Sunday, 29 October 2017

"Someone's playing, Lord, kum-ba-yah"

Game 25, 2017-18

I last saw today's home club in March when I red-carded three of their players in a particularly ugly game. I concluded the disciplinary report with a lengthy musing on why teams like this bother to play sport at all, some of which read:

Message not received last time around.
"The way [the away team] played football today is an absolute mystery to me. Why bother playing if you're going to moan at your own players, your opponents and the referee all game long? What's the point of playing sport when, instead of reaping any joy from the game, you only seem to suffer pain? The disgraceful behaviour of the away team ensured that today there was not even the slightest trace of fair play, sportsmanship, enjoyment or respect on display."

I never heard anything back from the local FA (you never do - unless it's something bad), so when I received today's fixture I was interested to see if anything had changed in the club's playing culture. At the same time, I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to the game. In fact, I mope around all morning wishing that I could go back to bed. The weather's rough, wet and windy. I'm suffering from

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Referee - "Judge, Jury and Executioner"

Game 24, 2017-18

On Friday I took my niece to see the German women’s team play Iceland in a World Cup qualifier in Wiesbaden. Just as half-time arrived, the sun began to go down directly opposite us, shining directly into our eyes. So we moved to the two-thirds empty West Stand opposite so that we could watch the second half in more comfort.

The sun sets on a German
 defeat. Note empty seats
 in the background.
At least, we tried. But the steward wouldn’t let us into the West Stand because we didn’t have the right tickets (though there was no price difference). Our story of the setting sun did not move him. Neither, I suspect, would a crazed gunman on the loose in the East Stand or an incoming North Korean missile have stopped him telling us several times, “I have my instructions.”

We returned to our original seats and watched the rest of the game with our right hands covering our eyes (and I blamed Germany’s first loss in a qualifier since 1998 on the bad karma generated by one of their overly conscientious stewards). Later, Mrs RT and all my in-laws were in agreement about one thing – I was in the wrong. The steward was only doing his job. I argued that the situation called for flexibility – that particular section of the stand was around 90% empty (see picture left), and clearly neither I nor my ten-year-old niece were intending to go in here and start a riot.

What does this have to do with refereeing? The next day I arrive at my game – a boys U15 friendly – to be told that the away team’s coach has been called suddenly to work, that he has all the team’s

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The culture of anger and violence has become the norm

Sometimes after a bad game you can't help but thinking, "Maybe it's just me. Maybe I have no control over these games. Every other amateur game in the country went fine today except mine. I just have a way of winding players up. I really am getting all the decisions wrong. The players are right - I need new specs."

No ball, no whistle, no game
This is when sharing experiences with other referees becomes of paramount importance. I won't lie - in general, refs are a weird bunch. They don't necessarily have a great sense of humour, they are very rules-oriented (and thus rarely of a radical bent), and they are not particularly ready to open up or criticise authority. Which is a shame, because dialogue is essential to help us communicate what's going on out there, and how we can act to improve the levels of sportsmanship in the amateur game.

So whenever I encounter a fellow ref, it's usually me who does the running. "Where are you from?" and, "How long have you been reffing?" are the two standard opening questions of any polite conversation between two officials. Then I follow up with the question that takes us to a higher level

Monday, 9 October 2017

A straight red card rarely calms a game

Games 22-23, 2017-18

Fifteen minutes to go, and I'm surrounded by four people, all of them screaming at me. One of them is the home number 9 I've just sent off for stamping on an opponent, a crime he vigorously denies. The other three belong to his team's touchline entourage - they may be coaches, spectators or even the stewards. I'm not looking at them, I'm staying calm and ordering them to move away.

Traffic wardens - card-issuing
enforcers about as popular as referees.
There's nothing like a straight red card to ignite the tinders of outrage at the referee's very existence. Only when there's been a fist thrown does the miscreant usually accept his fate and walk away. For filthy fouls and acts of minor, stupid and unnecessary violence like this one, the punishment administered is apparently beyond the realms of human belief. How, how, how could I possibly send this player off? "I was only going for the ball!"

Here's another club where I'm making few friends for applying the Laws of the Game. This must be how traffic wardens feel every day. The red card has been hanging over an intensive, angry, foul-plagued game all afternoon. I've been appeasing conflicts throughout the second half, exhorting disputatious

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A relegation fight on 80s astro-turf - as bad as it gets

Game 21, 2017-18

Just how bad is it possible for a game of football to be? Today, the ideal conditions are all in place. The home team is bottom of the table with zero points after nine games. The likewise winless away team is one place above them with two points, and we're playing on one of those bald, hard, 1980s astro-turf surfaces you occasionally get out in one of the city's satellite towns, where time does indeed feel locked inside that plastic, Day-Glo decade.

Man of the match
The visitors bag a fortuitous early goal when a scuffed shot finds its way into the corner of the net, more thanks to the intrinsically malevolent bounce of the pitch than any skill on the part of the shooter. It turns out to be the most accurate attempt on goal all afternoon. The remaining 83 minutes are for connoisseurs of random pinball - though Tommy Daltrey's deaf, dumb and blind kid would have played more accurate passes than all these lads put together.

In their favour, they're a sporting bunch. Decisions are once or twice politely questioned rather than loudly scorned, other than by a female follower of the away team, who sees my throw-in calls as reason to squawk so vehemently about my crass incompetence that I'm tempted to turn around and parrot her complaints right back at her. That would be satisfying, but unprofessional, and as she's the only irritant during