Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Club linesmen - they only have one job...

Game 4, 2019-20

Unless they find a way to reverse the aging process, I will never again referee with 'proper' linesmen. I don't miss running the line myself - too much quiet time, and you get to hear too many comments from spectators who think they're being funny but in fact are just being twats. There are times, though, when I wish that I could still referee with a proper three-person team. A lot of times, in fact - that is, almost every time I have to deal with a club linesman.

Quick recap - club linesmen have only one job. To indicate when the ball is fully out of play. Just that one job. Despite that single, simple task, sometimes it's easier to do without them. Not tonight, though.

Typically keen posture of a club
linesman (pic: Bobbles Blog)
I'm refereeing a men's friendly on a manicured grass field, but the lines are marked in a fading white. It's a 7pm kick-off, and the descending sun's rays slant across the pitch to make them even less visible. We start the game with a sub from the home team holding a flag on the bench side, but leaning back against the dugout with his arms folded. The other side of the field is unmanned and the line is almost entirely invisible. After 10 minutes I ask the away team to send someone over - so one of their subs hunts down a flag and reluctantly traipses around the sideline to take up his position.

No one appears on that side of the field for the second half. The flag lies on the grass, just beyond

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Can I be your in-house referee?

Game 3, 2019-20

If you whistle for a penalty that no one's appealed for, does that mean the foul really happened? In the fourth minute of last night's game, an away team defender shoves over the home striker as the two of them are competing for a bouncing ball. It seems so blatant, yet there are none of the familiar shrill cries of "Referee!" before I make the call. Is it because it happened so early in the game, and no one quite expects to see such an unnecessary infringement so soon after kick-off? 

A penalty-area tussle during last night's game
Even more uncanny is the fact that no one complains. There are not even any groans of exasperation at my myopic decision. Not a single away team player tells me that I've got to be joking. The defender does not stride over and insist that he was only doing a, b or c - with a. denoting they played the ball or b. they were just shielding their space or c. that they didn't even touch the opponent. But no, they just accept it. The number nine steps up and converts. 1-0. And after that early setback, there's still not a breath of dissent.

It worries me for a while. Let me repeat: no one appealed, and no one complained. It maybe happens in the U15s and below, now and again. Never in the men's leagues, not even during a friendly. I'm

Monday, 22 July 2019

A new season starts with silence in the dugouts

Games 1-2, 2019-20

Another year, another season - Game One of the 2019-20 season happens to coincide with my 54th. birthday, doubly accentuating the sense of embarking upon yet another cycle that may well turn out to be the same as the last one, and the one before that. But wait, I hear you say. That can't be true. Fifa has introduced several new Laws! Ah, so the game of football matures a little every year. Fat chance of that happening with me, Mrs RT might observe.

"You need to calm down!" Will new laws
 mean less hassle from the bench?
From a disciplinary point of view, there has been one particular change that should make a huge difference to referees at the dog-scrap amateur level. Now we can show yellow and red cards to team officials, and no longer have to follow the laborious process of a verbal warning, followed by a second and final verbal warning, concluded with a straight-arm dismissal and a further verbal justification. Why was this system so deficient? Because it not only required a lot of effort to explain three times to coaches that they are "behaving in an irresponsible fashion", but also allowed them room to disclaim and involve the referee in an always unhelpful discussion. Plus, in amateur football showing a red card is much more effective and straightforward than pointing to a non-existent stand.

Even better, the head coach is deemed responsible for the behaviour of everyone on the bench. So if you can't identify which one of half a dozen substitutes or team officials screamed at you, you just

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Game from Hell

Games 31-32, 2018-19

The home team is coached by an old friend of this blog, 'Danny'. I intuit before the game that it's not going to be a quiet afternoon. When Danny's on the touchline, it never is. When we met in March I let him get to me. Today I resolve to remain absolutely calm, no matter how much shit this U19 match-up propels in my direction. By the end of the afternoon, I'm indeed in fecal heaven.

