Monday, 26 October 2020

Avoiding Corona, Ignoring an Alpha Wanker

Games 19-21, 2020-21

I lost a lot of sleep last weekend because of the theatrical scenes that followed the penalty awards in the two games I refereed. I woke up in the night and started replaying the scenes in my head, several times over. It didn't help. Through Wednesday I wasn't much fun to be around (even less than usual) - I was tired and irritable, while wondering how bad my refereeing must be if it causes such extreme emotions in so many people. If you're thinking, "Jesus Christ, mate, it's just amateur football, don't let it get to you," then I concede that you are completely in the right.


What also retrospectively bothered me was the health danger - players coming up close and screaming in my face in the COVID-19 era. I didn't even think about it at the time, although I was instinctively backing off and demanding they keep their distance. The leagues where this happened in Sunday's game - to the south of the city - have in the meantime been suspended. Which on one level is a shame, but in the case of the home team that couldn't accept a clear decision that went against them, I can't help but think: tough shit, lads, but it's no bad thing you were sat at home all afternoon yesterday glaring at the walls.

In my city, games are still on for now, despite soaring Corona stats. This past weekend, I made a simple speech before the Friday and Saturday games. "If a single player comes and screams anywhere close to my face, I'm ending the game and fucking off home. Is that clear?" Everyone nodded, some even applauded, and best of all - it worked. Friday's game (men) drew a single yellow card

Monday, 19 October 2020

Making the 'big calls', then dealing with the anger

Games 17-18, 2020-21

Referee training courses often emphasise that we “must have the courage to make the big decisions”. That is, making calls at crucial points of a game that we know are going to be very unpopular. This happened to me twice at the weekend, and both times my whistle prompted a whole world of pain and unhappiness. Both involved penalties that influenced the outcome of each game. I am happy with both calls, as I was perfectly placed to see both offences. I’m less happy with the aggressive, choleric consequences and what they say about the human ability to accept unhappy truths:


Saturday night: Boys U19 league game. The away team is leading 1-0 with four minutes to go, but the home team equalises on a breakaway. The away team is claiming a foul in the build-up, but there was no foul in the build-up, their central defender was merely outmuscled by the goal scorer. Two minutes later, the home team’s captain is tripped in the box, five yards from where I’m standing. It’s not a hard foul, just a clumsy one, but it’s an irrefutable one. I point to the spot.

Away team players surround me, yelling. I send them sharply away. After the penalty’s converted, they do the same, but then realise they don’t have long to try and claw the goal back, so they disperse quickly. Upon the final whistle, though (the score remains 2-1), the collective tantrum is so loud, unpleasant and insult-heavy that I red-card their number 14, who had already seen yellow for dissent in the 66th. minute. 


A group of away team parents had been allowed to attend a supposedly spectator-free game, as long as they stood far behind one goal while socially distancing. By full-time, though, one of them has made his way around the field in order to catch me on my

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Another youth team coach sees red - at some point this has got to stop

Game 16, 2020-21

Boys U19, city cup, quarter-final. It's as fast and physical as you'd expect, but a good game. I'm enjoying it, until the home bench starts up, shouting about every tiny decision. I raise my fingers to my lips to make it clear that I would like them to pipe down - their conduct is completely out of place. The players are not fouling much, and not complaining at all. Things, though, escalate. Once again, I'm just going to translate the (redacted) disciplinary report, which not only describes the behaviour of the home coaches, but explicitly asks when the state FA is finally going to fucking well do something about it:

"In the 34th minute there was another loud protest from the two home coaches Rxxxx and Pxxxx after one of their players was called offside. The incident was down the left touchline, on the same side of the field as the coaching benches, at least 40 yards ahead of the home bench - from their position it would actually have been physically impossible for the coaches to have accurately determined that their own player was clearly offside when the ball was played to him. From the players themselves there were no protests.


"As the unnecessary protests continued I walked over to the home bench and said in a calm but firm manner, 'Please, stay calm over here so that it stays calm on the field.' Head coach Rxxxx responded in a harsh tone, 'Oh, I should spend the rest of the

Monday, 28 September 2020

Screwed up a major call? Best to just confess

Game 15, 2020-21

"Why on earth didn't you award us a penalty when their goalkeeper fouled our forward?" I'm chatting with the home team's coach after the game. He's smiling, he's friendly, and it's a perfectly reasonable question. If his team had been given the penalty and converted it, they'd have likely taken all three points against the league leaders, instead of just one. 


