Monday, 29 May 2017

Wishing all of you at Wankers FC a lovely, peaceful summer

Game 53, 2016-17

"Once apparently the chief concern and masterpiece of the gods," HL Mencken wrote, "the human race now begins to bear the aspect of an accidental by-product  of their vast, inscrutable and probably nonsensical operations." And that was without him ever having watched an amateur football match.

HL Mencken writes to Fifa
about reforming the offside law.
A visitor from another planet might have wandered past yesterday's game at the butt-end of a league so low that there's no way out but upwards, and rightfully asked, "What on your increasingly dysfunctional planet Earth is all the fuss about?"

Well, you might patiently explain to the alien, this is what we call a game. Games are played for leisure, fitness and entertainment purposes as an escape from the daily toil. It's the final day of the season, and the team in orange, who are mid-table, are hosting the team in green that is third from bottom.

"So the game in itself has no importance," muses the alien. Correct - it has absolutely none, you reply. "Then why," the baffled visitor continues, "are the men in green surrounding some of the men in orange and shoving them, and why is everyone shouting, and why is that older

Monday, 22 May 2017

The strange recurring case of Robbie Ratchet

Games 51-52, 2016-17

After a couple of years refereeing in the same city, you start to see familiar faces – coaches, groundsmen, fellow referees, even spectators, and of course the players. A handful are unforgettable, either because they threaten to kill you, or simply because they boast an amusingly alliterated name. That’s one of the reasons why I always recognise a player we’re going to call Robbie Ratchet. The other reason is that he’s a little bit nuts.

"Sir, I wonder if perhaps you might
reconsider that decision, please."
The first time I reffed a game with Robbie two years ago, he got into a verbal fight with some spectators during the first half. It’s theoretically a straight red card, but I had a word and told him to calm down. At half-time he came up to me with a grin and said, “I’m actually a really nice bloke.” Then in the second half he lost his rag at me for making, from his point of view, the wrong decision, and then committed a serious foul – within half an hour of telling me what a nice bloke he was, Robbie was off with a yellow-red card and his team lost 2-0.

A year later, I reffed the same team. Robbie was in the starting line-up, but not on the pitch as we were about to kick off. I asked his team-mates where he was. “Oh, he showed up late so he got dropped to the bench. Do you know him?” I recounted how

Monday, 15 May 2017

When coaches barge in to the referee's changing room

Games 49-50, 2016-17

I coach a boys U14 team and the other week I bollocked them for not shaking the referee's hand at the end of a narrow defeat, and for not congratulating their opponents. "I was ashamed to be your coach today," I lectured. "It's easy to be a good sport when you've won. Not so easy when you've lost."

The next game they lost 1-0, and they were just as pissed off as they'd been the previous week, but most of them remembered to behave about it in a half-way sporting manner.

Lost the game? Bite your
lip and shake it anyway.
Generally, a youth team's attitude is a reflection of the way they're coached. On Sunday I was warned by my refereeing colleagues about the "particularly difficult" home team coach ahead of a boys' U17 game. Well, it couldn't be any worse than anything else I've seen this season.

Let's first rewind quickly to the night before: game 49, boys U19, featuring a visit to the same club whose U17 coach freaked out at me last weekend. This gentleman's team was just finishing their game as I arrived, and he decided to invite himself into my changing room to talk about last Saturday's red card against one of his players for fighting.

"What a nice surprise to see you," was his snarky opening line, and that wasn't a good start, especially as he didn't even have the courtesy to knock. "My player's been banned for three

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A foul, a shove, then a full-blooded fist-fight

Games 47-48, 2016-17

The coach of the away team is on the pitch and yelling at me, even though his side is 3-1 up. I've just shown one of his players a red card. He's so outraged that he wants to take them off the field and concede the game. Even his own players are telling him that's a bad idea. They would rather play another ten minutes and take the three points than forfeit for a 3-0 loss on a matter of principle.

What's going on? It's a boys' U17 game, and up until the 68th minute it has been relatively peaceful. Only half an hour in, when the home team subs in a burly latecomer, do things heat up a little. He slots into the back four and immediately starts a little something with the opposing number 7 after a clash of adolescent bodies and egos. "It was pretty peaceful until you turned up two minutes ago," I say. "Cut it out." And he does.

Bremner and Keegan in the
good old days. 
The away team are league leaders and on the edge of winning the title. The home side are in mid-table, playing out the season without too much enthusiasm. One of their players, the number 16, takes exception to being fouled near the halfway line. He pushes the player who fouled him, the away team's number 15, who pushes him back. So then the number 16 thumps the number 15, and the number 15 thumps him back, and in the course of two seconds it has escalated to a full-blooded fistfight. Think Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan at the 1974 Charity Shield.

I run over, blowing away on my whistle, but by the time I arrive at the scene of the scrap the coaches on the touchline have intervened to break it up. I show both players the red card. The home team's miscreant is already running off to the changing

Monday, 1 May 2017

Playing dead on a Sunday afternoon

Game 46, 2016-17

Ten minutes to go, the home team is 1-2 down but pressing for the equaliser. They have a corner, and there's lots of movement and bustling about in the penalty area. I watch the away team's number 14 holding one of the home team's players, who is fighting back a little. I'm about to blow my whistle to stop the corner and tell them to quit when the home player lightly shoves the number 14 away from him. Number 14 falls to the ground, clearly dying.

Well, not dying, obviously. But it seems really serious. The emphasis here is on seems. In fact the home player hardly touched him, but it's sparked off a huge kerfuffle. I blow loudly and go over to intervene in what is becoming a massed swinging of murses and airing of playground-like whines. "Referee, red card! Violent conduct!"

Red for "violent conduct". Right.
I lose sight of the home team's player, who's merged into the melee. Very crafty. But I hadn't planned to send him off, or even book him. I just wanted a chat with him and the number 14 to tell them to stop acting like twats and get on with the game. We're nearly done, and there haven't been any cards so far. But I no longer have any idea who he is, so it's a non-issue. Especially as number 14 is still down receiving treatment for the cracked ribs, punctured lung and fractured knee-caps that must surely have resulted from the push, judging by the heroic cry of agony we all heard as he fell.

"What are you going to do?" demands the away team's captain. "Nothing," I say. "I didn't see which player it was, and as I've no linesmen to help me, that's it. Get your number 14 off and we'll play on." Number 14 limps