The Referee’s A W**ker
Being a football referee is a tough, daunting job. From every decision being scrutinized to players swarming around you in the face of a crunching challenge shouting for (or against) giving a red card, it takes a certain personality to do the job effectively and without falling into the limelight for the wrong reasons. So what happens behind the scenes during big games for the referees? Step forward Inside No. 9, which returns for another series of dark anthological tales, this time beginning with an exploration into the culture of football referees.
We begin the episode with the final day of the season and a climactic clash between Rovers and United. It’s 1.58pm and Martin begins stretching while fourth official Brendan has clear pre-match jitters and is berated by his boss for wearing City shorts in the dressing room. Martin struggles to control his team as they joke and argue until he shouts at them, commanding their attention as he reminds them how important this match is.
Calvin, Martin’s love interest, arrives while the other referees are out the room and tries to convince him to give a penalty and rig the match. After giving him a kiss, the opposing captain arrives and they’re both debriefed by Martin, who remains neutral. As the match begins, Rovers wind up 1-0 up at half time which causes uproar around the stadium. The refs question whether they got the decision right in regards to an offside call but it turns out a throw-in was what began this catalyst of errors and sadly the mascot has the footage on his phone to prove it. To make matters worse, this was part of a match-fixing scandal that Oggy has unfortunately been part of.
As the Rovers mascot arrives and begins berating them, Calvin also shows up and strikes one of the other referees in anger, prompting Martin to give him a straight red card. Spilling the truth about his affair with Martin, the entire room falls into stunned silence as they stew over what’s been said. To try and right the wrong, Martin decides to even things up and award United another goal no matter what. At 5.42pm the match is abandoned 12 minutes from time after allegations of match fixing are made worse by a ludicrous penalty and a handball decision for the goalkeeper. Martin finds his reputation completely tarnished.
As the episode closes out, Martin says goodbye to his colleagues and rips up the retirement card they got him. The mascot, Mitch, explains that docking points would mean City wind up promoted – the team Martin happens to support. As he removes his bathrobe, “City ‘Til I Die” is tattooed on his back. Given this was his last game in charge, it was Martin’s plan all along to get his team promoted by sabotaging the teams he was officiating.
Inside No. 9 picks up the shattered pieces Black Mirror Season 5 left behind last year and delivers a thought provoking and well written episode. From match-fixing and secret relationships through to the power of the media, there’s a whole host of societal ideas explored here that add some depth to the idea of referees having a difficult job, one made worse by the recent TV deals allowing millions to watch and scrutinize their every decision.
The twist at the end was genuinely surprisingly too and given the relatively simple set-up, as is the case for many of Inside No. 9’s episodes, revealing that Martin was supporting and endorsing a lot of the issues he discussed adds an extra layer of depth to this one, making for a very good episode indeed. David Morrissey brings Martin to life with a wonderful amount of empathy early on, which is quickly dissipated as the truth is revealed and this strong character writing is another positive attribute for this 30 minute slice of drama. If this is a sign of things to come, we’re in for a real treat with Inside No. 9 this year.
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