Monday, 23 October 2017

The Referee - "Judge, Jury and Executioner"

Game 24, 2017-18

On Friday I took my niece to see the German women’s team play Iceland in a World Cup qualifier in Wiesbaden. Just as half-time arrived, the sun began to go down directly opposite us, shining directly into our eyes. So we moved to the two-thirds empty West Stand opposite so that we could watch the second half in more comfort.

The sun sets on a German
 defeat. Note empty seats
 in the background.
At least, we tried. But the steward wouldn’t let us into the West Stand because we didn’t have the right tickets (though there was no price difference). Our story of the setting sun did not move him. Neither, I suspect, would a crazed gunman on the loose in the East Stand or an incoming North Korean missile have stopped him telling us several times, “I have my instructions.”

We returned to our original seats and watched the rest of the game with our right hands covering our eyes (and I blamed Germany’s first loss in a qualifier since 1998 on the bad karma generated by one of their overly conscientious stewards). Later, Mrs RT and all my in-laws were in agreement about one thing – I was in the wrong. The steward was only doing his job. I argued that the situation called for flexibility – that particular section of the stand was around 90% empty (see picture left), and clearly neither I nor my ten-year-old niece were intending to go in here and start a riot.

What does this have to do with refereeing? The next day I arrive at my game – a boys U15 friendly – to be told that the away team’s coach has been called suddenly to work, that he has all the team’s
player passes with him, and that no one else can access the team’s information online to sign off on the starting line-up. Could we still play anyway? Both teams are already changed and warming up.

Healthy alternative to reffing -
Bier und Bundesliga
Well, I have my instructions. And my instructions say that under these circumstances I should jump straight back on my bike and go back home to watch Bundesliga on the sofa with a nice cold beer. (Well, they’re not that specific, but that’s how things would have turned out.)

When I first trained as a referee in the US around ten years ago the course was run by a learned and lucid man named Craig Proffen, who spent a long weekend not just teaching us the laws of the game, but also the best way to apply them – with common sense. He repeated this one mantra several times: “You are the referee. You are judge, jury and executioner.”

He didn’t mean to say that this meant we’re above the law. He meant us to understand that we are the law. I’ve appreciated that advice even more in Germany, because I've been reffing here for three years without linesmen or any other kind of support. No observers, no assessors, no feedback, no supervision - not for a grey-top who’s turned 50.

This has helped grant me a certain freedom from the Laws. Depending upon the conditions, I may interpret them more liberally or more strictly than their words intend. But they are just words, and this also applies to our instructions on, say, starting a game when one team has no paperwork. Whereas I’m here on the ground, with 22 players in kit ready to start. There could be a problem if a mass fight breaks out and I can't ID the miscreants. But my instincts are telling me that today it's not going to happen.

In fact, there’s only one incident of note over a thankfully quiet afternoon. About 20 minutes in, the away team’s number 5 deliberately trips the home team’s striker in retaliation to what he claimed was pushing, but long after the ball’s been played. The striker wasn’t hurt, and didn’t react, so I gave the number 5 a yellow card and a stern bollocking. It should have been a straight red, according to the Laws, but it wouldn’t have felt right in this game’s context.

That’s not to say it was the correct decision - it was just the one I made in that moment as judge, jury and executioner. There’s a case to be made that showing the young man a red would have taught him a better lesson, even though he behaved himself for the rest of the afternoon. But then again, as my family would tell you, there was apparently a case to be made for the steward in Wiesbaden denying us entry to a largely empty seating area.

"You're such a dick."
Mr. Perfect
I could claim not to be the kind of man to go home after the game and crow to Mrs RT, “You want me to give you an example of flexibility with rules and instructions? So I arrive at the ground today and the away team's coach has gone AWOL with the passes...” But that would be a lie. Of course I crow. “Yeah yeah, well done, Mr. Perfect,” comes the response. Well, dear, I try my best.

Final score: 3-0 (3 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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