Sunday, 3 December 2017

What to do if a player throws a snowball at a coach

Game 29, 2017-18

Last spring at one of our regular referees' meetings aimed at our ongoing edification, I presented a critique of our online test on the Laws of the Game, where the object seems to be not to test you and make you a better referee, but to catch you out and go, "Ha!" As an example of the multiple stupid questions we are obliged to research and correctly answer once a month, I cited the following puzzler: "During a game on a snow-covered pitch with the ball in play, one of the players throws a snowball at the opposing team's coach. What is the referee's decision?"

White lines - don't do
 it! Bravely, we did.
Why is this such a stupid question? I asked rhetorically. First, there's a long winter break in this country, so you rarely if ever officiate matches in the snow. Second, due to global warming it hardly snows during the winter months any more at all, let alone outside of the winter break. Third, a game on the hypothetically snow-covered pitch would probably be called off anyway. And finally, in the very unlikely event that you ref a game on a snow-covered pitch, what are the odds of a player throwing a snowball at the opposing team's coach?

The answer to the question is clearly 'red card' for the offending player (and even then it depends on context - the question doesn't allow for the fact they might be arsing around). But the monthly test wants to know more than that. What's the re-start? Drop-ball, direct or indirect free-kick? Get that part wrong and you lose both points - you don't even get a single point for getting the 'red card' part right.

The problem with our online test, I argued to my doubtless captive audience of colleagues, is that I will never remember the correct answer to such an obscure question. And should it somehow ever happen, not a single other person present will have a fucking clue if I've re-started the game in the
correct manner or not. Unless there's some anally retentive referee in the crowd who pipes up, "Actually, when a player throws a snowball at the opposing coach it should be a direct free-kick, not a drop-ball." At which point I'd encourage all 21 remaining players to pelt him severely with as many snowballs as they could physically scoop up, and to keep going until he's been chased out of the ground (it's in the FIFA Laws, look it up - Law 18, Justified Punishment of Pedantic Twats).

I was thinking about all this on the way to today's game, because I was cycling head first into a snowstorm. I'd left the house as late as possible, because I was sure someone was going to call me and say the game was off. They didn't. So, after a 5km ride across town, I arrived at the ground to find an inch and a half of snow on the artificial turf field, but with both teams dressed and happy to play on it.

Snow goal.
The groundsman used a snow-blower to clear the lines, which promptly became invisible again. I allowed the players to wear whatever they wanted to keep warm, mainly because I planned to do the same, and asked for the floodlights to be turned on. Once we'd found the centre spot (roughly), we kicked off.

It was probably not that clever to go ahead, but I was influenced by the fact that the two teams also occupy the top two places in their league's fair-play table. I told them that if things started to look dangerous, or if they started playing like cocks, I reserved the right to abandon the game. "Also, you need to be honest with touchline decisions and help me out." They all nodded in agreement.

I'll confess there was another reason I let them play - I've never reffed a game in the snow before, and I was being a bit macho about it by this point, having cycled all that way and now being cold and wet anyway. "Hey lads, we're not going to let a spot of winter weather stop us doughty Sunday heroes playing our football, are we? Eh? EH?" I didn't shout that out loud while thumping my chest, but it's surely more or less what everyone was thinking.

"Yeah, he's dead, but what's
the correct re-start?"
The match was, at best, a bit of a farce, but occasionally the 22 amateur sportsmen managed to string together a few passes with the eye-catching lime-green ball. The players spent a lot of time sliding about on their arses, and a lot of time helping each other to their feet after ill-timed challenges. There were two obligatory square-ups after late tackles, but that's as good as nothing for this league. In general it was quite a pleasure to ref - there were a few semi-comical moments to enhance the convivial festive feel on the first Sunday of Advent.

Much to my disappointment, though, not a single player took it upon himself to throw a snowball at the opposing team's coach. Then again, I would have had no clue what to do next, so we'd have had to abandon the game anyway. Drop-ball, direct or indirect free-kick? Two points and a pat on the head from the Examination Board for the correct answer*.

*Knowing referees as I do, this column will probably garner more responses than anything previously posted here. We really, really love to be right about this shit. My advice? If you're ever at a wedding dinner and find yourself sitting next to a referee, feign death and risk a night at the morgue instead.

Final score:  3-1 (no cards)

You can support this blog by buying Ian Plenderleith's latest book, The Quiet Fanhere.


  1. As a referee of 25 years, if I could put an applause GIF on this comment, I would. I once drove three hours in order to attend a mandatory recertification meeting only to spend the first hour discussing the proper dimensions of the technical area! None of the referees in that room, except the instructor, were going to have to deal with that for the majority of their careers and yet we wasted valuable time on it. Thank you for this article. I will be sharing.

    Nate Wallace, Vancouver WA USA

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nate. Much appreciated.