Game 11, 2016-17
The two teenage players are in buoyant mood, sitting on a moped, ready to leave the ground. They're honking at some fellow players about to set off in a car. They're young, they've won, and Saturday night's about to start. They see me come out of the changing room and heading for my bike. "Referee! Referee!" they start chanting in sync with the moped's horn. I give them a wave and they scoot off to whatever awaits them - most likely girls, weed and alcohol.
|Saturday night, game's over...|
It beats the hell out of being stared at or abused on my way off the premises. One time I was actually escorted to my bicycle by a burly minder after showing four red cards in a single game. For weeks, when out running, I replayed those four red cards in my head time and again, and every time I came to the same conclusion - all four were justified, even though showing four red cards in a single game was more than I'd shown in my first four years of refereeing. But that was in another country with a completely different football culture.
Not that it's necessarily a good thing to be convivially honked and waved at on your way home. A senior referee came to one of our recent training seminars and claimed that he doesn't like to be told "Well reffed!" by the winning team. Ideally, both teams should shake your hand, but without any compliments. Critical comments, he said, can be a truer sign that your performance was up to scratch. (However, if the losing team says "Well reffed!" that's presumably a different matter. And it does actually happen.)
Ultimately it's you who knows best if you had a good game or not. On Wednesday night things got out of hand, and I spent the next two days wondering if I could, indeed, have better kept a lid on things. Today's game - a boys U19 game - is very similar. Tight, fast, rough, and full of fouls. I talk from the start, justifying my decisions loudly and clearly. I book a player for dissent in the first half. There's a flare-up in the second half - I show yellow to both players and give them a lecture.
Even though I eventually show the same number of yellows as on Wednesday night, the whole atmosphere is different. The coaches focus on their teams, and I don't hear a single comment aimed at me from the benches. Is that the difference? Or am I the difference, because I'm acting with greater authority? Either way, I enjoy the match, despite its niggly, nasty nature, and despite the intense summer heat that's persisting through mid-September.
I also like the fact that the two lads were cheeky enough to chant and honk at me from their moped. The game's over, we're all human again, now we can do the more important things in life - smile and go smoke a joint, drink a beer.
Final score: 4-2.