Beckham and that night in St Etienne

Beckham and that night in St Etienne

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    Kim Milton Nielsen was talking to Alex Griffiths

    It may have been over 19 years ago and counting, but I still get reminded regularly of one particular red card. Of all the incidents in France 98, you might be surprised how low a priority it was for the rest of the world, however!

    We were a larger group than ever before and wet knew the importance of supporting each other in that tournament; we knew the only way our whole team of officials could survive was by sticking together.

    Even so, after I sent David Beckham off for kicking Argentina’s Diego Simeone, there was no need for a cuddle from my colleagues. When you get things wrong you can usually expect consequences in other areas, such as your dealings with senior FIFA staff or indeed the staff from the nations you have just officiated.

    I had no such problems or questions; everyone was polite with me and in the memoirs of neither Beckham nor coach Glenn Hoddle were there any personal recriminations.

    In fact, Beckham said he had been stupid and had learned from the experience while I got the distinct impression, although you never know what is said behind closed doors, that Hoddle blamed Beckham and not me.

    The media of course, is a different matter and their job is sometimes to find out what was said behind those doors. But when I tell people that a tabloid newspaper gave out my email address, as they did with Urs Meier in 2004, I also ask how many emails they think I received, given that Meier’s messages broke an entire server and pushed the 100,000 mark.

    The answer was zero, because they did not do their homework and got the address wrong!

    For the record I have always loved English football myself and never missed a televised FA Cup Final, as well as many other games besides between teams whose names you might be surprised I can still recite.

    Kim Milton Nielsen

    But I just can’t imagine the English making a joke out of a football calamity the way we Danes do, for example in the second round at the Mexico World Cup, which coincidentally fell on the same day England beat Paraguay to earn a quarter-final shot at Diego Maradona and his ‘hand of god’, Denmark were actually leading against Spain before a poor back-pass allowed Emilio Butragueno the opportunity to score the first of his four goals and we lost 5-1.

    To this day the phrase ‘Rigtig Jesper Olsen’ translates to ‘a real Jesper Olsen’ and does not just apply to back passes but to any mistake made in daily life.

    I do think in general it is unique and fascinating just how  seriously the English take the game, how important it is to so many of the population. And from the outside looking in we fully understand that Bill Shankly’s famous quote about life and death was not entirely delivered with tongue in cheek.

    In 1998 our camp at Manoir de Gressy, just north of Paris, instead of being a port in any storm for myself, was just that for Esfandiar Baharmast, the American, and John Toro Rendon, the Colombian.

    We had two factions, who did get on well but were divided by being English or predominantly Spanish speakers. I wish I could have been more use to Rendon, but as I say, he received plenty of support from the Spanish speakers, while I extended my sympathies to Baharmast.

    You should have seen him when he returned after he was blamed for the the elimination of the best placed African nation, Morocco, for failing to award a penalty to Brazil in their defeat to Norway. Fortunately Swedish TV had a hand-held camera, which would not be so common now, and it took that camera angle, which he actually found himself on the internet, to vindicate our colleague some 24 hours later.

    For those 24 hours, however, he was badly shaken and he really had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Rendon’s torrid time followed red cards shown in Toulouse to three substitutes. While he knew he had got things wrong on the day, I had no such regrets.

    I’ll tell you why I don’t think it was even a case of being right or wrong and why the red card I showed has lived on as long as it has. It’s because it was England and because it was Manchester United, Beckhams’s club at the time.

    Years later I was refereeing in Dallas and a group of 16-17 year-old male players came over to me, extremely excited.

    “Are you the man who sent Beckham off?”, they were eager to confirm, and so I confirmed the fact for them. “Hey, we loved it, we are all Liverpool fans and we all hate them, well done!” was the response. In England people went to further extremes against Beckham than against myself, but again I don’t think it was a case of right or wrong but who he played for. Once again, it was only people outside of what happened who had things to say about it.

    It was a long time ago but I guess that will never matter as long as people continue to look for other people to blame, and let’s face it, that means keeping a pretty long list.

    Until next time, vi ses, or see you later.