Monday, 5 September 2016

Showing the yellow to a fellow ref

Game 8, 2016-17

I used to run a football team for mature men. Like every team, it had its share of hotheads. If they didn't fall out with referees and opponents, then they fell out with each other. I'd have to reconcile an economist, who had screamed for the ball out on the right wing, with a management consultant who had refused to pass to him because he didn't like being screamed at. Rather than giving the economist the ball, the management consultant had kicked it into touch and squared up to him instead.

The easy way to end an argument
At half-time or after the match I'd find myself in the awkward position of taking these professional men - in their 40s and older - to one side and telling them off. The day after one such incident the management consultant wrote me an email saying he would no longer be playing on the team because he didn't appreciate being treated like a child. I didn't respond to the email because the retort was too obvious - if you don't want to be treated like a child, then don't act like one to start with. (The other obvious retort was: good riddance, you stroppy twat.)

I was reminded of this during yesterday's game - the familiar
scenario of two men's reserve teams on a crappy old plastic pitch out on the edge of town.
I had to book a fellow referee who was playing on the home team. He's a lovely, mild bloke, and I've reffed with him at tournaments, chatted to him at ref meetings, and done games a few times already when he's been playing. But just before half-time he received a light blow to the nose from the raised foot of the striker he was marking, and he completely lost it.

Rather than apologise, the striker lost it too, and the pair of them squared up and yelled at each other. Loud threats overrode my whistle and the attempts of team-mates to pull the two apart. Eventually I stood back until their anger fizzled out, called them over, and showed them both the yellow card, with the unequivocal warning that repeat theatricals would mean an end to their afternoon's sport and leisure.

It worked. Peace was re-established, and the only other yellow was for a mouthy git who excitedly disagreed with an offside call. At full-time, my refereeing colleague came over with a rueful smile and apologised, but pointed out that he was a little over-protective of his nose because it had been broken three times already. "I understand," I said. "But you're the team's trainer, and you're also a qualified referee - if I'd sent you off, you'd have been banned from reffing for several months. You're supposed to be setting an example."

So, a big moral speech from me there, who just 24 hours earlier had almost provoked a fight in the car park at the hardware store by showing the finger to an aggressively honking driver. The young driver and his mate got out of their car and made it clear that they wanted to sort things out the old-fashioned way. I walked away - I'm a whistler, not a fighter. They followed us into the hardware store, where perhaps the presence of several dozen witnesses and some security cameras prompted them to turn around again and leave.

It only takes a second to start a fire, to start a fight. Even though referees are supposed to extinguish fires rather than set them, we are just as susceptible to the laws of ill temper as anyone else. I will aim to heed my wife's firm advice: don't do that ever again, you idiot. Final warning. She might easily have said: stop acting like a child.

Final score: 1-3.

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