TOKYO (August 27): A few weeks ago I wrote an article critical of a referee.
Some readers agreed, and others didn't, while one wrote to me in English to say my article was completely out of character.
Yes it was, and I explained that I was always reluctant to criticise referees because they have such a hard job in the modern game.
So, today, allow me to try and redress the balance, by praising a referee who had an excellent game in a recent J.League match.
It was Urawa against Kobe at Komaba Stadium, and the ref was the 30-year-old Yuki Noda.
He gave a textbook performance on how to keep the game moving, how to distinguish between a hard tackle and a foul, and how to read the minds of the players when they were thinking about time-wasting.
In the first half, Alex went past a couple of Vissel players in midfield but lost the ball. Instead of retreating to help his defence, Alex went down looking for a free kick, and feigning injury.
There was no foul, and I doubt Alex was hurt, although he was substituted at halftime, and Noda played on, despite the calls of the Urawa fans. Alex was angry with the ref when the game finally stopped, but the ref was completely right.
It's a man's game (or used to be); there is physical contact, and the game can't just stop when one player thinks it should.
A few minutes later, Vissel midfielder Saeki man-handled Ponte on the right wing. Noda saw the foul, but waited for a Reds advantage; when there was no advantage, he blew for the free kick.
Again, this is excellent refereeing, and neither side could complain.
Late in the second half, with Vissel defending a 2-1 lead, Saeki went down and you could clearly see he was considering staying down to waste time. Noda saw it, too, and raced over to tell him to get up, and that the game would not be stopping.
Well, I presume that's what he said, because Saeki got up without any trouble.
Noda looked fitter and faster than most of the players, and kept up with the play to make sure he was always in the right place at the right time.
Everyone happy now!