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,
"Sorry, I can't hear you." Number 8 is now very much in my sight-lines, even though it's one of his team-mates I book a few minutes later for going nuts about a throw-in decision.

Come in hard, number 8,
your time is up
Number 8 now suddenly looks like he has a red-card mission to fulfil. Two nasty, deliberate fouls later and he's off, no protests. One of his team-mates tries to remonstrate, but there's no conceivable way to argue the decision. They ship more goals and we reach the point where everyone just wants the match to be over.

Incidents often seem to occur in the last minute of games like this, just as you're mentally preparing to round things off. The burly away team goalkeeper goes right through the home team's striker as he's shielding the ball with his back to goal in the six-yard box. Almost reluctantly, I blow the whistle for a penalty. I say 'reluctantly' because it's the final minute and the score's already 8-1, but I have no choice.

It's a cue for the guests to surround me and start yelling. The captain is particularly inventive: "That wasn't in the penalty area, it was the six-yard box, and the goalkeeper can do what he wants there!" Is that right? Another player demands to know, "What else was he supposed to do?" Well, he could have refrained from going through the back of his opponent, or perhaps even have tried to play the ball.

The captain tries a new tack. "It's already 8-1," he yells, "what difference does another bloody goal make?" Exactly, I respond. So why are you getting so worked up? He gives up now and we line up for the penalty, which the goalkeeper saves with a decent dive to his left.

After the game I catch the goalie having a tab outside the club house. "I knew you'd save it," I say. "I just wanted to give you the chance to be a hero." This attempt at humour, it's fair to say, bombs like a 70s sitcom. He just tries to claim again that it wasn't a foul. And Kim Jong-un is a peacenik from Mendocino.

"Maybe it wasn't," I say in an attempt to be conciliatory (although it was). "Maybe I got that one wrong." I shrug and leave. I suppose I should just be grateful that today at least I got to referee half a peaceful, civilised game.

Game 16: 2-6 (2 x yellow)
Game 17: 8-1 (3 x yellow, 1 x yellow-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.

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