Monday, 31 July 2017

Debating DOGSO

Games 3-5, 2017-18

The spectator seems genuinely angry, as they often generally are on their way out of the ground after a home defeat. "That should have been a red card," he huffs at me with hot conviction. I'm standing at the tournament official's table, getting my cash, and don't bother responding. Right after the final whistle is generally not a good time for rational discussion.

DOGSO - much dissected and
discussed among reffing nerds
"Bet he's never refereed a game in his life," mutters the official. I laugh and give one of my standard replies: "Everyone's an expert. Everyone." The tournament's sponsored by a local bank, and there's decent cash involved for the winners. This is a welcome contribution to the sporting community, but not much help when it comes to sporting perspectives.

At the time of the non-red card, the host team had been 0-2 down in the final, their third (shortened) game of the day. It was just after half-time, and one of their forwards had successively shrugged off a couple of challenges on his way toward the penalty area. Just inside the arc, while shaping up to shoot, he was deliberately brought down from behind

Friday, 28 July 2017

A reminder that football is a human right

Game 2, 2017-18

Some of the grounds I referee at are located near accommodation for refugees. A couple of seasons back I walked into a dressing room looking for the home team's captain, and found a man from the container houses next door on his knees praying to Mecca. It must be both strange and challenging when you've been forced to swap your normal house of worship for the grubby tiles of a seventh level football team. Five times a day.

Last night I was refereeing a thankfully peaceful, and mainly uneventful friendly game. My brief pre-match lecture stating that I've a zero tolerance policy when it comes to dissent seemed to work. It's not often I say this, so it may be worth reiterating before every game, though the key will be to follow through. Over the 90 minutes, a few short, sharp words were enough to keep things calm when trouble twice vaguely threatened. No cards, no controversy.

So, nothing much to say about this match. Except that at one point, when standing on the end-line for a corner kick, I noticed three men from the nearby refugees' home watching the game from behind the railing. They were all holding plastic bags with a small amount of groceries. They watched the action intently.

Heavy and heavily
influential book.
Sport, I've long contended, attracts us not just because we want to see which team or individual wins, but also because it represents a benchmark of normality. Where games are being played, wars are not usually being fought. At a recent literary event in London, I was standing before a room of people where I had five minutes to explain why they should crowd-fund my next (possible) book, The Quiet Fan. I held up my battered copy of Purnell's 1972 Encyclopaedia of Association Football (my first ever football book, which I received at the age of seven), and nervously babbled something like this:

"When I first got this book I ravenously scanned its pages of stats and began to memorise the results of historic cup finals. I couldn't understand, though, why there were no results for the years 1916-19, or for the period 1940-45. What terrible things could possibly have been happening during those times that stopped football being played?"

Because as long as there are games going on, life feels stable enough. Organised sport is only

Monday, 24 July 2017

Bad behaviour in a pre-season friendly - here we go again

Game 1, 2017-18

In the country where I live the football press is pregnant with pre-season flam. It can't wait to give birth to the new season, but for now is hampered by interviews in which every coach, player and manager is obliged to say that this year they have a really strong squad, and that all the lads worked very hard during training camp. The clubs are all in such good shape that clearly no one will be getting relegated next spring.

Cycling towards my first game of the season, I wish that referees could be afforded a platform for such inane optimism. "This year," I would tell the reporter from The Referee's Recorder, "I think that all players will be so focused on improving their game that they will allow the referees free rein to call the game as they see fit. We will see unprecedented levels of sportsmanship, and I doubt that I will have to whistle a single foul all season, let alone show a yellow card."

In fact what dulls my mood on a warm, breezy day is the prospect of all the inevitable cards and complaints over the coming months. This opener is a friendly game, but we've all learnt by now that classifying a football match as 'friendly' is like calling the civil war in Yemen a temperate discussion ground for some minor differences in interpreting the word of the Koran. Players don't tend to end the afternoon by swapping phone numbers and arranging to go out for a beer next week sometime.

Indeed, with 20 minutes to go I have to take both captains to one side and offer them a choice. Either I

Friday, 7 July 2017

Analysing IFAB's June report - the general verdict: Yes!

The report last month by the International Football Association Board on forthcoming trials and discussions with regard to the Laws of the game was met with customary scepticism by an instinctively conservative football press. Change? We can't be doing with that! And yet IFAB has been slated down the years for being exactly that - too stuck in its ways to make anything besides fussy, pernickety adjustments to the Laws that have served to confuse rather than clarify.

Elleray - progressive report (pic: Fifa.com)
All that has changed under the tutelage of former referee David Elleray, who has been prepared to listen and discuss. He sees the need for change, while accepting that this involves a long process of trial and debate. The report contains some excellent suggestions. First, let's take a look at some of the laws that will be tried out in FIFA tournaments and offer simple verdicts - Yes, No or Maybe:

1. Showing the red card (RC) and yellow card (YC) to team officials for irresponsible behaviour.
Verdict: Yes. There is no good reason not to do this. Coaches don't always understand the three-stage system of verbal warnings leading to dismissal. Most have never even heard of it.

"Me? I would
 
never waste time?"
2. A substituted player being required to leave the field at the nearest point on the touchline or goal line (to reduce the time lost/’wasted’ by the player walking slowly to the halfway line).
Verdict: Yes. Again, why not? Every weekend we see foot-dragging as players leave the field, shaking hands with the ref, applauding the crowd and arguing with opponents telling them to get a move on and leave the field.

3. At a goal kick and defending team free kick in their penalty area, the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves, i.e. no requirement for the ball to leave the penalty area before the defenders can play it – this is to encourage a faster and potentially more constructive restart of play.
Verdict: Yes. This will be one of those occasions when people ask, "Why did the old law exist in the first place?" Especially good for very young players who are always hampered and confused by this