Ref tells of being shot at and watching Maradona bloom


  • Football
  • Wednesday, 26 Aug 2020

Memorable moment: A photo of George Joseph and a young Diego Maradona which the latter then signed. — Picture courtesy of Football Association of Malaysia.

PETALING JAYA: Most referees have seen many attacking moves and shots at goals. But Malaysian Datuk George Joseph can talk about a brutal attack on him by fans after a game. And he can vividly remember the day gun-toting men fired shots at him and his friend in Baghdad.

He is also a referee who officiated a match where Diego Maradona – then an 18-year old upstart – left everyone impressed.

The highly-rated former FIFA referee can never forget the 1980 pre-Olympics Asian Zone final match between Iraq and Kuwait in Baghdad.

It was on March 31, 1980 when George came under siege after the match.

Following his decision to award Kuwait a penalty 20 minutes before the end, the visitors won 3-2 which led to George and two linesmen, Lee Wu-bong from South Korea and Singaporean Lee Kok Leong being attacked.

George was punched and assaulted by the fans. Later that night, two gunmen fired two shots which missed George in his hotel room.

Despite the harrowing incident, the seasoned referee from Batu Pahat remained undeterred.

“A few years later, when I was in Iraq, I was invited to Saddam Hussein’s palace by his son, Uday. He apologised to me for the 1980 fracas.

“What I remember most was that we changed cars a few times to escape surveillance en route to the palace,” he added.

But there have been joyful moments, too. And watching an emerging superstar was one of them.

Joseph recounted bearing witness to the emergence of Maradona when the teenager led Cesar Luis Menotti’s men to a 5-0 victory over Algeria on Sept 2, 1979.

“Maradona was not yet a household name. Looking at his dribbling skills, technique and vision and the way he shrugged off every tackle, I was deeply impressed by his game,” said George.

“I was called upon to officiate two matches at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Tokyo but the Argentina-Algeria encounter is forever on my mind.

“Argentina, with Maradona being aided by the likes of Ramon Diaz and Gabriel Calderon, were deserving winners.”

George, who earned his FIFA badge in 1975, retired in 1987 and was later made the referees’ head of unit at FA of Malaysia (FAM) to help produce more referees.

He credited the late Koe Ewe Teik, President of Referees Association of Malaysia and FIFA referees committee deputy chairman as well as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) secretary from 1965-74, for his wisdom in ensuring the bulk of referees were produced from the teaching profession in the 70s.

Ewe Teik, who was at that time the registrar-cum-bursar of the Malayan Teachers’ College in Bukit Gelugor, Penang, laid down a strong foundation for referees by organising numerous courses at AFC and FIFA levels.

“As a post-war educator heavily involved in sports and football in particular, Koe made it compulsory for the lecturers at the college to take up the refereeing course.

“That was a sure way of enlarging the pool,” said George.

“I believe FAM were one of very few federations in Asia that prioritised the development of referee since the 60s.

“Koe formed an integral part of it in his capacity as the AFC secretary, head of referees’ committee and also a member of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

“I am happy that the system created by FAM has produced some great referees.

“But FAM have to work harder to make sure the present and future generations are able to emulate their predecessors.

“At one time our standards were very high.

“Our referees were handpicked to officiate in international tournaments such as the Asian Cup, the pre-Olympics, pre-World Cups, Asian clubs championships and the FIFA World Cup.”

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