Monday, 17 December 2018

The Moaners in the Snow

Game 9, 2018-19

It's snowed all morning, and I hold off leaving the house in case there's a late call to postpone the match, a lunch-time kick-off in the City B League. It isn't that I necessarily want the game to be called off, but the prospect of several hours of unexpected free time on a Sunday afternoon has its attractions.

Just about playable, with help from a shovel.
So because I leave the house later than usual, and cycle at first to the wrong ground, I end up arriving cold and wet with just half an hour until kick-off. There's half an inch of snow on the grass pitch, but both teams are eager to play. "Have you got an orange ball?" I ask after looking at the surface, which is moist underneath. They do. Will they promise to play sensibly and help me out with touchline calls? Oh, of course.

Things start gently enough as the players adjust to the conditions. There are numerous short passes that get stuck in the snow, and several players from both sides flail for balance and slide around on their arses. I wonder whether or not it was wise to let them loose. The home team goes 1-0 up after 15 minutes with a penalty for a full-on foul by the away team's captain. He's the only one who bothers to complain, citing the word "body", which you hear a lot. It translates as, "Football is a physical sport, so what's wrong with me recklessly charging into a player and flattening him?"

Then there's another B-League staple - the collective roar of outrage at an offside decision. The away team's number 5 screams at me by way of re-interpretating this law in his favour. "Shut your mouths

Friday, 14 December 2018

Preparing for teams with atrocious disciplinary records

Game 8, 2018-19

A freezing night, a cinder pitch, and a relegation battle in the city's A League between two men's teams who are not only very low in the standings, but last and fourth-last in the disciplinary table. Between them, they've managed 16 red cards this season (eight apiece), with the home side racking up six straight reds and an almost impressive 57 yellows in just 19 games. 

Home team's appeal: "Fair Play - also applies
please to PARENTS and FANS. Thank you!"
I spend the ride to the ground pondering the best way to broach this in my pre-match speech. Sometimes I think about saying nothing at all, and that instead I should try and come across as silent, stern and unapproachable. I used to know a ref in the US who'd come to games glowering like a pensioner at a swingers' club, wearing a hoodie and dark glasses and looking like he was about to discharge a semi-automatic on both teams (always a possibility in the US). He was told either to quit or drop the attitude - he was scaring the kids, and the parents too.

I'm not much good at looking like the hard man, though. My first instinct when I meet the coaches is always to smile, introduce myself and shake their hands. No one likes an asshole, and why get things

Monday, 19 November 2018

Grown-ups in a mass brawl - thanks for setting an example, dear parents

Game 7, 2018-19

I'm back at the club whose name translates as 'Friends of Sport', where in almost four years I've never yet had a sporting or a friendly experience. Where to begin? It was a boys U17 game, with around 30-40 spectators. I'm just going to translate a truncated version of my disciplinary report, seeing as it took me half of Saturday evening to write. 

"The first half was played in a fair and peaceful atmosphere, but all this changed in the last 20 minutes of the game when both sides - with the score at 2-2 - sensed that they had a good chance to win. In this increasingly hectic and niggly phase of the game there were six yellow cards and a time penalty due to reckless fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct, and dissent.

He's got something to say,
and he's gonna say it...
"The coaches remained quiet almost until the final whistle, and indeed from my point of view there had been no controversial decisions. Then, in the 79th. minute [of an 80-minute game], there was a reckless foul by the away team's number 23 against the home team's number 7 right in front of the away bench. The number 23 received a yellow card for the foul.

"Apparently out of nowhere the away team's trainer walked on to the pitch close to where I was supervising the free-kick and started screaming at me. I couldn't exactly work out why he was so aggravated, but I think he was complaining that I had shown a home team player the yellow card twice, without imposing the time penalty (he was wrong - I hadn't). I gave him a double warning - once for entering the field of play without permission, the second for

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

10 things amateur referees hate to see or hear

Games 5-6, 2018-19

What are the 10 things I least want to see or hear when I'm refereeing a game of football?

