Monday, 9 October 2017

A straight red card rarely calms a game

Games 22-23, 2017-18

Fifteen minutes to go, and I'm surrounded by four people, all of them screaming at me. One of them is the home number 9 I've just sent off for stamping on an opponent, a crime he vigorously denies. The other three belong to his team's touchline entourage - they may be coaches, spectators or even the stewards. I'm not looking at them, I'm staying calm and ordering them to move away.

Traffic wardens - card-issuing
enforcers about as popular as referees.
There's nothing like a straight red card to ignite the tinders of outrage at the referee's very existence. Only when there's been a fist thrown does the miscreant usually accept his fate and walk away. For filthy fouls and acts of minor, stupid and unnecessary violence like this one, the punishment administered is apparently beyond the realms of human belief. How, how, how could I possibly send this player off? "I was only going for the ball!"

Here's another club where I'm making few friends for applying the Laws of the Game. This must be how traffic wardens feel every day. The red card has been hanging over an intensive, angry, foul-plagued game all afternoon. I've been appeasing conflicts throughout the second half, exhorting disputatious
players to please just calm the hell down. Even when you call the foul and show the yellow card, they still rage at each other, and order me to come down harder on the other team. Both sides do this.

For all that, I have two good moments. The first comes when the home team, 3-1 down, takes a corner kick and, after a huge scramble where they twice appeal for a goal (both times the ball's blocked on the line), a third attempt does indeed cross the line, albeit for a brief quarter second before the keeper claws it back. I'm standing in my usual place for corner kicks, on the end line next to the goal, and see it all perfectly. This of course doesn't stop three players from the away team encircling me and loudly maintaining that the ball never went in. I point to where I was standing. "That's why I stand there." End of dissent. 2-3.

The second comes a few minutes after the red card. The away team's left winger is running alongside the opposing full-back, who fouls him twice, or at least he tries, but the winger keeps running, and twice I call advantage. The winger crosses and the number 10 converts.  I mention in passing to the away team's number 4, a perpetually aggrieved mountain of a moaner, that, "Hey, did you see that? The fucking shit ref played advantage twice there. You're welcome."

Happy players. Unbeknown to
many, smiling in football is allowed.
He stares at me for a moment, probably wondering why the fucking shit ref is talking about a fucking shit ref. And then he gets it and smiles. Yes, one of the players actually smiles. The clouds open and a chorus of scarf-waving angels sing, "Hallefuckinglujah." The football Gods ululate, wave their rattles, and crack open a crate of heavenly beer. The home team simmers. Still, they can always blame the ref for sending off their number 9.

That number 9, by the way, was built like a Belarussian shot-putter. He'd come in to the game less than a minute before, with his coach presumably having given him the following instructions:

"It's a nice autumnal day. Show off some of your tricks. I'd like to see a feint or a pirouette. Maybe some step-overs, a wee shimmy, or a back-heel. Hell, you can even sing while you play, if you like. The main thing is, enjoy yourself!"

Or maybe he said, "We're one goal down with 15 minutes to go. Don't hold back, get fucking out there and mix this fucker up."

"Red? NO WAY, REF!"
What could possibly go wrong? In his very first challenge, he charges into an opponent and takes him out, which on its own is worth at least a yellow. They fall to the ground and their bodies become entangled, like two writhing, polyester-clad, sado-masochistic lovers in a muddy field full of curious voyeurs (and a referee who'd rather be elsewhere). The fouled player lets out a cry, and in the ensuing struggle to get up (or is it for dominance?) the number 9 deliberately stamps on his left thigh. Not brutally, but enough to warrant the punishment.

All in all, a horribly tense and shouty afternoon's sport. I cycle home in a mood, glad to eventually reach the river and see normal people out for a walk.

Saturday's coach is all asshole. 
The day before, Game 22, offered up a different kind of misery -  a boys' U15 match where the home coach of a team boasting a 100% record moans incessantly about every decision that doesn't go his way. This in spite of a 2-0 win and no controversial decisions whatsoever. I ignore him all afternoon. At the end of the game, not a single player shakes my hand or says thanks. Nice way to be a role model, Mr. Adult. Hope you pick up a trophy at the end of season Arsehole Awards.

Final scores:
Game 22: 2-0 (2 x yellow)

Game 23: 2-5 (6 x yellow, 1 x red)

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