Game 9, 2017-18
Three days after being assaulted for the first time as a referee, you'd hope for a gentle game. Maybe a friendly in a U9 league where both teams have kittens for mascots. As it is, I realise that weeks ago I was assigned to a City Cup first round game between two teams of distinct ethnic origins. They hail from a part of the world far from my city, and have been in conflict for well over a century. It's the luck of the draw.
|Please can I ref |
a game in the Cute
It's due to get dark around half-time, so the home team asks if we can play the first half on their smooth and kempt grass field (no floodlights), then move to the neglected cinder pitch, weeds and all (but with floodlights), at half-time. The answer: no. So they haul the wheelie out of the shed, paint the lines, and clear away the debris from a storm the night before. What follows on this decrepit surface is the most intense and challenging game I've ever refereed.
There are so many fouls that it's hard to recall more than a handful of clean challenges throughout the entire match. I play advantage multiple times just to keep the game flowing. This irritates the away team in particular when they don't make good on the advantage. Yet in between the dirty play there are some cracking goals - these are good teams. We go in at half-time with the score at 3-2 and a count of three yellow cards.
|"You're as much use as a UN resolution, ref!"|
I fear, though, that they are just getting started, and I'm right. In the second half the game remains closely fought, and highly fractious. I run around putting out fires with a water bucket like a lone United Nations envoy in the middle of a city under siege. My appeals for calm and a steady stream of yellow cards for foul play and dissent are about as effective as a UN resolution drafted and passed in faraway New York. There is something going on here far beyond my remit, on the brink of an explosion - five times I have to separate players or groups of players yelling and squaring up to each other. A chat with both captains makes no difference at all.
I don't help matters by making a significant mistake. I let play continue after an aerial challenge between the home team's robust centre back and the away side's already fuming centre forward. The striker goes down with a dramatic yell (not for the first time - every foul in this game is a short and