at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Cuiaba – 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.
Take Noumandiez Doue for example.
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”.
Any hard-up players taking part in the US’s 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.
A Yorkshire policeman will be keeping law and order in Colombia’s second Group C run out against Ivory Coast on Thursday.
Howard Webb, handed the honour of refereeing the 2010 World Cup final, says his colleagues compare him to 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.”
House burgled? Car pranged? Then Cuneyt Cakir’s your man – the Turkish referee practices as an insurance broker back in Istanbul, that is when he’s not turning the pages of a Stephen King chiller.
Any Belgians or Algerians of a religious nature in Tuesday’s clash in Belo Horizonte will have found a kindred spirit in their referee Ä Marco Rodriguez.
Away from football, the former PE teacher is at home behind the pulpit delivering sermons in his capacity as a Protestant preacher in a church outside Mexico City.
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.
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.”
As a former High School maths teacher, American Mark Geiger shouldn’t have any problems adding up the yellow cards – unlike Brazil’s Sandro Ricci.
He made the fatal error of dishing out a second booking but failing to send the recipient off in a domestic league game.
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.
Referees let off steam in different ways – Bahrain’s Nawaf Shukralla for instance may well head to Rio’s iconic Copacabana beach after a tough day at the World Cup office.
“When I want to leave everything behind me, I always go the sea,” the legal researcher disclosed.
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.” – Sapa-AFP