1. The shout for "Offside!" almost every single time a forward is through alone on goal. It comes from the defenders, it comes from the coaches, it comes from the spectators - a one-word vocal plague of ignorance upon the amateur game. During Saturday's game, a goalkeeper saved a free-kick and then complained that the player who followed it up to score was offside. How did he see that when he was saving the kick? He went on about it so much (and I tried to ignore him, but he ran after me almost all the way to the half-way line screaming, "Offside! Offside!") that he ended up with a yellow card.

2. "You have to call fouls against both teams!" This usually comes from a losing coach or one of his players. Oh, really? I thought I was just supposed to call fouls against your team as a heaven-ordained test of your patience. And because I have a real and vested interest in who wins this U15 boys district league game. Sunday's choleric coach, with his team several goals behind, bellowed

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Praise from the touchline - for my footwear

Games 3-4, 2018-19

After a long period out injured, you tend to lose a grip on your confidence. What if I’ve forgotten how to ref? It’s not that you can no longer remember the Laws of the Game, but you worry that you might have lost the feel for officiating. When players pick up on a referee with a confidence problem, they will not hesitate to exploit their mental frailty.

"I am not Dr. Brych, I am a human being."
So I precede Sunday’s game in the Men’s Punishment League (see blog entries passim) with a new, truncated version of my pre-match speech, delivered in a 'we're all in this shit league together' tone: “Lads, my name is not Dr. Felix Brych. I’m not here today to be yelled at and moaned at. I don’t have linesmen, and I don’t have a video ref. So especially on close offside decisions, save your breath. I want you to enjoy the game, but I want to enjoy it too. Best of luck.”

There’s always a share of players smiling when I try this ‘Referees are human too’ approach. They seem to take it on board, and there’s a short round of applause for my effort. But there’s no way of

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Returning to a Referee's Paradise

Game 2, 2018-19

Pretzel and Coke - essential
ingredients in a referee's paradise
On Saturday, I think that I've fallen asleep and transmigrated into a Referee's Paradise. I officiate a game where no one complains. Neither the players, the coaches, nor the spectators. Not even a whisper of dissent aside from a fleeting gesture of frustration at a called foul. And then, after the game, everyone thanks me for turning out. Because this is U10 boys' football.

I'm not supposed to be refereeing at all as I'm still officially out injured - I've been earmarked to coach a young referee who, as young referees will, drops out late on the evening before the game. So I step in, happy that I can take such a stress-free game to get back into the swing of whistling. (How that phrase makes refereeing sound like a carefree, happy-go-lucky activity - like chopping fire-wood or going for a country walk on a mild afternoon.)

Before kick-off I stand at the half-way line waiting with the away team for the home side to come out of the changing room. "Are you lads going to win today?" I ask.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Time-wasting and dissent - new laws for Fifa to consider

Happens too rarely - yellow for time-wasting
"Before taking a throw-in, free kick or goal kick, adjust your sock. And then adjust your other sock," a professional coach I used to work with in the US once told my eldest daughter's team. It was advice on defending a narrow lead in a recreational league. The players were 14 years old.

Like the perpetual sore of dissent, tedious time-wasting has become deeply embedded in football at all levels. There are sanctions to punish both, but they are not strictly applied because referees do not want to look overly officious for handing out serial yellow and red cards. The more that dissent and time-wasting have become an accepted staple of football, the harder they've become to punish.

Right after this summer's World Cup, the editor of Germany's kicker magazine, Rainer Holzschuh, wrote a series of proposals to counter time-wasting and unsporting conduct. Here's what he wrote in the July 16th. edition:

1. After a free-kick is awarded, no player on the team that has committed the offence is permitted to touch the ball. Punishment: yellow card. (Holzschuh doesn't mention the standard practice of

Monday, 30 July 2018

Same old shit - opening game is my closer

Game 1, 2018-19

All through Friday night's game I had 'Someone Out There' by Rae Morris going through my head, but it should really have been a much uglier song, by Eels. So instead of hearing a recurrent, "Someone out there loves yoooooo" through 90 minutes, I'd have been mentally singing to myself, "I'm tired of the old shit/Let the new shit begin."

