53 Brentwood Blog

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The next day Klein found out that his son was in combat in the hot spot of Damour. He requested a meeting with Dr Franchi, the chairman of the referees' committee, and told he was in no fit state to referee a game. "'Are you sure about this?', he asked. 'Yes I am 100% sure. My son is in combat in Lebanon. My family has not heard from him. We have sign, no word, whether he is alive. I am extremely worried about him and his whereabouts and therefore I do not feel like I am in the proper state of mind to referee a World Cup game.'"

Klein spent the first round as either linesman or fourth official. For nearly two weeks he had no word of his son. On 18 June he ran the line in Italy v Peru. "I did my job while my mind was floating. I felt like I was enclosed in some space bubble. Mostly my thoughts were with Amit." That evening he returned to his hotel to find a letter waiting for him at reception.

Shalom dear dad,
Today is Friday and as you know it happens to be my birthday. I am celebrating it here in far away Lebanon. Everybody got recruited and called in. The Core of Engineers has been operating on the Litani for three weeks. Sadly a lot of guys that I knew got either killed or seriously wounded and my heart is broken. I am already waiting impatiently to see a World Cup game refereed by you (I wish to see you referee many games as well as the final). Here, everybody is collecting newspaper clips about the games and passes them on to me. Much success! We are all crossing our fingers for your success.
Love, Amit.".

"I could not stop my tears," said Klein. "It is difficult to explain to someone the emotions that father goes through when reading a letter from his son in combat. What a difference a sign of life in the form of a small letter can make on a parent." Later he heard his son's voice for the first time since arriving in Spain. "When the phone rang in my hotel room and I heard Amit's voice on the other side I thought I was hallucinating: how the heck he has managed to reach me on the phone in the middle of a war to communicate with me? It was one of the most exciting phone conversations that I had ever had in my life. He was not on the front combat lines as I had assumed but his unit had done a considerable mileage on foot in search of the hidden enemy."

His son implored Klein to return to refereeing. Amit Klein would go on to become an international referee himself, and today he is a Uefa observer. His old man wasn't quite finished yet. He had been assigned to Brazil v Italy in the second stage. The magnificent Brazilians needed a draw to reach the semi-finals; an unconvincing Italy needed to win. Klein was peculiarly unexcited. He thought Brazil would win easily. He told his two linesman that "it will be a game that nobody will remember in a few months".

"How wrong was I?" he reflects. He never refereed a World Cup final, but perhaps the greatest game in World Cup history is a decent alternative. When Paolo Rossi scored his second goal to put Italy 2-1 up after 25 minutes, Klein says "the bell rang" in his head. "I realised that I was part of history in the making."
The heat and end-to-end nature of the game would have been too much for most 48-year-olds, but Klein's fitness served him well. With the score 1-1, Brazil appealed for a penalty when Claudio Gentile pulled Zico's shirt so hard that he almost ripped it off. The linesman had flagged a second earlier for offside, however. "If the linesman's flag would not have been raised to indicate an offside call I would have whistled without a hesitation for a penalty and given Gentile a second yellow card. However, Zico had a hard time accepting my decision. He was furious with me and continued to show me again and again the great tear in his shirt. 'So go change your shirt' I told him in return."

Italy went on to win an epic match 3-2, despite a furious late assault from Brazil that included Zoff's save on the line from Oscar. "It was an invasion, like in Normandy, with all the players," he remembers. Again he seemed a likely candidate for the final, but Fifa went for Arnaldo Coelho. "The obvious choice was Abraham Klein," said Brian Glanville in his Story of the World Cup. "But the Referees' Committee, pleased with itself and as incompetent as ever, compromised pathetically by assigning Klein to … the replay." Klein was appointed linesman for the first final.

"In 82, the best referee of the tournament was Coelho, and I was very happy that I was on the line," he says. "I was the first man to congratulate him and I told him I was very happy I was with him." Had there been a replay, Klein would have refereed the World Cup final at the age of 48. Italy won 3-1.

Thanks to Abraham Klein, Dan Friedman and Cris Freddi.



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