The game kicks off.
The away coach tells me before the game that when the two teams met earlier this season, Danny hounded and intimidated the young referee throughout the game. It's the same story I've heard now from three other coaches in this league. Just to recap, it's over three years since Danny and I sat in front of a disciplinary panel and he was fined €150 and told they didn't want to see his face there again. Yet to no one's surprise he's still here, a malignant cancerous growth on the city's already diseased amateur football scene. 

I gather all four coaches in the centre circle to remind them of the punishment process for irresponsible behaviour. First warning, then the second and final warning, followed by dismissal. They all nod, except for Danny. "Did you get that, Danny?" He gives a token gesture of the head, but I can't read his expression - he's wearing reflective sun-glasses to go with his hipster beard, giving off the usual air of 'I don't give a fuck'.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Stormy skies, stormy games

Games 29-30, 2018-19

There's a momentary tentacle of hot lightning followed a few seconds later by a loud groan of thunder. It's as though the very heavens are exhorting me to call an end to this shockingly poor boys U17 game. We're only 22 minutes in and I've already shown three yellow cards, all for nasty fouls. I blow my whistle to interrupt play, secretly hoping that the skies will roar, burst and electrify, and then we can all go home.

Nature's way of telling us to
shift our arses indoors
"It's not even raining," moan some of the players. I tell them that if a fork of lightning hits the field, they'll know about it. Neither they nor their coaches care, and they all stay out on the pitch while I retreat to my dressing room. After a few minutes I check the radar on my cell phone, and as the storm appears to be moving slowly off to the west, I risk resuming play. For the rest of the game it hovers close by, rumbling and threatening like the home team's coach, who's already been warned for encroaching on to the field of play to confront an opposing player about a challenge. Very responsible, that. Thank you for your help and co-operation, fellow adult.

At half-time, the teams stay out on the field. I seriously consider walking back to the dressing room, getting changed and cycling away from it all. Right in to the storm, if necessary. I've lost all desire to

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Ultras in the park, and getting away with a conflict of interest

Games 27-28, 2018-19

I'm waiting with the away lads for the home side to come out of the changing room. It's a U19 team in an end-of-season mood, and we make flippant small-talk. "How many of you are playing for the U17s tomorrow morning?" I ask. Four of them raise their hands. "Oh good," I say, "I'll see you there - I'm your opponent's coach." Most of the team laugh and make a comment about how the four players are now in extra danger of a red card so that they'll be banned from the following day's game.

Better be really careful with these today...
I laugh too, but I'm restrained. I've just made a potentially serious error. What if one of these four players does indeed commit a red card offence? This is a conflict of interest that I should have avoided, but I only noticed the anomaly that morning when it was too late to pull out of the game. On the plus side, there's nothing really at stake for the away team in today's game - it's the home side that can win the championship if they pick up three points.

"Can we let off some pyrotechnics?" asks a fan of the home team. Success breeds support, even at this level - he's actually wearing a club scarf. Also, the local fourth division team's game has just ended nearby and a few spectators have found their way across the park from that match to mine. I can safely say this is the first time in my reffing career that I've come across ultras. "You can do what

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The Bloke Who Stares and other small club archetypes

Game 26, 2018-19

It's half-time and the home team in this boys U19 game is 3-0 down. My changing room's across the corridor from theirs, but I can hear the coach through two brick walls. He's demanding to know what the fuck they are playing at, because it's certainly not football. He wants some extra effort, he wants them to show that they really want to be out there, otherwise what's the point of being here at all. COME ON NOW!

You could call this place the archetypal city club. I've been here plenty of times before, and to plenty of clubs just like it. It's tucked in to the allotments, a stone's throw from the Autobahn. You can see the towers and lights of the city centre to the east, and on a clear day you can see the hills of the wealthy satellite towns to the north. Both feel beyond reach of a club which, unless you were looking for it, you'd never know was here.

