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
blind bush-pigs digging their own graves in a mud pit using only their snouts and their hooves, with the ball a mere inconvenience that's constantly getting in the way. The longer the game goes on at 3-4, the more the away team scents an unlikely win. They start to waste time.

After several verbal warnings, in the 83rd minute I finally yellow-card the away team's number 2 for kicking the ball away at a free-kick. He'd already seen yellow for an earlier tantrum when I'd given a free kick against him for upending an opponent. So off he goes. Four minutes later, his team-mate the number 7 throws the ball over a fence and down the hill rather than leaving it for the home side to take a throw-in. Unfortunately he too had already seen yellow, for a pre-meditated foul. So off he goes as well, prompting a mass ruckus.

"November, it only believes/
In a pile of dead leaves."
(pic: Referee Tales;
lyric: Tom Waits)
How dare I send off two players just for time-wasting? That's what several away team players now want to know as they surround me and stage a colossal drama. Another good way to waste time. The number 6 is particularly vocal, and eventually I show him a yellow for dissent. But he won't shut up, and as I walk away and signal the re-start he keeps telling me what he thinks of my officiating. Should I now show a third yellow-red card in five minutes?

Instead I look at him and say, "Yeah, the fucking shit referee's a fucking arsehole, but what can you do about it, eh?" This stuns him into silence, and the last three minutes  plus five minutes of added time pass without further incident. The time-wasters win, getting their precious three points to take their season's total to seven and bollocks to the Fair Play table.

When I leave my dressing room after the game, the away team's number 6 is sitting on a bench waiting for a lift. He smiles sheepishly and says, "I'm sorry for yelling at you. Sometimes during the game I just lose all control." I tell him that I'm used to it, and explain why I'd no choice but to send off his team-mates with the game so tight, and so much time being blatantly wasted. More players come out and we all shake hands (including the two I sent off) and wish each other a pleasant Sunday evening.

Finally, just the two young spectators are left, waiting for their dad as I wait for my cash. "What did you think of the game?" I ask them. "Exciting," says the older one. The younger one looks at me shyly. "Where do you get your red and yellow cards?" he wants to know. I give him a spare set out of my kit bag and he rushes back into the dressing room to tell his old man.

Well, there's another first - I've made someone really happy by giving him a red card. Like I said, a very odd day.

Final score: 3-4  (two yellow, two yellow-red cards)

Ian Plenderleith's next book, 'The Quiet Fan', will be published by Unbound in 2018. Click here to pre-order an e-book or paperback copy.

1 comment:

  1. Kenneth1 December 2016 at 03:11:
    You should have autographed the cards. Great story for future generations. When I was a lad there was this foul mouthed ref who sent off all these blokes for time wasting in one of my dad's team games. Here are the real cards. Great photos too.

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