Monday, 5 June 2017

'Spin on this!' - When the ref strikes back

Game 54, plus tournament, 2016-17

Should referees ever lose their calm and take the low road? Absolutely not. Not ever. Which doesn't mean to say that it won't happen. On Saturday I felt, for the first time in over eight years of refereeing, that I didn't need to take the shit being thrown at me any more. It didn't help. In fact it almost lead to me being physically assaulted.

A festival, a jamboree, a day-long celebration
of the game and decent sporting values!
It's the time of year for corporate six-a-side tournaments, and I was one of several refs at an all-day jamboree spread out over eight mini-fields. It's also a good chance to exchange views and experiences with colleagues in the referees' tent, and the pay's generally a lot better than at our officially sanctioned games. The downside is that the tournaments follow a pattern as predictable as an unregulated teenage party when the parents are out of town for the weekend.

Things start peacefully at 9am. The sun's out and everyone's in a good mood, apart from the team in green, already marked out in the first 13-minute game of the day as serial moaners. For the first two hours, though, the consensus in the refs' tent is that it's all "very relaxed". But the weather's turning
quite sticky, and there are storms forecast. As though in a badly scripted soap opera, gloomy clouds start forming on the horizon. And beer is now being served in the main tent.

As the group stage comes to a close and teams are on the verge of elimination, a handful of games get tense. In one match, I separate two feuding teams who then have to be prevented by several stewards from belting each other after the final whistle. It's not yet noon. Then I finally get to referee the stroppy green team. They are hanging on to a 2-1 lead with two minutes to go when one of their players wellies the ball as far out of play as possible, way beyond the other fields. I give him a three-minute time penalty for unsporting behaviour, and in the minute of time I add for time-wasting their opponents make it 2-2 with the very last kick of the game.

Three of the green team's players surround me and yell about the injustice of the time penalty. They say they've had enough of the shit refereeing and they're going home. "Have a good journey," I say. They stay on anyway, to nobody's joy.

The green team's just a warm-up for the main act, though. The rain's now coming down steadily and there's thunder in the air, but we play on. In a round of 16 game I meet again one of the teams that earlier had to be calmed down by the stewards. They're from a bank, and it's not a bank I'd do business with if they're as filthy in finance as they are on the football field.

At 1-1 they're furious when I send one of their players out for three minutes, for his second bad foul. Their Angry Number 3 then slides into a tackle with a straight leg and takes out an opponent. He then yells at me for giving the free kick, but as he's remonstrating the other team takes the kick quickly, passing to a free forward who promptly makes it 2-1. Smart play. 

Portrait of a Gentle Disagreement
 Between Two Humans
My new friend, the Angry Number 3, squares right up to me and yells in my face, "The ball was moving!" I tell him there was nothing wrong with the goal and that he needs to move away from me right now. A minute later I blow the final whistle and, now that his team's knocked out, he runs back up to me and does the same thing, with the same complaint, but now with added noise and aggression. For the second time, I order him to move away. Now he turns and sprints to the referees' tent and starts yelling at my colleagues, demanding... I don't know what. Video evidence? A replay of the game? A steward's enquiry? A hearing before the European Court of Justice?

When he gets no sympathy there (hard to believe, but refs don't like being yelled at by furious little twats) he confronts me again, grabs my hand in a macho way, shakes it hard and says, "Very well reffed. Very well reffed." He lets go of my hand and starts to walk away, and this is the second when I lose control. Even as I do it, I know it's a mistake. I show him a raised middle finger.

At this, the Angry Number 3 crosses into the arena of the unhinged, but another ref is just passing as his rage goes off the dial and stands in his way as he runs back towards me. I walk off casually to the changing room, because I'm leaving early to ref a boys' U17 game across town. As I go, I can still hear Angry Number 3 screaming at me, and turn to see him being restrained now by several people.

As I'm in the changing room gathering up my things, one of my senior colleagues comes in. "A player out there says you showed him the finger," he says. "Is that true?" I explain the circumstances, and then confess that it is indeed true. I did it, and I'm not going to lie about it. And the funny thing is, I don't actually regret it. After the senior ref has gone (he's not happy), I say to another colleague, "If that means they suspend me for six months, then so be it."

I cycle five miles across town in the thunderstorm and arrive absolutely soaked. I change into dry gear and by the time we're ready to kick off at 4pm, it's stopped raining. "The season's nearly over - stay calm, stay decent, be good sportsmen," I say to the two teams, somewhat hypocritically. The game, though, goes well, apart from an inflammatory clash of two strapping lads just before the end. "Hey, just three more minutes," I tell them. "We can get through this, right?"

And we do.

Game 54: 4-3 (no cards)

Referee Tales is a non-profit blog penned by an amateur referee and full-time writer. If you would like to support this blog, please pledge to buy the author's next book, The Quiet Fan, at the crowd-funding publisher Unbound.

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