Sunday, 5 November 2017

Stop screaming at kids. And at referees. In fact, just stop screaming

Game 26, 2017-18

I coach a boys U7 team, and on Saturday morning we had a home game in the Fair-Play League. I am very hands-off and let them scurry around after the ball, backed by lots of encouragement and very little guidance. I stick closely to the League's instructions to keep my team's parents well away from the field of play.

Sticking it to The Man
The away team, however, allows a father to stand behind one goal coaching his son. The kid has the ball in his hands and kicks it straight to one of my players. The father screams at his son for the mistake. My player shoots, the goalie saves (very well), then another one of my players nets the rebound. Making the score... it doesn't matter. We're not supposed to count the score. The father is now gesturing emphatically and screaming at a whole bunch of wee lads: "Where was the defence?"

His two coaches are doing nothing, so I walk up and ask him what on earth he's doing yelling at five- and six-year-old kids. He suddenly looks ashamed, apologises, and then moves away from the goal. Afterwards, he comes to shake my hand and makes an excuse about it having been "in the heat of the game". I'm so irritated by this remark that I just ignore him. Though in hindsight I wish I'd said,
"Look, you porridge-brained tosser, just like you don't go down the street randomly insulting, assaulting or groping people, you don't yell at six year old kids, in the heat of the game or not."

The incident's a fair indication of the football culture in this city. So far, I've only encountered one other team that sticks to the Fair Play League's stated philosophy of treating kids like kids and just letting them play. Most are (at best) constantly chivvied, or (at worst) bellowed at by over-motivated coaches commentating every last kick and stumble. The bad sportsmen of tomorrow are already being moulded by mouthy, ambitious trainers and clueless, overly involved parents.

And we haven't even got to my refereeing in Our League of Perpetual Crisis this weekend. It's Sunday lunchtime, and it's raining hard. The away team is running late and wants the kick-off delayed by ten minutes. The home team can't get hold of its player passes and asks if I can wait until half-time before I check them. I accede to both requests, because at the start of the afternoon I always try to be a nice bloke, but this is surely a naive mistake. If you're accommodating, they take you for a sucker.

There follows the by now almost expected 90 minutes of fouling, moaning, shouting and theatricals, mostly from the away team. In the tenth minute, I book their striker for a dive as he tries to catch a penalty. Just before half-time, it's a yellow card for their archetypal hatchet-man centre half for his third foul, and his sour-gobbed team-mate for complaining loudly about it. By the interval, I'm wet through and properly pissed off. A home player complains that the hatchet man should already be off, and he's probably right.

Just after the hour mark, the hatchet-man's indeed red-carded for another bit of attempted butchery - almost as though he expected to be. (I also notice he seems to be wearing a shirt number different to the one he has on the official line-up - a quick google search when I'm home confirms his real identity. Caught you, you cheating bastards!) Despite being down to ten men, the away team scores from a free-kick with nine minutes to go. 0-1. Now it's all about defending their lead by illegal means.

What I feel like drinking every Sunday evening
In the 86th minute I send off another away team defender for his second reckless foul (swung by him 'having a word' with the player he's just kicked in the shin). Several of his team-mates go nuts, surrounding me and screaming at me. In the last minute, the home team equalise, and the away team hail the end of the world as we know it - "Offside!" they cry and weep and howl (it's not). The sour-gob yells at me again and should be off too, and there should be several more yellows for dissent, but at this point I'm just keen to reach the end of the game.

I play only one minute of stoppage time and then wave away all the away team's players who are still very keen to continue expressing their low opinion of my refereeing. Much of the yelling has turned to sarcastic congratulations on what a great game I've had. And congratulations to you gentlemen too on a hard-earned away point. I sincerely hope you've enjoyed your afternoon of sporting activity.

The home team coach (quite politely) asks me, "Only one minute of stoppage time?" At this point, regrettably, I lose it and tell them all to fuck off and wish them good luck in finding someone else to referee their shitty league. The coach later apologises. He realises that I'd "had enough". But still, only one minute of stoppage time...

Quite right I'd had enough. It was another one of those cycle rides home where you can feel the urge to quit almost as much as you can feel the urge to chain your bike up outside the next bar and drown the whole sorry Sunday in a barrel of extra-strength Pilsener. And wish that everyone could just stop yelling. At kids. At referees. At anyone and anything. What the fuck is the matter with you?

Final score: 1-1 (4 x yellow, 2 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.


  1. Great read. I admire your self restraint until the bone headed stoppage time query. :)

  2. Thank you, Ian. I think it was a fair query about the stoppage time, he just caught me at a bad moment...