are all playing a central role at this year’s World Cup.
These are just some of the varied off-pitch personas of the 25 referees attempting to keep things rolling smoothly as players from all corners of the globe collide in Brazil.
Chip away at the granite-like veneer of the man in the middle and there’s a treasure trove of weird and wonderful aspects of humanity waiting to be unearthed.
He created history when he became the first referee from the Ivory Coast to take charge of a World Cup game, Chile’s second day 3-1 win over Australia. As well as being one of Africa’s top officials, the 43-year-old is a qualified chemist, “and I like to dance”.
Ivorian Noumandiez Doue is one of the referees at 2014 FIFA World Cup. Photo: AFP
Any hard-up players taking part in the United States’ victory over Ghana on Monday should have tapped up their ref, Jonas Eriksson. The Swede is known as “the laid-back millionaire” after making a seven-figure fortune selling shares in a media rights business.
Chelsea's Frank Lampard (L) reacts as he receives a yellow card from referee Jonas Eriksson in Madrid, April 22, 2014. Photo: REUTERS
Howard Webb, an insurance agent, was handed the honour of refereeing the 2010 World Cup final, and says his colleagues compare him to being a Hollywood star.
“But unfortunately not a good looking one,” he admitted to fifa.com. “They say I look like Shrek, which explains why I have a picture of him as a screensaver on my mobile.”
English referee Howard Webb (C) warms up with colleagues during a seminar for 2014 FIFA World Cup referees on March 27, 2014. Photo: AFP
Away from football, Marco Rodriguez, a former PE teacher, is at home behind the pulpit delivering sermons in his capacity as a Protestant preacher in a church outside Mexico City.
Referee Marco Rodriguez of Mexico one of the referees for the 2014 World Cup a Brazil is a protestant preacher. Photo: Reuters
Players needing a short back and sides – Marouane Fellaini? – need look no further than Bjorn Kuipers. The Dutchman who refereed Real Madrid’s Champions League final win over Atletico last month owns a hair salon as well as a couple of grocery stores back in Holland.
Netherlands' referee for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Bjorn Kuipers. Photo: AFP
Bakary Papa Gassama
Meanwhile it might be best not to mess with Bakary Papa Gassama. The first Gambian to referee at the World Cup is a devotee in his spare time of buri, a Gambian take on wrestling.
“I’m not really very good at it but like to do it as a hobby.”
Sandro Ricci made history at the World Cup on Sunday by awarding the first score by goal-line technology to France against Honduras.
He’s also an old sentimentalist.
“Before each game,” he explains, “I take off my ring and kiss it four times in honour of the four women in my life – my mother, my wife and my two daughters.
Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci (L) talks to Paraguay Nacional defender Fabian Balbuena during the Copa Libertadores 2014. Photo: AFP
Last but not least, step forward Felix Brych.
The German lawyer gained notoriety in the Bundesliga last season when awarding Bayer Leverkusen’s infamous “phantom” goal. And he probably spoke for his work colleagues everywhere when he urged fans to always remember: “We are referees, but we are also normal people.”
Germany's referee for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Felix Brych. Photo: AFP