Friday, 23 September 2016

Is selective deafness the best approach?

Game 19, 2016-17

Uproar in the 70th. minute in the penalty area. We're waiting for the home team to take a corner kick when all of a sudden the defending lads - a boys U17 team who are seven goals down in a last-16 cup tie - erupt in outrage at "an insult" from one of their opponents. The only problem is - I didn't hear it, and even if I had heard it, I probably wouldn't have been sure which one of the players had actually said it. Play on.

"What's that you say? I'm the
best ref ever? Thanks!"
This leaves the away team with a sense of injustice for the rest of the night, enough to sway focus away from the fact they took a hammering. At the final whistle, a player makes a comment about my reffing, but I just ignore him. Can't be arsed with another red card and disciplinary report. Their coach comes over and says that though I had a good game, surely I'd heard The Insult. Everyone heard it, even over on the touchline.

I tell him that what I didn't see or hear, I can't whistle. I make my favourite point about having no linesmen. I also point out that I'm hard of hearing and wear hearing aids. He's understanding about all of this and, for once, I part on good terms with a losing coach. I mention the incident to the home coach and he says, "They always find something to moan about. Sometimes it's best not to have heard something."

There could be something in this. I've been thinking a lot about last weekend's game and how I could
have calmed things down. When the player told me that my refereeing was shit, I could have laughed and said, "Well, mate, when you're a shit player in a shit league, you're gonna get a shit ref." But I only thought of that later. Alternatively, I could just have stared into space and ignored him. Officially, the red card was absolutely the correct course of action. Unofficially, I'm no longer so sure.

Last month the German weekly news magazine Spiegel published an article about all the abuse that amateur referees have to put up with [note: in German]. It said that in the city of Hamburg more than half of new referees give up during their first two years because they can't handle it, and they don't get enough support and protection from the football authorities. "Who wants to get sworn at for a couple of Euros while doing their hobby?" asks Wilfried Diekert, chairman of the Hamburg Referees' Committee, adding: "The old refs are hardened, they don't hear it any more."

Both in Hamburg and in Frankfurt, referee associations in recent years drew up Codes of Conduct that all clubs were asked to sign. In reality, that's about as effective as a dozen stoned peaceniks in an empty field holding hands, closing their eyes and praying for an end to war. Clubs all agree on the record that of course all players should respect the referee. Then once the game kicks off, all those beautifully crafted, well-intentioned words about sportsmanship are as relevant to football as a declaration of intent from the Fifa Ethics Committee. 

In short, without the feeling that abusive players are going to be properly disciplined, referees are faced with three choices. 1. Pack it in. 2. Take the time and trouble to prosecute violent players via the legal system, given that football's internal disciplinary system only ranges from lenient to impotent. 3. Develop a tougher skin. 

Meanwhile, at my monthly referees' meeting this week I was asked by my concerned superiors if everything was alright - I'd had two games in a week that had required a disciplinary report. Yes, I said, everything's alright, thanks for asking, and as I did eight games last week it's maybe not so surprising there were two reports. I just need to know that you've got my back.

If they haven't, though, it's time to develop a new strategy. It seems that it's not just on match day that we're out there on our own.

Final score: 10-2

You can support this blog by buying Ian Plenderleith's latest book, The Quiet Fanhere.


  1. Enjoying your posts. Thanks for putting the time in to write this

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Chris - much appreciated.