The Referee

Fernström would remember later that he had been thinking back to his own playing career while driving through the city that morning. He had felt restless all autumn, but without understanding why. The previous evening, after an early dinner, he told Marjut and Jere that he needed a breath of fresh air, and then he got into the old dark blue Escort, even though he had drunk several glasses of wine with the fish. He had driven from their home in Alppila down to the beach between Merisatama and Munkkisaari, where he stood for a long time by the monument to those lost at sea, watched the eternal flame flickering in the wind, and squinted in the darkness trying to read the text on the marble tablet: it gave the names of the men and women who had gone down with the SS Malmi in the Baltic on December 7, 1979, nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Fernström stood in the chill of the November evening and looked at the blazing sky out to sea as it lost its color and darkened; he watched the angry waves as they turned black, felt the wind bite his cheeks, and thought of the terror the seamen must have felt as they fought in vain for their lives. But now, on this Saturday morning, the clear sky and icy cold wind of the previous day had been replaced by fog and calm, and while Fernström drove along the empty Mannerheimintie toward the covered football pitch in Tali, he thought about the God-forsaken suburban football pitches where he had rounded off his career: he heard the wind whine through the moth-eaten goal nets, he heard the dry, creaking sound when the ball hit a rickety crossbar after a well-struck shot, and he remembered how the holes in the net had sometimes been so big that the ball had flown straight through, and how that had ignited heated debates and sometimes downright fights between the teams: had the ball gone straight through the net or had the shot missed? And once Fernström got going, he remembered more and more; he remembered the tinder—dry, yellow grass pitches that were crisscrossed by paths that the dog-owners and teenagers had trampled, and he remembered the dog turds he sometimes slipped on when he had been forced to play left- or right-back and to keep close to the touchlines. He remembered the sand pitches that hadn't thawed properly in the spring, were pitted and dusty in the summer, and then in the autumn they either became clingy and smelly or froze hard again. He pictured the rotting wooden terracing at the pitches in the suburbs, with room for about a hundred people; he thought of the handful of relations and wives and girlfriends who came to watch the matches, and then he remembered the friendly side he'd played for in his final season--how there were never more than seven or eight of them when the match was due to start, and they had to ask some passing dog owner to stand inside the left touchline for the first fifteen minutes so that the game could get going, and after the first quarter of an hour the dog owner went and the team collected its habitual eight-goal defeat. And he also remembered the times when the referee or the opposition's goalkeeper or he himself--in his case it was in the first year after the divorce, when Sabina and Jesse had moved to Turku--had turned up to the match drunk, and suddenly he realized that his playing career and his civilian life mirrored each other: a lot of shortcomings and the occasional warming glimpse of what might have been, and when that thought struck him, he turned to glance at the drowsing Jere in the back seat and suddenly felt restless again, just as restless as you can feel on a deserted beach beneath a rapidly darkening sky.

* * *

The changing rooms were in a corridor behind the café, and the first adult Fernström caught sight of that morning was Tony Lihr. Lihr was sitting in the empty café; he was wearing a black overcoat that looked expensive, he had unbuttoned the coat and laid his scarf carelessly on the table in front of him, and where the left sleeve of the overcoat ended there was the glitter of an expensive wristwatch with a thick silver bracelet. Lihr was drinking tea and leafing absentmindedly through a football magazine, and just at the moment Fernström and Jere went past he looked up and scanned the room. A light of recognition dawned in his eyes.

"Hey, Mikko—hell man, it's been ages!"

Jere mumbled a quick "bye" and disappeared into the corridor. Fernström waved to his son and went with hesitant steps over to Lihr's table. They shook hands, and Lihr pointed assertively to one of the empty seats at the table.

"Sit down, for Chrissake! Who does your lad play for? What group year's he in?"

"HPS. He's a 93."

"Brilliant!" said Lihr energetically. "The green destroyers. Nine national golds! Some time back, of course,