Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Strange objects in the ref's changing room

Game 6, 2016-17
What's the vinyl score, ref?

There should be an online database of referees’ changing rooms so that we can warn our colleagues of the potential hazards. There’s one club I’ve reffed at a few times where the changing room seems to be right on top of a severely defective sewage outlet. Sometimes you do without a shower because you know you’ll come out dirtier than when you went in. The groundsman might have left his overalls and a long history of their sweat out to hang on a peg. If the floor’s been swept of last week’s stones, mud, scuzz and dead skin then you’re generally happy.

Then occasionally you’re in for a pleasant surprise. There are three different kinds of drink and a snack laid out on a clean table. The team sheets have been printed out and signed with over half an hour until kick-off, just like they’re supposed to be (this has happened to me twice, at most). There’s a working radio so you can keep up with the action in games around the country. Or there’s a box of used LPs.

Some refs might not get that excited by the latter, but for me there’s nothing I’d rather see when I
walk into any room, let alone a referee's changing room, than a box of used vinyl. Like a child heading towards a flashing red button with a sign saying ‘Press Me’, I can’t resist dropping anything in my hands at that moment and heading for the box to see what might be inside. It’s not so much curiosity as compulsion.

Why would there be a box of used records in a referee’s changing room? It’s true that it doesn’t happen often. In fact, this past Sunday was the first time, and I’m not expecting it to be a weekly occurrence. Presumably someone in the club had dumped them there ahead of a future fund-raiser. It’s not mine to reason why, it’s mine to get down on my knees and start frantically thumbing through them for an unexpected rarity.

The records are very old but in beautiful condition. I suspect that their original owner is no longer alive. Does that thought ever prompt vinyl raiders to pause from fervently riffling through the discs and take a moment to reflect upon his or her own mortality, and how life is as cyclical as a twelve inch piece of plastic rotating on a turntable? No, not for one second. Even in the confines of a referee’s changing room where you have the key to the door, you never know when someone might take advantage of your hesitancy to elbow in and pilfer the precious object that had been just seconds away from your probing finger-tips.

They are mostly classical, but there are some old jazz and blues records too. I would love to take the whole box and sit alone with them in a cool room on a soft chair for several hours, with a record player and a bottle of single malt whisky. But kick-off is approaching. I need to get changed, warm up, check the nets, the corner flags and the player passes. It’s the same feeling I used to get when heading off to work the evening shifts on Fridays and Saturdays while everyone else was gathering in the pub. The possible pleasure’s being dangled in front of my nose just as duty directs me towards a dusty cinder pitch on a hot, close afternoon.

The home team lost their first game last week by 15 goals. The trainer says a lot of his players are still on holiday. They’re desperate enough to wheel out their youth trainer to play at centre back, a bloke so old that he was born two years before me. It’s an afternoon of desperate defending as the more mature XI belts the ball as far up the field as possible to kill time. They gallantly lose 9-1, with the game played in a decent spirit. There are no yellow or red cards, which has happened in games I've reffed in this country as often as finding a box of used LPs in my changing room.

After the game I think about asking them to waive my expenses in exchange for the mint copy of the Verve-released ‘Night Train’ LP by the Oscar Peterson Trio. But it seems too weird a thing to ask in a football club. In the end, I prefer the thought of leaving the records as they are, their presence in corner of the room under the sink a pleasant, minor mystery.  

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