Sweden – Anders Frisk’s retirement

Good news for Swedish oenophiles: Anders Frisk has opened a wine business. Marcus Christenson reports on other reactions to the referee’s sudden retirement

“Frisk” means healthy in Swedish and for many years fans amused themselves by singing “Frisk, Frisk, Frisk, you must be ill” when the now world-famous referee was having a bad game.

No one thinks it is that funny any more. On March 11, Anders Frisk retired from football after he and his family had received death threats following Chelsea’s game at Barcelona. Frisk’s life had been made hell – and he couldn’t understand why. “I was quite happy after the game,” Frisk told the Sportbladet newspaper. “I could never have imagined that it would turn out like this. It feels like I’ve been part of a reality show.”

The Swedish public was divided. Some argued that Frisk had lost his focus and that his unashamed love and admiration for himself had become an obstacle. Others said that, while he may have liked to lie on a sunbed every now and then, he was still one of the best international referees around.

Sweden is a small country and people are therefore proud of people who achieve worldwide recognition, such as Ace of Base, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, Hans Blix, Björn Borg and, yes, even Anders Frisk. Everyone agreed, however, that the 2004-05 season had not been a good one for Frisk. He was hit by a coin during Roma’s match with Dynamo Kiev and Claudio Ranieri then said that he understood “why they cut his head in Rome” after Frisk sent off Valencia’s Miguel Angel Angulo against Werder Bremen.

And after the Chelsea game, Expressen columnist Hans Linne wrote: “Frisk is still a referee of the highest standard, one of the best in the world, but when a referee is in the spotlight too often in big games then there is a risk that a feeling of hate will spread.” And that was before José Mourinho made his accusations about the now infamous game. Frisk, meanwhile, could not understand what he had done wrong. “The home team’s coach [Frank Rijkaard] came up to me at half-time and apologised for not saying hello before the game, that was all there was to it,” he said.

“But Mourinho shook my hand before the game and I spoke with him. Isn’t that wrong as well, then? If you are brought up in a Swedish way and told to look after relationships, then it is right to shake someone’s hand when they come up to you. I also think we had a good game. Apart from the sending-off I don’t think we were that noticeable.”

Frisk decided to retire after the threats started to come through on his secret home phone number. He is, understandably, bitter about Mourinho’s comments. Partly because he has followed Chelsea since he was a kid, but also his integrity was questioned. “Being impartial is so important in refereeing. It is important to me and it always has been, in my life and in my upbringing. I have been a referee for 26 years now and when someone says something like that it does hurt.”

Frisk has been a well known figure in Sweden since 1995 when a Djurgårdens supporter ran on to the pitch and attacked him with a kung-fu kick. In 2002, Malmö chairman Bengt Madsen accused Frisk of ruining “everything” just because he wanted to be “the centre of attention”. But Sportbladet recently asked 152 Swedish players who they thought was the best official in the country and Frisk finished second behind another FIFA official, Peter Fröjdfeldt.

He was, however, also the person some of the players liked the least. “He has got a lot better the last few years,” said Helsingborgs captain Jesper Jansson. Djurgårdens’ Matias Concha was not impressed: “He does whatever he fancies and is impossible to talk to. A good referee is someone you don’t notice and he is always looking to play the lead role.”

Swedish journalists, meanwhile, suddenly had to defend an official they had often castigated. “Frisk may look like a peacock when he runs around and God knows that I have sworn many a time over his exhibitionism, but he is one of the best [in the world],” Sportbladet’s Simon Bank offered. Lasse Anrell at the same paper wrote: “I mourn Frisk. You can say a lot about him but there is no doubt that he has been the most successful Swede on a football pitch in the past few years. Sorry, Zlatan. Sorry, Brolin. Sorry, Ljungberg. It is good that Swedish fans has learned to differentiate between the person he is and how he referees. Other [people abroad] were too stupid to do that.”

And so life as an ex-referee has started for Frisk. But, as a father of three, a full-time insurance agent and in charge of two cinemas, the 42-year-old is unlikely to grow restless. Since retiring, he has started a wine company called 3 Amigos, with his assistant referees Kenneth Petersson and Peter Ekström.

José Mourinho, despite being a well known wine aficionado, is unlikely to get a discount.

From WSC 219 May 2005. What was happening this month