Monday, 23 April 2018

A weekend of strikes, anger and disappointment

Games 40-42, 2017-18

After more than a month off refereeing due to a combination of bad weather, illness and holidays, I was set to return to the field this weekend. Then my refereeing body called us out on strike (youth games only) to protest a physical attack last week against one of our members during a boys' U17 game. Nonetheless, I was still in charge of four games this weekend, one way or another, and all of them reflected to varying degrees the still toxic football atmosphere in my city.

The time has come...
I supported the strike and the reasons for it, even though the action was not even discussed (let alone voted on), as it should have been, at our monthly referees' meeting last Tuesday. Not all referees  supported strike action, but you had no choice - if you'd been assigned to a youth game, you were now automatically withdrawn.

On Friday evening, before the strike has started, I ref a boys' U17 game. The home coach introduces herself to me one minute before kick-off, just as she's bringing her team back in from warming up. "Kick-off's at six," I say, pointing out that the away team is already out and ready. She shrugs. I add that I have plans tonight, looking at my watch, but I might as well have been reading her the Confucian Classics in their original Chinese. We kick off eight minutes late.

At half-time, though, she's much keener to talk, appearing at my changing room door with her team 0-3 down. "You need to watch out for offside," is her opening line, with courtesy still far from being her strongest point. Oh, really? Offside? What's that? I never bother with it, you know. Just let the
players roam free, that's what I always say. "How about you teach your team how to defend?" I offer back, seeing as this is clearly an exchange  of ideas. Then I close the changing room door, which is a shame because it's a beautiful evening.

Yay! Fair play!
On Saturday morning it's my U7 team's game - no refs at this age, but as home coach I supervise. Our opponents have two coaches, and they spend the whole game wholly contravening the league's Fair Play guidelines, simultaneously bellowing at their wee lads, who are strong, tactically organised, technically superior, already know how to foul, and are loudly ordered how to play on a kick-by-kick basis. My boys heedlessly run around like a swarm of bees, as they're supposed to do at the age of 5 or 6, and we get hammered. At 8-1 down, I ask the opposition coaches to stop shouting at their kids every time they make a mistake and they finally quieten down a bit. Is it my business to intervene at all? Or should I have done it earlier? With arseholes like this, there's never an easy answer.

In the afternoon, there's my boys' U15 game to coach. Now, remember that we refs are on strike, but the games are still taking place. The referees have told the clubs that coaches and parental volunteers need to ref the games so that they can see what it's like to be out in the middle. My club asked me to step in and ref several games this weekend, but out of solidarity I turned them down. Still, as a coach, I offer to referee my own game (my club does a lot for me, so I wanted to meet them half way), especially as I know my team has no problem with respecting referees. That's because I hammer it into their teenage skulls on a weekly basis. The opposition coach, whom I know and get along with, is fine with the idea. I leave all coaching duties to my co-trainer. What could possibly go wrong?

I don't know if it's the unseasonably scorching hot sun, but the opposition coach - who'd already made an uncharacteristically snippish comment at half-time - suddenly freaks out after an hour. Now, I've been refereeing this game with particular care, cancelling out several of my own team's attacks with offside calls (even borderline calls), and booking one of my players for complaining about it. Because our opponents are physically inferior, I'm more than lenient in their favour when it comes to calling fouls, but there's nothing you can do about a gaping difference in quality. When we score our eleventh goal, the other team's coach shouts for offside (not possible in this instance - the ball was played backwards to the scorer), and when I ignore him he won't stop screaming at me. Eventually I go over to him and appeal for calm.

What can you do, though, when your appeal for calm meets a raging wall of stupid sound and fog-brained fury? He rants on and on about the 'offside' goal and an apparent penalty I denied his team for handball (I've no memory of this - of a handball, or of anyone even appealing for a handball. The coach is 60 yards away from the pertinent penalty area). I tell him his behaviour is exactly why we're on strike this weekend. "No wonder we behave like this with refs like you," he counters. Brilliant riposte! I send him off. At full-time, he offers me his hand with a sarcastic, "Reeeeeeeally well reffed." I ignore him. Then he comes to my changing room, ostensibly to report an injured player, but when I let him in he's off again at full throttle, "That offside goal, we should have had a penalty blah blah." I order him out and slam the door.

A professional arsehole at work.
The fourth and final game of this wearisome weekend is on Sunday afternoon - I jump in at the last minute to referee a men's game (not affected by the strike). I joke with my refereeing boss on the phone that he'll have to call Mrs RT and my mother-in-law to make my excuses for cancelling on them. Ha ha. After half an hour, the home team's number 5 yells at me for not giving a foul after he's been fairly dispossessed. The attack continues and he says, "If this goes in, there's going to be trouble." The chance is missed, and he says, "Lucky for you." Then he points at his eyes and wonders aloud whether or not mine are functional. "You lost the ball fair and square, now be quiet," I counter, waving a yellow.

And he does. So does everyone else for the rest of the game, which is a vast relief. But then I get home to find that the man I joked with earlier about my wife and mother-in-law has responded to my detailed disciplinary report about yesterday's angry coach by saying, "You should have been showing solidarity with us instead of refereeing the game, even as a coach." Yeah, idiot. It's my own fault. There has since been a lively exchange of emails between myself and the two heads of my refereeing body, in which all three of us have been expressing our mutual anger and disappointment.

Anger and disappointment. We're all at it now. All part of the game. Apparently, the lion's share of the game.

Game 40: 0-5 (3 x yellow)
Game 41: 13-0 (2 x yellow, 1 x coach dismissal)
Game 42: 1-7 (2 x yellow)

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


  1. Ian! Nice one. I lose track of this blog of yours much to my own detriment. Also, I had a question but could not find you in Facebook/Messenger as I have previously.

  2. Thanks, Nathan. By the way, I deleted my Facebook account in protest at their shenanigans with Cambridge Analytica. Haven't missed it for a single second.