“Even though I hate you, I must come here, pay my respects and congratulate you,” a club official told Victor Gomes at the Sandton Convention Centre right after he was named Referee of the Season.
The club official said those words with a smile. The embrace between the two was warm and loving even though the statement was sincere, despite it being said with a smile.
Gomes, received the love and hate with a smile and a chuckle, happy to get the love and unconcerned by the hate.
“Being a referee isn’t about having the most friends,” Gomes said.
“Being a referee isn’t only about what you do on the field, it’s also about how I conduct myself off the field. I must be exemplary. I must be ethical in how I do everything. It’s important to be honest and have integrity. At the end of the day integrity goes with my name and family.”
More often than not Gomes makes the correct decisions but he has made some incorrect decisions too. He incorrectly awarded Golden Arrows an indirect free-kick after Baroka FC scored from a penalty. The two-time Referee of the Season spotted an encroachment from both sets of players and should have ordered a retake as the Fifa rules say. That error almost condemned Bakgaga to the first division but they survived on the last day of the campaign.
Gomes’ biggest problem is his love for attention. But that’s also his best attribute because he thrives in those situations and isn’t afraid to make bold decisions.
“Malume, like any other job refereeing is difficult. But you need to be focused, concentrate and be at peace with your mind. You must go there and give your best, the rest will take care of itself.
“Dealing with the criticism I get is always a difficult challenge. But it’s nice to watch on the reviews when you are right. When you are wrong, you say, ‘hey, I can improve here’. Safa has invested a lot of money on us. They send us on courses. We are aware of the latest laws of the game.”
Gomes recently grabbed headlines for the right reasons, turning down a bribe of $30 000 (more than R380 000) ahead of Algeria’s USM Alger clash with Nigeria’s Plateau United in the Caf Confederation Cup. That money is way more than the R50 000 he received for winning the Referee of the Season award. Caf praised Gomes, and in a letter written by Anthony Baffoe – deputy secretary general for Football and Development, the Ghanaian legend applauded him for his “positive attitude” and “ethical abilities to ensure fair play”.
“Thanks to Safa we attend integrity courses. We get trained on how to handle these situations,” Gomes said. “Being asked to officiate in the continent is very important and it’s a big task. It’s like a Bafana Bafana player, flying the country’s flag in the continent. You have to do that with integrity.”
The 35-year-old speaks about his job with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, as if he isn’t talking about the job that makes him the most hated person on the field. Eduardo Galeano, in Football in Sun and Shadow, wrote that the referee’s job is to make himself hated.
“The only universal sentiment in football: everybody hates him. He gets only catcalls, never applause,” Galeano wrote. “From beginning to end he sweats oceans chasing the white ball that skips back and forth between the feet of everyone else. Of course he would love to play, but never has he been offered that privilege.”
Gomes was offered that privilege at a young age but he turned it down.
“Refereeing is in my blood. I have been doing this since I was 12 years old. I am very passionate about refereeing and I am a servant of football. I used to play as a defender and even then I used to beg my coach to be a referee. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by being a referee and not playing with the rest. I think that in any job, whether it be refereeing or being an engineer, if you are honest in what you are doing, you will fight until the end regardless of what anyone says about you.”