Thursday, 15 February 2018

It's not hard to treat the ref like a human

Game 35, 2017-18

It's Valentine's Day and I have a date after dark, somewhere in the woods, with 22 younger women. Kick-off is 8pm. Mrs RT is not happy, but it's nothing to do with the younger women. I'm recovering from a heavy cold and she thinks I'm an idiot for going out to run around in temperatures just below the point of freezing.

Hot chocolate and
unromantic cards
for Valentine's.
She's probably right (she usually is), but I go anyway. It's not that I wouldn't rather stay at home in the warmth, eating the rest of last night's stew and watching Real v PSG. But once I've accepted a game, I hate to turn it back for any reason. The referees' assignors hate you doing that even more, and I completely understand their point of view. As a coach, I hate players crying off late with weak excuses, but they do it all the time. If this was a coaching rather than a refereeing blog I'd write a list here of all the best ones, while weeping and wondering why people ever bother volunteering for anything at all.

I like the home club - they're one of the few places to always give you a warm welcome and hand you a bottle of water without you having to ask. The key-grip to the referee's changing room looks like a murder weapon, but you never know when that might come in useful too. I sit down to get changed and am suddenly worried by a thought that hits me way too late. What if Mrs RT had come home tonight and been hoping to find candles, chocolates, cards and a three-course meal on the dining room table? The Full Valentine's Bollocks.

We did come to an agreement when we first met 23 years ago that neither of us was interested in all that crap. In fact on our very first Valentine's Day she more or less dumped me (the old-fashioned
way - by phone) and I ended up burning a card and an emotional letter, and destroying a love song compilation tape by jumping up and down on it in heavy boots, vowing that I would never again be stupid enough to waste my time on romantic frippery. We've ignored the event ever since. But some of us get more sentimental as we get older. Perhaps just this once, instead of watching me pack my whistle, she wanted to be wooed and wined.

Well, too late for that now. I head outside and start the game wearing hat, gloves and all the thermal undergarments that I could find in my sports drawer. It's cold enough to dislodge the knackers from a rogue Black Angus. And it's quiet. Oh so quiet. There's not a murmur of dissent or disquiet at a single decision. The nearest I come to any bother is when I almost run into the home team's number 10 as she makes to challenge an opponent. She mutters, "Oh my God!" in much the same exasperated way my 19-year-old daughter does when I say something that clashes with her world view.

It was the ref,
in the shower,
 with the changing
 room key grip.
It's so many years since I experienced this that I'm not sure how to cope. Why's no one moaning? The away team's centre back slices a clearance that just goes wide of her own goal, and the goalkeeper stands looking at her, a huge smile on her face. "You knew where that was going, right?" she says. They both laugh.

The 90 minutes pass in no time, despite the cold (and my own cold). At half-time, someone brings me the most life-enhancing, soul-warming cup of hot chocolate I've ever downed in my life. At full-time the home team thanks me, pays me and tells me to keep the change. It's not that hard to treat the ref like a fellow human. And although if it was like this every game I'd never have anything to write about here, I really wish it was like this every  game.

At breakfast this morning, with some trepidation, I ask Mrs RT, "Hey, you weren't expecting roses, chocolates and a candlelit meal last night, were you?" She looks at me as though the very thought would be enough to make vomit explode from her heart. "Okay, just checking," I say. "All good." No cards all round on Valentine's was the best outcome.

Final score: 2-0

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