Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Why do I referee?

Refereeing at the amateur level is a barely compensated activity that affords us much loud and personal abuse, and often provokes the question among friends, relatives and neutrals: "Why in the name of all that's profane do you spend your weekend doing that?" I have no idea, is my stock response. Joking aside, though, I really have no idea. That is, when I look at it dispassionately sitting safely at my computer terminal. In reality, I'm no closer to giving up than I was the day that I started nine years ago. 

This week I was interviewed on a number of football-related topics by Mike Woitalla of Soccer America, who asked me about the difference between refereeing in Germany and the US, my favourite idea for a change to the Laws of the Game, and why I referee at all.

SOCCER AMERICA: You've been living in Germany now for three years after living 16 years in Washington, D.C. Anything you miss about American soccer -- as a writer, fan, coach, referee or soccer parent?
As a referee and coach, I miss the generally calmer atmosphere of U.S. youth soccer. In Germany, it's always intense, at times intimidating, and occasionally downright violent -- in both youth and adult soccer. I'm trying to inculcate the importance of sporting values to my boys' U-15 team -- getting them to stay calm when fouled, or to shake the ref's hand at the end of the game, for example. It's a more or less permanent struggle. In my first year as a referee here, I almost quit several times. Now I've developed a very thick skin and write a blog to offload and have found that's really helped, but the change was a huge culture shock for me.
SA: If you could change a rule in soccer, what would it be?
Ten-minute time penalties for dissent. At the moment, the rule is a yellow card for "dissent by word or action," but it's only enforced in the most extreme cases. If I cautioned every case of dissent in my German amateur league games the field would be deserted after 30 minutes. I'd love to see referees respected as they are in rugby -- a single word to the ref and you're out to the sin-bin. If rugby players can do it, soccer players can learn it too.
SA: Why did you start refereeing and why do you continue?
For one season, my eldest daughter was on a travel team in the U.S. (she hated it and went back to rec) and they needed parents to train as assistant referees, so I volunteered. I was assigned to a tournament and really enjoyed it, so I straightaway trained to become a center ref too, and quickly realized that after more than 35 years as a player I didn't know half of the Laws of the Game (like most players). Despite the abuse, I'm in my 10th year of refereeing, and I keep doing it because I love being out on the soccer field -- most days, it's where I feel like I belong, where I'm happiest.

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

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