Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

World Cup duty was hair-raising stuff for referee Snoddy

Alan Snoddy is the last Northern Ireland man to have been involved in the World Cup finals but it wasn't all plain sailing as he found out in Mexico in 1986 and an encounter with a certain Carlos Valderrama

The most memorable names from these shores connected with the World Cup obviously come from those great Northern Ireland teams of '58, '82 and '86, however four years after that last adventure at the biggest show on earth, another Ulsterman was creating headlines.

That man was referee Alan Snoddy — mild-mannered banker by day, steel-nerved, no-nonsense man in black by night. This after his involvement in what turned into a duel of wild-west proportions with a player who would become one of the most recognisable on that year's competition in Italy.

Colombian captain Carlos Valderrama — bushy haired and moustacheod — didn't look much like a footballer in the conventional sense but he was making a name for himself as one of the best and certainly most colourful characters of that particular World Cup.

English referee Howard Webb, who will take charge of tomorrow’s showpiece between Spain and Holland, is well versed in the art of player simulation — or, in layman’s terms, ‘faking’ — but, at Italia 90, it was a relatively new blight on the game.

Without sounding like a raving xenophobe, this was a foreign invention and one that really began to grip the global game during the late 80s, but the World Cup in 1990 was the first time that it could be seen with such a high profile.

So when faced with how to deal with such a phenomenon, surely it must have come as no surprise to see someone from Northern Ireland, with our typically down-to-earth attitude, showing how it's done. So what do you do? Ignore them, of course.

Just before half-time in a Group D clash between Valderrama's Colombia and high-flying West Germany, the South American skipper fell to the ground in the middle of the pitch after a coming together with an opposing midfielder.

Valderrama went down like he'd been tackled by a chainsaw and then didn't get up, instead proceeding to roll around on the pitch like a six-month-old baby.

No free-kick, said Snoddy, and here he takes up the story.

“That was the first high-profile incident,” he recalls. “My head was very clear — I knew he wasn't hurt and he hadn't been fouled and I wasn't under any doubt that he was trying to win a free-kick in the centre circle which was sort of in an innocuous place.

“Of course that's okay for five or ten seconds but then you find he is still lying there two or three minutes later.

“I always meant to time it to see how long it did last, but it went on and on and on and the crowd got louder and louder and I think it became a battle of wills between him and me.

“It had probably got so far then that for me to give in, I was then losing. It's easy to sit 20 years later and talk about it but when you are down there your mind was actually clear that ‘you're not hurt, get up, we're playing on' and then eventually play stopped for some reason and I got the stretcher on.

“And then about a minute after that it was half time so things were able to simmer down.

“He never said anything. I think generally what happened was there was a recognition that he was feigning injury and I guess after all the TV replays which the stadium wouldn't have seen, it was an acknowledgement that the referee had got it right, basically. The guy wasn't hurt at all, so that was a big help.

“When you think back on it, if I had blown the whistle and given a free-kick, okay the Germans players may have protested about that but it would have been over quickly. But it doesn't work like that — you give what you see.

“99 times out of a hundred there'll not be an issue, the player will just get up, but this time he decided for whatever reason, I don't know what was going through his head.”

It made for remarkable TV, as play went on around Valderrama and Snoddy steadfastly refused to back down, and it was that type of attitude that had given him the opportunity to referee at the highest level.

That was his second World Cup and the Co Down man remembers vividly how he felt when he got the call from FIFA to undertake the journey of a lifetime.

“The first time – Mexico 86 — was completely out of the blue,” said Snoddy, who is now in charge of referees' development at the IFA. “There was absolutely no expectation or thought in my head that it was going to happen. Then I got the call and I suppose it's hard to describe how I felt then.

“The second time (1990) was a wee bit different because you knew you had been there once and you knew your matches had been fine.

“I knew the day the appointment was going to be made so I remember thinking 'something's going to happen today' and nothing happened. I was driving home from work and was five minutes from my door and they announced at twenty past five on Radio Ulster sport that I was going — so that was the first I knew.”

Snoddy obviously plied his trade in the Irish League and made that rise, so does he think that anyone from the current crop could one day make the grade?

“I would hope so,” he says. “We have got guys refereeing at a very high level at the minute — Mark Courtney was at AC Milan last year against Wolfsburg and Alan Black is going to the Under 19 Finals in France — and we’ll continue to push our young officials on.”

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