Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Trying hard to avoid a straight red card

Game 35, 2016-17

Get the message,
get the t-shirt
First clash for points after the winter break, and it's Third v First in a boys' U17 league. As always, I check the disciplinary records of both teams. The first-placed team have only accrued eight cautions all season. The home team have been far less shy at disturbing the referee.

In the refs' changing room, I talk to the lad who's just finished whistling the U13 game before me. By coincidence, he plays for the second-placed team in the U17 league. When they played today's hosts, he tells me, "they tried to kick us off the park".

Monday, 20 February 2017

Three-nil to the referee!

Games 33-34, 2016-17

It's half-time, and I'm already 3-0 up. I'm only the referee and I've scored a hat-trick! Such are my phenomenal football skills. At least, that's how it seems to the away team, whom we'll name here as Moaning FC (whereby FC does not denote 'Football Club').

When all is quiet on a weekend night, while Moaning
FC hatches its cunning plan to spring the offside trap.
It's a thankless game - part of a winter break tournament that both mens' teams of decent footballing pedigree are taking very seriously - because Moaning FC is playing the offside trap on a short turf field, and that always means trouble for the referee. Each one of the three goals scored by the home team, maintains Moaning, was clearly offside. From the bench to their followers right through all of its playing staff, the club's protests are not meek, and their opinions are loud and clear.

In the same 45 minutes I've whistled back the home team's forwards around eight times, when I've been sure that the offside trap has worked. This has provoked their cacophonous ire (and that of their bench, and their supporters etc.) on at least half of those infringements. For a referee, making these

Monday, 13 February 2017

Seven yellow cards - must be a 'friendly'

Games 30-32, 2016-17

Three friendlies in four days to warm us up for the second half of the season. The first two games pass as you would hope - with very little bother, and just one card in 180 minutes. I'm grateful for this, as it helps me get back into the rhythm of refereeing. For the opening 20 minutes of my first game for two months, my mind was wandering until I could wrestle hold of my concentration.

On Saturday evening, I was mentally composing a column along the following lines: friendlies are the ideal in terms of player behaviour, but only the incentive of an arbitrary number of points for winning injects the game with enough needle to make football worth playing and watching over the long term. Not a massively profound theory, it's true, but I was hoping to raise a sporting-philosophical conundrum. Is it better to play in harmony and safety for the joy of the game and the exercise? Or is it better to play for points in a perpetually competitive atmosphere with the ever-present possibility that things will turn sour and maybe violent?

My error: 32 minutes was too late for the first caution
On Sunday, this poser was blown out the water by the third 'friendly', between two young, fit teams from levels 7 and 8 of the national tier, both of them doing well in their respective divisions. Ironically, one of the team's names translates as 'Friends of Sport'. Previous visits to this club have included a father throwing the key to the referee's changing room at me at the end of the game because I hadn't awarded his son's team a corner kick ten minutes earlier (they'd just lost to a last-minute goal), and a youth team coach who spent the entire game barking at his players and loudly contesting every last decision made against his team. Their crowd always has an opinion, at high volume.

Neither the 'Friends of Sport' nor their opponents are in the mood for brotherhood. In short, it's an ugly game marked by multiple fouls that are initially niggly, mutate to pre-meditated, and eventually