Sunday, 2 October 2016

The wisdom of Artur Alt, a ref for 56 years

Game 21, 2016-17

"Hear less, see more." That's the advice of 77-year-old Artur Alt, who's been refereeing for 56 years. This past August, according to a feature in the latest issue of the magnificent German monthly football magazine 11 Freunde, Mr. Alt refereed his 8000th game. In the last 1000 games he says that he's only shown two red cards. "He's very relaxed at dealing with agitated players," says a fellow member of the club he represents, TSV Steppach near Augsburg (in Germany every ref must be a member of a club, whose games he or she then never officiates).

Artur Alt: still an inspiration after 8000
games (pic: Conny Marbach/11 Freunde)
I thought of Artur Alt yesterday afternoon at the end of a boys U15 game. The two losing coaches were looking for someone to blame. I could see them marching towards me as the home team shook my hands, and the dejected away team trooped off the field. I knew they weren't coming over to wish me well and thank me for turning out on a wet, windy afternoon. They'd already spent the entire 70 minutes of the game screaming, "Referee!" at every single hint of contact. They'd only shut up when I threatened to send them off.

Away they went. Hey ref, why did you give a free-kick for that foul on the edge of the area when it had clearly been a penalty? Also, had I not heard the insult? They were both babbling so fast that it was impossible to determine who had been insulted and when. I should have pointed out that they had spent so much of the game screaming at their players (and so, to be balanced, had the home coach) that it would
have been impossible to hear any insult on top of their ranting. But I only thought of that later, so I wrote it up in my match report.

"No, I didn't hear any insult," I said. One of their players came over to join in. "Are you deaf?" he
demanded to know. I pointed to my hearing aids and said, "Yes, hearing can be problematic for me." I moved away from the circle and parted with a courteous (if possibly sardonic), "I wish you all a very pleasant evening." They continued raving at me, but I was gone. In my head, I was already at home with a beer on the sofa watching the football highlights.

It was very much like Game 19, when the losing team (by ten goals to two) were also outraged at an apparent verbal slight that had passed me by. The perceived insult seems to be the new scapegoat for defeat in youth football. It leads to the comical indignation and inflated outrage from grown men who've just spent the afternoon demonstrating to their young players exactly how to behave in an unsporting fashion. Better to get all exercised about refereeing calls than face up to the truth - we got hammered, because we weren't good enough. Neither the players, nor the coaches, despite all the yelling.

These encounters at game's end are pointless. If you give a reasoned explanation, mostly the coaches will keep on shouting at you anyway. They've got themselves into a state, and the last person who's going to get them out of it is the referee. If you raise your voice and tell them to back off, they'll get madder too - you're just upping the temperature. If you walk away and ignore them, they act all affronted at being refused the explanation they believe that they so richly deserve.

Artur Alt is an old and wise men (appropriately, his surname means 'old' in German). He wants to referee for four more years so that he can complete six decades in the game. If he's perfected the art of calming down, or pretending not to hear, hot-headed wankers then he's a better referee than I am. He's given me a great idea, though. From now on, I might just leave my hearing aids in the dressing room.

Final score: 5-2. 

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