Monday, 28 November 2016

What happens if the ref swears back?

Game 27, 2016-17

"November seems odd," Tom Waits once sang, and the gravel-voiced troubadour would have had his suspicion confirmed if he'd shown up to watch this gravel-pitch game on a still, grey, dying day in the year's eleventh month.

Failed sobriety test
(pic: Referee Tales)
The first thing I notice is how crooked the freshly painted touchlines are. I'm about to ask the groundsman if he can quickly re-do the goal-line, at least, when I smell his breath. It's 1pm on a Sunday afternoon and he's already shit-faced - very slow to move and barely present in thought. I stick with what we have (see pictures) for fear of getting something worse.

The two teams are second and third bottom, but both are near the top of the Fair Play table. Only one red card between them all season. Should be a quiet game, I think. Stupidly.

The two defences are just as wobbly as the touchlines, and both teams hare out of the traps with four goals in the first 13 minutes. 2-2. There's another burst of scoring just before half-time, and we go in with the away team leading 4-3. They've only won a single game all season, and seem touchingly surprised and delighted every time they score a goal.

In the second half the goals dry up, and the spectators (two young boys - the sons of one of the home team's players) are now subject to watching something more akin to 22

Monday, 21 November 2016

Sarcastic Applause really shows it to The Man

Game 26, 2016-17

The away team's defender knows that he's going to get a yellow card, but he can't help himself. He claps in my general direction. His applause is not genuine. The number 6 is not actually appreciating my gifts as a referee. Despite having long since gone through puberty, he is conveying sarcasm.

"I say, thank you for applauding
my decision, young man."
It's not that he disagrees with my decision - it's a clear penalty that his team mate's just conceded with a blatant trip in the box, and no one's protesting. Rather, it's the post-script to an incident two minutes earlier when I'd failed to call offside for the home team's eighth goal. The away team had let it all out after that. Tired of yelling at each other after every defensive fuck-up, they went for me instead.

"Why can't you call it offside when they've already scored seven?" yells the central defender. That's an interesting idea, but there's no Mercy Rule in this league, and I can't see any committee passing the proposition that when one team leads by seven goals or more, every subsequent goal should be automatically judged as offside.

The goalkeeper is even more incensed, and runs 40 yards out of his area to bark at me. Before the

Monday, 14 November 2016

The raging of the TWAT with Touchline Tourette's

Game 25, 2016-17

I'm warming up next to the two teams on a chilly but still Sunday lunchtime, and already the crowds are gathering. Not fans, but Egyptian Geese. They've occupied the tops of the floodlight pylons and are making an urgent racket, honking and squawking off-key songs and cranky calls. One of them dive-bombs an innocently stretching player on the home side, much to the delight of his team-mates.

An Egyptian Goose contests an offside
 decision (picture: Harvey van Diek)
Christ only knows what these invasive, aggressive creatures are so excited about. I doubt it's the prospect of 90 minutes of level-nine football between two men's reserve teams. I go back into my changing room to deal with the pre-match paperwork and by the time I've come back out, they're gone. There must be a more attractive fixture in another part of town.

No worries, though, because they have an able replacement in the Totally Wacko Arsehole on the Touchline (TWAT). There's always one. Today he's a member of the away team's entourage, and it's apparently his job to loudly contest my decisions. His two main contributions to the afternoon's entertainment are to yell, "Referee!" on unfavourable calls, and "Offside!" every last time the home team plays a through ball of any description.

It would make sense to point out to TWAT that he might be better focused on coaching his team,

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The challenges of a split-second penalty call

Game 24, 2016-17

City Cup, quarter-final. I'm standing on the end line in my usual position for a corner kick, about 35 minutes in. It's 0-0. The corner comes to the home team's defender directly in front of me, just ahead of the near post. He tries to clear first time but, because it's a wet evening, the ball slices off his right foot and hits his arm. It bounces back down favourably for him and he clears.

Cup football under floodlights - otherwise
known as 'paradise' (pic: Referee Tales)
"Penalty!" scream several players on the away team. Instinctively, I'd raised the whistle to my lips as the ball hit his hand, but in that split second I decide against blowing. "No intent!" I yell and start to follow the game upfield. There's an immediate foul committed against the home team as it tries to quickly break, and in the ensuing pause the away team further protests about the non-call.

Their main lobbying point is not that it was a clear penalty, but that I'd raised my whistle to my lips. To them, that meant I was already on the way to making the decision in their favour. To me, it was just a preparatory move in case I made the handball call. I do it a handful of times every game, largely unnoticed - it's the sound of the whistle players react to, not your body language.

In my pre-reffing years I used to sometimes see officials do the same, and it irked me too. To an observer, it's hard to understand that a referee can see a possible foul one second but then change