Monday, 27 March 2017

The benefits of an Early Yellow

Games 42-43, 2016-17

You should never set out with pre-conceived notions of what kind of a game you're going to be refereeing. I've written that several times before. Yet late on Saturday afternoon, as I cycle through the park and past the re-opened outdoor café with its patrons determined to enjoy the bright but still chilly spring weather, I'm thinking, "This game could probably do with an early yellow card."

Hold it high, show it early,
you pompous twat
How do I know that, an hour prior to kick-off and before even arriving at the ground? It's a boys' U19 game between two teams close to the top of the table. I've checked the statistics from when they met earlier in the season - seven yellow cards, two red cards, and two time-penalties (a 5-minute 'sin bin' sit-out for any player getting a second yellow. In the state where I ref there are no yellow-reds in youth football).

The two clubs are geographically very close, and there's a healthy crowd of around 60. I ask the away team to take their bench to the other side of the field, away from the home bench and spectators, and they seem quite happy to do so. I also locate two stewards, and tell them that they're responsible for crowd control. As we prepare to take to the pitch, I summon
my inner right-wing cop (or you could call it my inner pompous twat) and deliver to both teams a short but stern lecture on respect, discipline and sportsmanship. 

None of that is any guarantee that a game won't get out of hand. Tonight, though, I'm handed the present I want from the home team's number 7, playing in central defence. In the eighth minute he takes out an opposing forward with a reckless, borderline x-rated challenge. I exploit the gap - a long, loud whistle, an expression of outrage, and a thrusting yellow card. It might unkindly be said that I ref the fuck out of this situation.

The Early Yellow sets the tone for the rest of the game. There's not another card until the game is an hour old - again for the home team, this time for persistent fouling by a niggly midfielder. On 70 minutes the hosts take a 3-2 lead, having come back from 0-2 down, and the visitors look tired.

With 10 minutes left, though, the niggly midfielder commits a nasty foul and I send him out for five minutes. While he's gone, two things happen. The away team score a nicely worked equaliser to make it 3-3, then the home side's number 7 commits his second horror tackle and is also out for five minutes. From the resulting free-kick, while they are down to nine men, the home team concede what turns out to be the winning goal.

This feels like the perfect result from a refereeing point of view. Foul play is punished, and the home team pays the price. No one bellyaches about the calls, because they were plain to see, and the Early Yellow has helped to prevent a repeat of whatever the hell it was that happened when the two sides met earlier in the season.

The home team's coach is not exactly radiating human kindness as he begrudgingly hands over my chiselling match fee. No handshake, no thank yous, no entreaties to enjoy the rest of my Saturday - there rarely are from the losing team. Maybe he blames me. Or maybe he blames himself for telling his number 7 to make an impression by going in hard early on, when the referee might still be in a forgiving mood. Unfortunately, there are days when your inner right-wing cop serves the game well.

Final score: 3-4 (3 x yellow, 2 x time-penalty)

Game 43, Sunday, men's reserve league: 3-1 (5 x yellow)

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