I tell him the truth. That I didn't see it. That at the exact moment the forward was dribbling around the goalkeeper, my view was suddenly blocked by a retreating defender. The next thing I knew, both keeper and forward were on the floor, the ball had rolled out of play, and the home team and all of its fans were appealing for a penalty. Although, it has to be said, they weren't appealing for the penalty with 100% conviction. I pointed towards the corner flag. Cue much jeering from the crowd, incredulity from the 'fouled' forward. A corner kick may have been the right decision, but it may well not have. It could have been a goal kick. Or it could have been a penalty.


"Hey, it happens," he says, patting me on the back. "You had a great game anyway." Which is nice of him to say, but it isn't true (more on that later). Even if that had been my only error, it was a match-deciding error. While running towards the away

Monday, 21 September 2020

Ejecting an adult from a youth team game

Games 13-14, 2020-21

At all games the German FA requires that the home team names one person who's responsible for order and civilised/sporting behaviour. Most of the time, thankfully, it's not an issue. Just occasionally, though, that person needs to step up when there's trouble among the spectators. Except that they rarely do, unless you specifically instruct them. Sometimes even then, as on Saturday, they still do nothing. Here's a redacted version of the disciplinary report I sat up typing until 1am on Sunday morning:

"In the 75th. minute of an extremely quiet game, the home team's number 7 was attacking the ball in the away team's penalty area. The away team's goalkeeper reached the ball first and cleared it out for a throw-in. The number 7's momentum caused him to collide with the goalkeeper, he was briefly injured, but able to play on.


"A number of home-team spectators were standing in this corner of the field directly in front of the action [it was the only shady spot]. During the game they'd protested loudly about any decisions given against their team - superfluous hysteria with its base in ignorance, but all part of the game. After the collision described above, some of these fans believed the home team was due a penalty. A man around 40-45 years old, of normal build and wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, began to loudly swear at and

Friday, 18 September 2020

Playing with the neighbours - a yellow-card fiesta on derby night

Game 12, 2020-21

There are three kinds of neighbours: 1. the ones you get along with, maybe even become friends with 2. the ones you ignore, and who ignore you in return (maybe they're weird. Maybe you're the weirdo) 3. the ones you fall out with over some issue (loud music after 10pm, a barking dog, a shitting dog...) that seems trivial to outsiders, but which possesses and aggrieves you more than you'd be prepared to admit. Like families, neighbours are thrown together and there's only a certain number of them you're going to get along with.

The two teams from last night are neighbours. That doesn't mean their fields are close by - they actually share the same facilities. Their club houses lie 50 metres apart, separated by the changing rooms and the toilet block. It doesn't get more 'derby' than this. Do they get along? I check the records for the last time they met, late last year. There were 11 yellows and a red card. So, probably not much.


I talk to the home team's chairman before the game and ask him how things stand with the neighbours. "Er, not so good right now. We took three of their players over the summer." Spectators will be segregated down separate sides of the field, with two

Thursday, 17 September 2020

This team is a BOMB!

Game 11, 2020-21

I don't want to show the away team's right back the red card. It's the 93rd. minute, the game's as good as over. His side is leading 3-0. Prior to that, he'd been one of the few players to show that it's possible to defend well, but without fouling your opponent in every second challenge. Frankly, there are half a dozen other players on the field I'd rather see head for an early shower.

But, but, but...  a few seconds earlier he and the home team's number 11 had been chasing a long through-ball played out to the left. The winger had, for once, just beaten him to the ball and poked it ahead, ready for a clear run on goal. The right back came a second too late for the ball and clattered the number 11 to the ground. Brutal foul play and the denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity - take your pick. With a rueful expression, I pull out the red card and he accepts the decision without any protest at all.


