Monday, 14 August 2017

"Your refereeing's shit!" Then a flying shirt in my face

Games 7-8, 2017-18

Anyone who's ever had a job has fantasised about just walking out and sticking a finger up to their boss or manager as they leave. It's how I feel at half-time of the fractious men's game I'm reffing on a warm Sunday afternoon. Of course, just abandoning a game at half-time would mean giving up refereeing for good, but still I'm tempted. Just to see their faces when you say, "You can referee your own fucking game, you wankers. And you're all shit at football too."

That day may come, though I'm not quite ready for it yet. Still, If I'd known how the second half  was going to play out, it might well have happened.

After 25 minutes, a
gentle appeal for quiet.
Some times you referee a team that commits lots of niggly, deliberate fouls, then complains every time you blow the whistle. It's not a loud enough complaint to draw a yellow card, rather it's a deliberate campaign to intimidate you and make you feel insecure. In this game, it's the policy of both teams. After 25 minutes, as the ball's being fetched for a corner kick, I announce loudly:

"Hey ref! Hey ref! Hey ref! It's all I'm hearing. Shut up and play the game."

They duly ignore me, so in the next ten minutes I yellow card the next two complaints (away team) and the next two fouls (both home team). I also twice warn the home coach for yelling at me from the touchline. This works much better than my appeal for sanity. Half-time: 0-3. The only major decision is a penalty
for the away team, but the foul was hard and clear, despite the home team captain's claim that it "might have been a penalty, but look where the ball is". The ball is at the corner flag. I don't get his point.

Could be this week, last week, any week...
After resisting my own half-time urge to leave, the game's as good as killed in the 47th. minute when a home team defender, who'd already been booked in the first half, pulls the shirt of the away team's number 12 in the penalty area just as he's about to shoot. He doesn't even wait for the second yellow - he walks off, and after the game he apologises. "I forgot I'd already had a yellow," he says, and we both laugh.

So at 0-4 and one man short, the home team calms down because they're now too knackered to protest. The away team have shut up moaning too, happy with their lead. There are lots of requests to know how long we still have to play - summer's returned after three days of cool rain. Everyone, including me, is already thinking about their evening plans.

Until in the very last minute two players - the home team's number 13 and the away team's number 8 - become entangled while fighting for the ball. The ball squirts away and they end up pushing and shoving each other in a wee playground struggle. All of a sudden a dozen players are weighing in, but most of them are actually trying to separate the two miscreants and shouting, "Calm down!"

Go on, lads, all weigh in.
I'm sure it will help.
Except for the away team's number 9, who attacks the home side's number 13, yelling at him and shoving him until he can be pulled back too. The home team claims he hit the player , but I don't see that - by this time there are two arguing groups of grown men, and if it happened then it was while I was looking in the other direction. Still, I decide that once things have calmed down, I'll show the number 9 the red card for violent conduct and blow the final whistle.

As I'm waiting to do this, out of nowhere the huge number 14 from the home team's defence - who's not misbehaved much bar a couple of fouls - walks aggressively up to me and says, "Can I just say something? Your refereeing's shit." Well, that may be so, young man, but you're going to get a red card anyway. He then completely freaks out. "Why don't you have my shirt as well?" he screams mysteriously. Then he takes it off and throws it right in my face. It doesn't smell of French perfume and freshly mown summer meadows. He walks off, turns back around and marches towards me again, then two team-mates intervene and point him towards the changing room.

Meanwhile, the home trainer has marched on to the pitch to have his say. "You are a coward! You are a coward!" he screams. "Why aren't you sending off their player?" He means the number 9. I ask him if he could please calm down and take a short walk with me away from all his still remonstrating players. He actually does, and I tell him that I was just waiting for the situation to calm down before I handed out the punishment (absolutely standard practice - you don't barge into a scrum of yelling, pushing players waving a red card).

So, the number 9 finally gets his red. Then I blow for full time and wish everyone a beautiful day. Some players thank me, some apologise. The number 14 sits outside the changing room making conspicuously loud comments about the shit ref as I pass. The number 9 comes to my changing room and wants to know what the consequences will be for his red card (this happens a lot). I don't know, I tell him, I just write a report and send it off. Good chance this one will be going to a disciplinary hearing, though. He sighs and walks out.

Saturday's game, a boys' U19 match, was very quiet. Not a single complaint throughout the entire match. "They're good lads," said one of the coaches. And they were. Because it's really not difficult to keep your mouth shut and play football at the same time.

Game 7: 2-2 (1 x yellow)
Game 8: 0-5 (4 x yellow, 1 x yellow-red, 2 x red).

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.


  1. hope you wrote it down as a referee assault...he deserves at least 6 months away from the game

  2. I did, but I'm not holding out much hope for the disciplinary hearing. Last year I wrote up a full report on the bloke who threatened to break my neck, and never heard another thing about it. He continued to play throughout the season, mainly as a late sub, but when I reffed that team the other week he wasn't playing. Maybe he self-imploded.

  3. Oh dear, it is REALLY worth all the aggro? Don't know how you do it, far from being cowardly, it takes courage of a very particular sort.