Rae contends that someone out
 there loves a referee. Somewhere.
It's a 'friendly' game between a level 8 men's team and the U19 squad of the city's third largest club. The lads are a step quicker and smarter than the men, and so the latter - who are knackered after 30 minutes - resort to fouling, and then moaning at me when I call them out. The game becomes fractious and there are already three yellow cards before half-time - one for dissent, and two for unsporting behaviour when two players square up to each other and refuse my suggestion to kiss and make up. So far, so predictable.

There are two archetypal incidents for football at this level. First, the U19 team score their second goal just before half-time on a through-pass. The men's team shout as one for offside, except for their number 99, who has been too slow to move up (possibly weighed down by his number). I shout "Play on!" and point at the number 99. When the goal has been scored, several players on the men's

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Greatest Goal Never

A World Cup short story by Ian Plenderleith, presented by Referee Tales

Some people say that being a referee is like working in the sewers. No one wants to do it, and all you get is shit. And yet, some of us are willing to muck in where it stinks. Where there's nothing to see and smell but a torrent of human effluent. Yeah, you're welcome.
    Let me say from the start that I was sent home from the World Cup for doing my job properly. That’s the truth and the whole story in one short sentence. There is not a single piece of cinematic or photographic evidence to even suggest that I made the wrong decision. And that’s because I didn’t make the wrong decision. Ah, people say, but you couldn’t have known that at the time. Well, of course I couldn’t have known for sure at the time. It was a very close call. But every replay, no matter how much you all wished it otherwise, proved beyond any doubt that I was right to raise my flag. Each time they re-ran it, frame-by-frame in the slowest of motions, the pundits reluctantly reached the exact same conclusion. The decision was correct, and no one can ever take that away from me.
    Centre ref Phil O’Hara's voice came over the headset while incensed Colombian players surrounded me, all screaming in Spanish as I withstood the kinetic hatred of their glistening, maddened eyeballs. I know just enough of that language to understand that I was the bastard offspring of a syphilitic street-whore. I was unmoved, though disappointed that Phil didn't come over to hold them back and card at least one of the mouthy fuckers for dissent. 
    “You're 100 per cent sure, Mick,” he half-stated, half-asked. I told him firmly that I stood by my call, but he could send it upstairs to the video ref if he wanted. Right at that moment I was really happy that we had the video assistant. If it backed me up, I was vindicated. If I was marginally in error, we were off the hook. Phil, though, didn't like the extra help. He's a top-class ref, but really

Monday, 4 June 2018

Every week another asshole

Games 47-48, 2017-18

The first half of this boys' U15 game is the most peaceful I've refereed all season. There are only two fouls, and a mild query from the away team about a possible offside on the home team's first goal. As is often the case, the defenders have turned around to see that a player with the ball has outsmarted them. I tell them that he wasn't offside when the ball was played, and we get ready for the re-start without any further discussion.

Their coach is much more vociferous. From his ideal standpoint 50 yards from the play I hear him yelling. I ignore him.

Always worth reprinting this one.
At half-time, with his team 3-0 down, he walks over to me and starts complaining about the offside decision, and not in a civilised way. "It's because I'm a shit ref," I reply mildly. He hesitates for a second, then starts to moan about something else, but I interrupt him and say, "I told you already. It's because I'm just a shit ref. What can you do about it?" Then I walk away to my changing room (broken into during the first half, but nothing taken because I hide my phone well and never bring my wallet with me when I ref).

In the second half, the angry coach's previously polite and well-behaved team decides to follow the adult's example and, the more goals they concede, the more disrespectful and insolent they become,