Monday, 21 August 2017

Why refs should not be bullied into changing decisions

Game 10, 2017-18

Two more excitable teams who are poor at football but extremely talented at fouling and shouting. You get the picture by now. Things start out calm at 3pm with the score at 0-0, defenders peacefully passing the ball among themselves to the sound of bird-song. We end the afternoon with bruised shins, tempers AWOL, faces as hot and purple as a deranged radish, and so many unhappy players that a better man than I would have summoned them all to the centre circle for group therapy.

The captains at kick-off.
And today I wonder if the problem really does, in a way, lie with the referees. The sporting culture in this city is so messed up that many now seem too scared to hand out the necessary punishments. Players increasingly think they can get away with anything. Here's what I witness before my game:

When I arrive at the sports ground, there are two games still going on. While warming up behind one of the goals, I watch as a defender trips an opponent just inside the penalty area. The referee correctly awards the spot-kick, but a huge number 13 on the defending side begins to remonstrate. He is a foot taller than the ref, and towers over him, pointing at the spot where the foul
occurred and yelling at him that it was outside the box.

Our only weapon of defence. Use it.
I think, "Yellow card for dissent." But the referee just tries to appease him. The big number 13 continues to yell in his face. By now I would have sent him off. The referee then blows his whistle and points to the edge of the penalty area. He's changed his mind and given a free-kick instead. I know why he does it - he's simply scared of this huge bastard, and has no other protection. He has no authority.

In the refs' changing room after the game, I tell him that his original call was correct, and that I was surprised he didn't send off the number 13. He just shrugs. He was doing his best to keep the peace, he explains.

I'd also watched a few minutes of the other game. Both teams were very loud, and at one point several players surrounded the young, 16-year-old referee, waving their arms, vocally invoking the Gods of justice. Afterwards, I asked him how many cards he'd shown during the game. "Oh, none at all," he said.   

Would love a couple of these to help out.
I then go out to referee the First XI of the team with the big number 13. Clearly there's a philosophy at this club that intimidating the referee can work. Two of the goals they concede are vociferously appealed as having been offside - this is what happens when lumbering defenders turn around and see a quicker opponent through on goal. When I let the goals stand, they gesture and moan and claim that I'm biased against them, and they continue to claim this all afternoon. Yes, lads, you only lost because the ref was, for some unspecified reason, against you. No need to look any further.

There's a section in the online match report that reads: "Other remarks". You're supposed to use it to record irregularities with player passes, or note any bad injuries. Disciplinary matters require a whole separate form. Occasionally, though, just for the hell of it, I add my impressions to this probably ignored box. Now and again I even use it to praise teams that have played fair. Today, though, I write:

"An awful, ugly game - bad fouls from both teams; endless moaning in particular from the away team; a mass confrontation among hotheads that almost lead to the game being abandoned because the home team understandably had had enough. It was the kind of day when you think - why do people bother playing football at all? And why am I so stupid to sacrifice spending a Sunday afternoon with my family for the sake of €22 refereeing 22 men who take absolutely no pleasure at all in their sport? At some point you've had enough, and at some point there will be no more referees for the xxx League. And then this beautiful league will cease to exist because they won't find anyone willing to be sworn at and reviled for chump change. In conclusion: the human condition is all fucked up."

I, on the other hand, pressed 'send', then suddenly felt much, much better.

Final score: 5-3 (9 x yellow)

Ian Plenderleith's next book, 'The Quiet Fan', will be published by Unbound in 2018. Click here to pre-order an e-book or paperback copy.

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