Afterwards, he comes to the changing room to apologise, and to tell me that he's already said sorry to his opponent, who was injured but - thankfully - not seriously. I tell him that I was sorry to show him red after he'd had such a good game, and that I knew the foul was not intentional. That would all be reflected in the disciplinary report, as well as his apology, with a recommendation for the shortest possible suspension. It's one of the evening's

Monday, 14 September 2020

Managing teen aggression, ignorant coaches, and morons behind the goal

Games 8-10, 2020-21

I've reffed two boys' U19 games over the past few days - one cup tie, and one league game - and have finally come to realise that these games will never be quiet. I took a friend to the first game and said to him, "The chances of there being no cards tonight are about one per cent." As a former player in the east German youth system, he was not at all fazed by the intensity of the game, and thought the seven yellow cards plus one five-minute time penalty and a red card were just about right.

Putting 22 adolescent boys on a limited rectangle of ground and letting them all compete at the same time for a single round leather ball is never going to lead to group yoga and 90 minutes of wellness therapy. As the sole controlling factor, the referee has to reckon in advance with high testosterone levels and inevitable frustration, aggression and foul play. The trick is always finding the balance between lenience and punishment, as well as hitting the right tone when it comes to keeping the players in check and focused on the game.

In these two games, I was gifted ideal situations in the first half that allowed me to assert my authority - both times, two opponents squared up to each other following a battle for the ball and exchanged words, while around them team-mates began to yell and

Monday, 7 September 2020

Why your offside calls are always "two metres" out

Games 6-7, 2020-21

There's an old fellow behind the away team's goal during Saturday's game, and he's angry at me about an offside call. How he could see that the call was wrong from behind the goal is anybody's guess. He shouts that I'm a waste of time, and backs that conviction up with dramatic arm gestures. There are three ways to respond to this: 1. Ignore him. He's obviously craving attention, so don't grant him the pleasure of thinking you're bothered by his opinion. 2. Move towards the moron, kneel down and then blow him an extravagantly choreographed kiss. 3. Move towards the moron and say, "I'm standing on this side of the barrier because I love football. You're standing on the other side of it because all you've got is a big trap."

I only thought of options two and three after the game, but that's probably just as well. Ignoring him was the best policy. Indeed, after the game I walk right past him to see if he has the courage to berate me face to face, but he's gone all quiet. Perhaps his anger has dissipated and been replaced by a gnawing existential dread of his pending mortality, fuelled by a sense of futility at the idea of protesting offside decisions during a boys U15 football game. Whatever it is, I reserve the right to engage options 2 and 3 at some future point of conflagration. 

There had been a loud yell from the spectator area during the first half about a different offside situation - one where I'd allowed the away team to play on after a well-timed through ball. After the play was over - it didn't result in a goal - came the after-shout

Monday, 24 August 2020

'Revenge' fouls and tedious macho posturing

Games 3-5, 2020-21


Sometimes you know when a player is out to get back at an opponent. The 'revenge foul' is a particularly hard one to prevent, and short of following the aggrieved player around and shouting 'No foul! No foul!' as they head towards the play, there's usually not a lot you can do. In my first game of the weekend, there's a brutal revenge foul that comes out of nowhere, conducted with the efficiency and cynicism of a Kremlin-backed assassin.


Early in the second half, there had been a tussle for the ball in midfield, and a home player came away with the ball. The away team's number 9, who's just come into the game at half-time, complained that he'd been fouled, but I'd seen it differently and let play continue. A few seconds later I had to stop play as the number 9 was now in a shouting match with several players from the home team. I didn't catch exactly what was said, but I showed him a yellow for unsporting conduct and invited him to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the game and play football instead (which, to be fair, he did).

 A couple of minutes later, the same number 9 receives a pass in the centre circle. The home team's number 11, presumably upset by whatever the number 9 had said to him, rushes in at him from behind with straightened leg and takes him out at the ankles. The number 9 falls in pain to the floor (he goes off for treatment, but returns to the game later). I blow loudly, pull out the red card from my back pocket, and the number 11 turns and leaves without the hint of a complaint. Honour satisfied, or something, though it could easily have been a broken leg.

There are four further yellows in a nasty, foul-plagued game where the home team launches a thousand long balls high into the sky, but with no appreciable result. They sub out seven players at half-time and I say to the new players giving me their numbers,