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, "Offisde! 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,

Monday, 28 May 2018

Missing, presumed dead - Fair Play

Game 46, 2017-18

The home team in this boys' U17 game is bottom of the league with six points, and bottom of the Fair Play table with many more. The two often go hand in hand - the team currently at the top of this league is also first in Fair Play. There are obvious reasons why a well-disciplined XI performs better on the field.

Slogans with good intentions -
but they change fuck all.
I talk to the home side's coach before the game. He explains that he only took the team over two weeks ago, and is preparing them already for next season. "Things have been a bit chaotic," he says. And when the game starts, you can see why a change of coach was necessary. Their understanding of the offside law is non-existent, and their position in the Fair Play standings truly reflects their sourpuss, foul-based approach to football. Again, what a privilege to referee such a game for €14.

The away team, in sixth place, has no problem catching their opponents offside again and again, to the sound of much screaming from the home team's parents. I'm not sure if they're yelling at the number nine who's consistently caught out, the players who pass to him, or at me for calling it. Probably all three. But I've been in a state of numbed indifference to almost everything since the last game two weeks ago, so I pay them no attention.

The course of the game is predictable. The home team fall three goals behind, and in the face of summer heat and frustration at their own incompetence they start to get nasty. There's a rash of

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Stormy skies, multiple reds and murder

Games 44-45, 2017-18

It's quiet and sultry in the park, with death and distant storms in the air. Two teams of men lazily warm themselves up for the 1pm kick-off. Four days earlier, just a few hundred yards from where we're about to play sport, a dog-walker found the body of a 29-year-old woman. Life must go on, though - this end-of-season dead rubber at the middle to lower end of the city's bottom league abjures all musings on mortality. After all, there's 13th place to defend.

"But ref, I was trying to play the ball!"
It doesn't take long for the afternoon to plummet from meaningless kick-about to a prolonged and rabid expression of collective outrage. It's all my fault, of course, when in the ninth minute an away defender chooses to upend the home team's forward, who's through on goal in the penalty area and about to shoot. It was I who personally wrote the rules saying that the denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity is a red card offence. And no, there was no attempt at all to play the ball, which was far beyond the lugging defender's reach. It was a cynical, calculated trip.

The red-carded player and his team-mates all surround me, shouting and gesticulating. I've rarely been less moved by such a display of raw emotion. The home team converts the penalty and the away team spends the rest of the afternoon playing the victim, penalised by the mean referee who's