There are certain other staples. In the club house there's an elderly woman in charge of everything. She's civil but she's not over-friendly - after all, how many referees pass through here every week? She's the one who gives you the key to your changing room and a bottle of water. She tells you that if you need

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

When a teenage player breaks down and cries

Game 25, 2018-19

"Thrice he assay'd, and thrice, in spite of scorn,
Tears, such as angels weep, burst forth."
(John Milton, Paradise Lost)

Paradise Lost - 4-1 to
Hell after extra time.
Just over 20 minutes gone in a boys U15 game, regional league. The dominant home team leads 2-0. From a direct free-kick just outside the penalty area, the diminutive but agile away goalkeeper makes a fantastic, flying one-handed save up in the top left-hand corner of his goal. Corner kick, and applause.

I stand on the end-line closest to the taker, as I always do for corner-kicks. The corner swerves in on goal and the keeper, unchallenged, can only punch it into his own net. 3-0. He's angry with himself now - the great one-handed save has been annulled, at least in his eyes. Then two minutes later he makes another save, attempting to turn a shot over the bar. Only, he doesn't get enough hand on it and it loops behind him into the net. He scrambles back to try and rescue the situation, but he's too late and ends up in a heap in the back of the goal. 4-0, and the game's effectively lost with just 26 minutes played.

I run back towards the halfway line, but when I turn around for the re-start I notice that the goalkeeper's still lying on the floor, curled up in a ball in the back of the net. I run back to check if he's injured, just as a team-mate is trying to help him to his feet, but he doesn't want any help. He is crying, and crying hard. He hadn't wanted anyone to see, but now that he's getting to

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Having less than a second to make a call on "Handball!"

Game 24, 2018-19

It's 0-2 with half time approaching, but the home team is on the attack. Their central midfielder takes a shot from around five yards outside the penalty area. It strikes the away team's central defender on the arm, which is in front of his body in a defensive, self-protective position. The defender is standing just inside the penalty area. The home team and all their followers scream "Handball!"

Model sportsman Franck Ribéry
 has spotted an infringement 
This is a direct result of the professional game's Video Assistant Referee. Of course, there have always been loud and righteous cries for 'Handball!' whenever the ball strikes a player's arm or hand, no matter from what distance or in what part of the field. But the calls have become markedly louder and more urgent in the past couple of years since VAR entered our lives. That's because slow-motion replays, examined several times with forensic keenness, have lead to many more decisions in favour of the attacking side. Many of these calls have been dubious at best, typified by Manchester United's spot-kick in the final minute of their Champions league last-16 game at Paris St. Germain, plus numerous bizarre VAR penalty awards for handball in the Bundesliga.

If I'd had video assistants connected to an earpiece, there's a good chance they would have advised me to look at the incident again. But there's no screen on the touchline out here in the woods, so I do what I almost always do in these instances - I shout, "No intent! Play on!" There's a bubble of

Thursday, 4 April 2019

A magnificent night, despite the teeming rain

Game 23, 2018-19

Last night's game is a girls' U15 Regional Cup semi-final, played by floodlight beneath an unrelenting rain. A 0-0 draw that goes to extra time and penalties. A crowd of around 80 look on, hunched under glistering brollies as the clouds unleash their loads without mercy for those of us on the ground wearing shorts and nothing to protect our heads.

Both the players and the coaches allow me to focus fully on what's important - the run of play. Almost every foul is followed by a handshake and a hand to help an opponent stand back up. The only slight whine all evening is on a decision I definitely get wrong - two opposing players go in simultaneously studs up for the ball near the halfway line and connect. I instinctively whistle, then hesitate before pointing my arm randomly in one direction, when I should have given a drop ball (or just let play continue - there's no injury). I'm relieved when nothing comes of the free kick.

There's also one major roar of disapproval from half the crowd. Two minutes before the end of extra