When a player retires, we usually look back at the honours he won over the course of his or her career. For a referee, there are no such titles, cups or medals, so it is often harder to leave a mark on a competition's history. Not so Anders Frisk, who certainly left his stamp on the world of refereeing before opting for early retirement in March 2005 after 18 years at the top. His was an exemplary career well worthy of the recognition bestowed by the FIFA Presidential Award.
Whether from Swedish league matches or from the world's most prestigious encounters, football lovers will long remember the blond hair and tanned complexion of this man in black. Unfortunately, the regrettable circumstances which prompted one of the refereeing profession's finest representatives to call time on his career will also be hard to forget.
On 12 March this year, the Scandinavian official created a sensation by announcing his decision to quit, a choice to a large extent dictated by unfortunate events. Following a UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Chelsea, the Chelsea coach José Mourinho had criticised the referee and accused Frank Rijkaard, the Spanish side's coach, of having influenced Frisk during the interval.
"The game's just not worth this"
The Portuguese coach's unfortunate outburst triggered the wrath of certain fanatical English "supporters", with the result that Anders Frisk was subjected to death threats for several weeks. That proved too much for the Swede. "I've had enough. It's gone too far," he revealed to the Swedish media. "The last few days have been the worst in my career as a referee. The game's just not worth this. The safety of my family is paramount."
In fact, this regrettable event was not an isolated occurrence. On 14 September 2004, during a Champions League clash between AS Roma and Dynamo Kiev, the international referee had been forced to interrupt the match after being struck on the head by a missile. Few who saw it could forget the striking image of Frisk departing the pitch, his blond hair caked in blood.
These two incidents hastened the end of an exemplary 18-year career that took in the cream of world football's competitions and which would have reached its climax with the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Now aged 42, Anders Frisk would have been able to continue refereeing for three more years.
Having become a FIFA international referee at the age of 28, Frisk's first international match was Iceland against Turkey in July 1991, while his debut at a global competition came at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Japan 1993. Among the 118 international games over which he presided throughout his career, his finest hour was undoubtedly the Euro 2000 final between France and Italy (2-1 a.e.t.). He also took charge of qualifying games for every major competition from the FIFA World Cup USA 1994 onwards.
Respect and support
This native of Gothenburg was originally due to make his FIFA World Cup debut at France 1998, but was forced to pull out at the last minute due to injury. Consequently, it was at Korean/Japan 2002 that he oversaw his first matches at the very highest level (Brazil-China 4-0 and Spain-Republic of Ireland 1-1).
Despite having been included on the preliminary shortlist of referees for the 2006 tournament in Germany, Anders Frisk opted to turn his back on the refereeing profession. Supported in his choice by both FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Lennart Johansson, Frisk will at least have the satisfaction of having brought the issue of respect for "the man in the middle" firmly into the public consciousness.
His stance is vociferously backed by Joseph S. Blatter: "I demand that all those concerned show respect for referees and for fair play. Over and above what is at stake, football is first and foremost a game. Yes, it is a game that provokes great passion and I wouldn't want to change that. But it is still a game above all."