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
off, supported by his coach. A pathetic, stooped figure, who will surely never kick a ball again. After the corner is taken, he sprints back on, quick-heeled and quickly healed. What a recovery!

I suppose you could argue that the push was a sending-off offence, if you're the kind of referee who thinks that David Beckham deserved to be red-carded for flicking his heel at Diego Simeone during the England-Argentina game at the 1998 World Cup. But I'm the sort of referee who, even though he's anything but an England fan, thinks that Diego Simeone acted like a complete wanker. When I see players composing a Wagnerian opera on a kid's xylophone, I tend to cover my ears and have no sympathy at all.

There's another reason I didn't want to show any cards yesterday. Three hours before kick-off we got news of a death in the family. It wasn't unexpected, but it was close to home. It may seem like a strange tribute to show no yellow or red cards in a completely unrelated game of football, but it was the best I could do. Only four weeks earlier, we'd been sitting in a restaurant and talking about Game 44. By Game 46 - gone.

So that's why I'm lenient on a couple of fouls that are borderline cautions, but no one protests. There are two penalties - one for each team, and neither call raises even a snort of dissent. The two teams know nothing of the death, of course, but until the 80th. minute it seems like they are somehow tuned in to the temporary hippy floating around the field as their referee.

At the final whistle I tell the away team's captain that I wouldn't have sent off their opponent even if I'd been able to identify him, mainly because his number 14 did the Kindergarten Flop. By this time his side's scored another goal and won the game, so he's very magnanimous. A few players are exchanging unkind words as they leave the pitch, but aside from the little drama in the penalty area it was about as sporting as it gets in this particular league.

Another game. Just another game among mortals.

Final score: 1-3 (no cards)


  1. Sorry to hear about your loss.

    Thanks for the image of playing Wagner on a kid's xylophone.

  2. Thank you. And, you're welcome.