No haddock, no justice

Times Online, June 30, 2006

Mid-way through the 2006 World Cup, I found myself thinking of the formative incident in the life of Peter Carter-Ruck, that which set him the road to wealth, fame and high achievement in the legal world. The great libel lawyer — who, until his death at the end of the 2003, retained the power to instil fear and dread in any editor unlucky enough to receive one of his letters — was inspired to enter the law because of an incident involving a haddock. At the tender age of six, Carter-Ruck was looking forward to haddock for supper, but found himself accused by his parents of having perpetrated a wrong so great that his longed-for haddock was removed from the menu. Worse, though, he was falsely accused. So grave was the incident that it sowed the seeds of what, in his memoirs, Carter-Ruck described as "a passionate feeling of the importance of justice."

I find myself reflecting on Carter-Ruck’s haddock far too often during the current festival of the "beautiful game". There appear to be players and referees who have stories to rival that of Carter-Ruck, but whose trauma remains palpable. They, too, have found themselves passionately committed to justice, but rather than enter the law they have spent a lifetime waiting for their moment on a bigger, better, televised stage. Now that they are there, they appear intent on leaving a mark as indelible as the magnificent haddock which etched itself in the young Carter-Ruck’s mind.

Take Graham Poll. The beleagured referee has become world-famous for showing three yellow cards to Josip Simunic as the Croatian team drew 2-2 with Australia. Prior to the incident Poll had been tipped as a candidate to referee the final, but no more. His erroneous decisions in the Australia-Croatia game prompted Fifa to decree that Poll would be one of 12 referees who would play no further part in its tournament. Back home, Poll will have ample time to mull over his past. Was he, too, denied a haddock by authoritarian parents? Or was it a mackerel, perhaps a sturgeon, maybe, just maybe, a lobster? Whichever fish is at the centre of this controversy, did the incident foster a passionate feeling of the importance of justice, a calling which Poll felt would be best answered by becoming a football referee?

How poor Poll must rue the day he was forbidden his haddock, even if it was merely metaphorical in nature. Had he had his haddock, he might never have become a referee, a wish that Russia’s Valentin Ivanov may also share. Ivanov took charge of the ill-tempered Portugal v Holland game which ended in a World Cup record of four players being sent off. Remarkably, Ivanov booked Luis Figo for head-butting a Dutch player, albeit that the incident happened behind his back. He has since described the game as one of unparalleled "rudeness," certainly "the worst of my life."

But was it rudeness that motivated his compulsive carding? I am not so sure. I sense another haddock somewhere in the 45-year-old’s past. Perhaps, indeed, it was caviar, a rare treat for the young Ivanov but one denied to him by his parents because of an unspecified crime. Steeled by this, the seeds of Ivanov’s own passionate feeling of the importance of justice were sown, and yet, typical of a man who has proved that he has eyes in the back of his head, he knew that to enter the anarchic Russian legal system would be the kiss of death for his aspirations to right the world. Instead, he became a referee, and, in 90 minutes alone, managed to mete out more justice than most of us will shake a stick at in a lifetime.

Then there are the players, who are rapidly becoming haddocks in their own right. Take Thierry Henry’s fall the ground to win the free kick that ultimately led to France’s winning goal against Spain. Henry did not appear to have been fouled by his adversary, Carles Puyol, but nevertheless went to the turf clutching his face, as if Puyol had elbowed him. Likewise, the Brazilian striker Adriano, booked for a blatant dive in the penalty area in his team’s 3-0 win over Ghana, and Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, sent off in the same game when he fell without a Brazilian in sight. They are not alone, and join a pantheon of first-class divers such as Jurgen Klinsmann, Diego Simeone and Rivaldo.

Haddocks all, these players will motivate countless viewers not to emulate their antics but to nurture their own passionate feeling of the importance of justice. Who knows, perhaps some will become referees, maybe even one or two lawyers will have been spawned. As for Carter-Ruck, he always knew how to handle his haddock. On the dread day in question, so cruelly denied by his parents, he ran off with it. There is a moral here somewhere, but on TV another player has just encountered the invisible scything man, and the referee is reaching for not one, not two, but three red cards, all at once. He is sending himself, the invisible scything man and the felled player off. It is clearly time for haddock.