Tuesday, 8 May 2018

"We could either be nutters, or a club where you can bring the family"

Game 43, 2017-18

Just over a year I wrote about a game where I red-carded three players from the away team on a particularly hostile afternoon, even by the standards of this region’s amateur leagues. Last October I reffed them again, with barely a problem aside from one yellow card for dissent. Yet while they had become more sanguine, they had crashed to the bottom of the league, having no points from 13 games, with an impressive Goals Against tally of 106.

Time for a change.
This past Sunday I was assigned to ref  them once more, on a well-kempt grass field surrounded by four steps of terracing. A beautiful little football ground on a stunning afternoon. Meanwhile, the team has undergone its second complete transformation in just over a year. They’re good again (having soared up to second from bottom with 21 points), but still calm. “They’ve got eight new players,” the opposition’s low-key coach tells me before the game, resigned to the fact that his side is meeting them just at the wrong time – as they're hitting form.

I like this bloke a lot. He also tells me that if any of his players get carded for dissent, he slaps them with a fat fine. If he disagrees with any of my decisions, the away coach promises, then he won’t yell
at me – he’ll merely turn his back on the game for a brief second to steady himself.

There are only three flash points, which counts as an extraordinarily quiet afternoon in this league:

1. The home coach yells at me once for something or other, but it ends there after I give him a swift verbal warning. 

2. An away defender goes nuts at me after his side slumps to 3-0 in first half stoppage time. “Offside!” he exclaims with a surfeit of manly emotion, but without much original thought. Then there’s some stuff about my ability to arbitrate football matches. In fact he lost track of the striker who followed up on a rebound. Take a yellow card, son, and colour-match it with a suck on your half-time slice of bitter lemon.

3. In the second half, the away team makes a loud claim for a penalty after their number 8 has shot wide and then collides with a defender. The away players think it was a foul, and maybe it was, but I’m not convinced enough to give them a free shot on goal. The player himself doesn’t appeal. I don’t look to see if the away coach has turned his back on the game.

A juicy free-kick situation.
Otherwise, the players make it easy for me by doing strange things like owning up to deflections, and actually enjoying themselves. Two away players lining up for a free-kick just outside the box argue about who’s going to take it. “Why you and not me?” says one. “Because it’s just sitting here, ripe for me to pluck,” responds his team-mate. They both laugh. Then he skies it over the bar.

I talk to the home captain about the complete transformation of his team’s conduct. “We had to decide what kind of club we wanted to be,” he says. “We could either be a team full of anti-social nutters, or we could be a club where you can bring your family along to watch on a Sunday and have a barbeque. We decided to opt for the latter.”

That’s bad news for this column, but good news for me and the local game.

Final score: 5-0 (2 x yellow)

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