Monday, 25 September 2017

"What I notice now in the game is a complete lack of respect"

Game 20, 2017-18

I'm sitting reading the walls in the referee's changing room before a men's first team game that has taken me some way out of town. There are four framed certificates on display that honour one man's devotion to the game - a referee who's a member of the home club, and who has put in 50 years of service to the amateur game. I mentally salute his devotion. I'm only in my tenth season, but I feel like I've been reffing much, much longer.

What Scots are good at.
A few minutes later, having inspected the pitch, I'm warming up close to the touchline when an elderly gentleman ambles by and begins to chat about refereeing. I soon work out that he's the ref whose certificates are on my changing room wall. He tells me how he skipped the country when he was young to avoid doing military service and travelled the world. He ended up playing for a Scottish ex-pat club in Adelaide. "Boy, could they drink," he says. "Every last one of them."

He also has a view on the problems referees face now compared with when he started out. "What I notice now throughout the game is a lack of respect," he says thoughtfully, and with some sadness. "A complete lack of respect." I agree, although I don't mention that I've a blog full of stories to back us up.

Played the advantage,
goal was scored. Yay!
The game starts well in the fourth minute when I play advantage after a dirty tackle, and the home team races up field to take the lead. I've written before about this being the closest a ref can come to feeling like they've scored a goal, and I have to really focus on not smiling as I note down the goal-scorer and the time of the goal. There's a crowd of 40-50 people and they all shout out, "Well played, ref!" (I just made that last bit up - in fact they spend the entire game incredulously contesting every last call against the home side.)

A quiet first half ends 1-1, but there are a number of notable incidents after the break:

Monday, 18 September 2017

Danny, the new darling of discipline!

Games 18-19, 2017-18

In Saturday's U15 game, I swear I didn't make a single mistake, although the conditions were perfect - bright sunlight on an artificial field in a league of above average quality. Even the coaches on the team that lost 8-0 said, "Well reffed," although when games are this one-sided the intensity takes a dive. You're relieved at the hassle-free game, but you also think, "Well, I'm not going to remember this one in a week's time."

The fat, the thin and the knackered - back in
the reserves (Pic: Westfälische Nachrichten)
On Sunday it's back to the familiar proving grounds of the city's reserves leagues. The men who only play for fun, but never seem to be having any. The average, the bad and the hopeless. The unsightly, the unfit and the sporadically unhinged. Speaking of whom, there on the bench as substitute and assistant coach of the home team is my old friend Danny, whose antics on the touchline at a youth team game early last year earned him an ordering off from me, and a fine of €150 from a disciplinary hearing. Along with a stern verdict from the jury that they didn't want to see his sorry, scrawny ass ever again.

"New club, Danny?" I ask as he hands me the player passes. "What happened - did your old team finally kick you out?"

"Ha ha, no," he replies. "I'm still coach of the U19s there." As we're so chummy these days, I don't ask him if he's had any trouble with referees lately.

Danny's team captain remembers me too from previous games, and it seems to be a fond memory, for once. "You're from England, right? Or is it Holland?" In fact we're all smiles at the kick-off after I give my 'imaginary linesmen' speech and one player even shakes hands with my non-existent

Monday, 11 September 2017

One wonderfully peaceful half of football. And then...

Games 16-17, 2017-18

The away team, like many in this city, has a reputation. The stats tell me that they've already picked up three red cards in their opening four games. The home team, meanwhile, is top of the table with maximum points (no reds). There are rarely any surprises in amateur football, so I'm expecting an easy home win, but with the potential for their opponents to turn defeat into drama.

Minute's silence. Another 90 would be nice. 
The guests are wearing black armbands and ask for a minute's silence because the father of one of their players had died during the previous week. Everyone's fine with that, and we duly observe a solemn 60 seconds. Although the mourning side take an undisputed yellow card three minutes in for a tactical foul, the rest of the half is as peaceful as they come - very few infringements, and not a murmur of complaint.

In my mind, I'm already thinking, "If they continue like this, I'll note in the match report what a pleasure it was to referee two such sporting sides." I've only ever done this twice. You'd think I'd know better. Because it turns out that the cut-off point for honouring the dead is exactly 45 minutes.

The away side are deservedly 4-1 down at half-time, but as soon as the second half is under way they lift their embargo on behaving like twats and start to complain. I immediately tell them that the first half was just fine, thanks, so we don't need to start dissenting now. The number 8 with the suspect 'populist' hair-cut, who is standing right next to me, cups his ear and says sarcastically,

Monday, 4 September 2017

Big news: there's no Law-endorsed right to organise a wall

Game 15, 2017-18

The home team is leading 1-0, and there are two minutes to go in this boys’ U15 game. After a six-player stramash in the arc outside the penalty area, I award a free-kick against the home team directly in front of their goal. They’ve been in the mood to moan all through the second half, encouraged by their collectively vociferous coaches and parents, but then they quickly realise that they’d better set about organising their wall.

Wall organised - but be quick about it
One of their players has already placed himself right in front of the ball, effectively neutralising the chance of a quick free-kick. There’s no punishment for this (if the kick is taken and he moves to block the ball, then I can I give a yellow card and award a re-take), and the only thing I can do is ask the away team if they would like me to mark out a wall. They duly say, “Yes”, and so I tell them to wait for the whistle.

Before we go any further, let me just say this is one of the least known rules of the game, even among men’s teams, but especially among youth teams. Every week I’m confronted with players whose side has just conceded a free-kick telling me that they would like the time and leisure to form a wall. And I tell them it’s not their decision, it’s up to the team which has the free-kick. And if the other team is smart