Monday, 12 June 2017

2016-17 Review - Football and the Human Condition

Game 55, 2016-17

Most of us are doing
what we can...
It’s the last weekend of the season, and it ends up being another game when my expectations are confounded. These are not only two clubs I’ve had trouble with in the past, but the game is at boys’ U17 level - that age when hormones seem most volatile, and the urge to shove, kick or insult an opponent can override the threat of punishment. Just like last week, I issue a pre-match appeal for calm, sportsmanship and decency, and point out that we’d all like to reach the end of the season unscathed.

There’s a size and talent gap between the home and the away team, but they both play decent football. Lacking any subs, the away team tires in the second half on a hot afternoon. Unlike many teams in their age group, though, they don’t start kicking out in frustration, or to yell at each other’s mistakes. They keep passing the ball along the ground right until the final whistle. The young coach utters not a word in my direction all game.

We get through with just a single yellow card on either side – one for a second clumsy foul (away team), the other for chucking an opponent to the ground (home team). The latter offence happens ten minutes before time, with the home team already 6-1 ahead. “Hey, we’ve had none of that all
afternoon – don’t spoil a sporting contest,” I carp. The player raises his arms to acknowledge the crime, and someone else agrees with me. Maybe a player, maybe a coach.  That’s as controversial as it gets.

This morning I tallied up the season’s stats. I refereed 55 games and handed out 154 yellow cards at an average of 2.8 per game. There were 17 yellow-red cards (counting ‘time punishments’ in youth games as a second yellow), and seven straight reds – six for violent conduct and one for serious foul play. I was surprised to see that there were 11 games when I issued no cards at all. I’d probably have guessed four or five.

Those figures point to the obvious conclusion. During some games it can all kick off, while during others both teams behave impeccably. In between lies the average game of fouls, moans and squaring up face to face, but even then it’s still just a minority of players that do the offending. Occasionally, I’ve been too harsh, but on the whole fairly lenient – feigning deafness, turning a blind eye, or giving players a second chance via verbal warnings when the laws demand a card.

How referees feel after a 'perfect' game
I’ve passed the exam and the fitness test for another year, which will be my fourth season in this country to add to the seven I refereed in the US. It would be an exaggeration to say that I unconditionally love refereeing, but for the most part I do enjoy still being part of the game. It keeps me fit, and it keeps me in touch with parts of the city I’d never normally see. Refereeing offers the opportunity to continue learning about both football and the human condition, every single game. That never gets boring, though it probably causes me to experience equal amounts of inspiration and despair.

Refereeing does mirror my experience of playing organised football for 40 years. Some days, everything runs smoothly, you’re right on top of your game, and you cycle away from the ground feeling like a puppy chasing a rubber ball across a lush green field. Some days, you have a fucking nightmare and find your solace in deep vessels of beer. Most of the time you’re just about content with your performance, but know there’s plenty of room for improvement. For now, you’re just about an okay referee in a just about okay world. I have to remember to enjoy it while it lasts.

Game 55: 8-1 (2 x yellow)

You can support this blog by buying Ian Plenderleith's latest book, The Quiet Fanhere.

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