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You Forgotten Your Cards Ref?

So that’s a….

It is a question I remember yelling with teenage angst at a referee before I became an enlightened member of the black brotherhood myself. To be fair, I had just been elbowed by two separate people at the same time. It is also a question that has been echoed by more than just myself at the current World Cup in Brazil. In summertime, most of us have time off to reflect, or simply forget all about refereeing for a while. Perhaps it is the “never off duty” sensation kicking in, but I cannot help but feel a brotherly curiosity at exactly what is going on in Brazil right now with the officials. Nobody likes to see players suspended from important games, like Roy Keane in the Champions League of 1999, or Xabi Alonso in the same tournament this year. However, what we do like to see is a good game of football. Fewer games this tournament were as mouthwatering a prospect as Brazil vs, Colombia, with James Rodriguez and co. gathering a large following of neutral support with their free flowing football and attacking philosophy, taking on a host nation renowned for flair and showmanship. What we got was, as a result of the officials, more similar to Muay Thai boxing than football, and one of the players of the tournament, Neymar Jr. injured with a broken vertebrae. Last season a player asked if I really had to caution him for a challenge he made. The explanation I gave him was that if I didn’t show him a yellow, he could look forward to a heavy challenge himself from players seeking their own justice. I said, and I quote, “If I don’t caution you for that, I’m declaring war on the game.” And this is exactly what officials have done to this entire World Cup. Twenty minutes or so into the Brazil Colombia tie, Fernandinho went flying in and cleaned out James Rodriguez in what was very much a “Welcome to playing against me” challenge. Where's the ball? Fernandinho clatters into James Rodriguez in the first half of the match in FortalezaIt was so easily a yellow card, Fernandinho himself would have expected it before he even made such heavy contact. Instead, the referee set the bar incredibly high for what was considered a yellow, and the game immediately suffered. Every time Colombia showed promise, Brazil time and time again cynically fouled them so that no momentum could be gained. Marcelo notably pulled Cuadrado’s shirt after being beaten on the edge of his own box, in what was yet another obvious yellow card. Fernandinho again went on to foul James Rodriguez a further two times in the first half. Nothing doing. Colombia got away with a couple themselves, before the referee then decided to caution James Rodriguez for his first foul of the game, which the replays showed to have made minimal contact at most. He was rightly livid, and it was clear for all to see his argument; as he gestured that he had been fouled more times than he could count by the same players and then suddenly he found himself cautioned. It was as if the officials were instructed not to hand out yellows in the first half only, and this is a pattern I have seen repeated time and time again throughout the tournament. What made it more laughable was that for all the lack of cautions, presumably to spare people from being suspended, is that Thiago Silva ended up being cautioned and missed the semi-final…and we all know how crucial he turned out to be for Brazil’s defence. To add injury to insult, Neymar Jr. received a knee to the back from Zuniga, leaving the Brazilian striker with a broken vertebrae and no chance of taking any further part in what many dubbed as “his” World Cup. The incident was not even deemed a foul. Any inference made that if it was a foul, a yellow card would have had to have been issued, meaning the referee ignored it to avoid further cautions is purely your own. What angers me most isn’t that players are getting away with things, nor that the officials are having a bad tournament; it’s that it affects the football. If someone is on a yellow, it makes them all the less likely to foul, and disrupt a good attacking move. Yellow cards are a necessary part of the professional game, especially at a tournament as short as the World Cup. We can just thank our lucky stars that Stoke City are a club not a nation, as they’d have been absolutely milking the opportunity to break games up with fouls.

Send me off, shame on me, stab me with a knife, shame on you!

Football violence is not uncommon in South America. Although renowned for a natural ‘flair’ and ‘passion’ for football, the darker side of the game tends to be overlooked.

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Now, am I going to condone the actions of Otavio da Silva, for stabbing someone? Not likely. However, the news article on the BBC website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-23215676, clearly describes there being a fist fight between the referee and the player before the stabbing occurred. Surely two main questions arise, that go unasked and unanswered in many of the articles covering the story. Why was he carrying a knife in the first place, and what would drive someone to take someone else’s life over something so trivial?

Factors must be considered in a matter as delicate as this. I have, over the years, seen so much footage of referees in South America being assaulted over something as nonsensical as sending a player off. Not just that, but the violence in most cases tends to erupt into a stadium-wide riot, with a lot of the anger provoked by the initial sending off going towards the referee. So, perhaps the knife was carried as a token of self defence? Perhaps the referee never intended to use it, but could brandish the weapon if faced with the sort of ugly violence that has time and again sparked up during these amateur football games?

Certainly at a professional level, you would hope there are police presences which would protect a referee or players from such dangers. However, at amateur level, even in this country, protection for referees often comes in the form of two assistant referees. And a lot of times, referees don’t get appointed assistants. So you are very much on your own. That can be a very daunting prospect even in England, where attacks on referees are minimal in comparison. Put yourself in the situation that Mr. da Silva was putting himself in, and it is not a stretch to imagine why he carried the weapon in the first place.

The second question as to what drove him to use it, again is unasked, as reports are very sketchy and leave out a lot of details. Details which we will assume have come from reports which are unlikely to defend someone who has just stabbed a football player – football fans, football players, football management.

There was a fist fight, that much is clear. What isn’t clear is who started it, or how it was going. The very fact that the Josenir dos Santos refused to leave the pitch however, could be seen as evidence to show he was the instigator of the trouble. I would imagine if a player had accepted a red card and walked off the pitch, a referee would be unlikely to stab him. Now, I have seen rare instances where a referee has made the first move, call it a pre-emptive strike or a nervous reaction, the fault would still lie with the referee, so I am not suggesting that 100% this is the player’s fault. However, if he had accepted a red card, he would not be dead, and that is a fact, cold as it is. Given that the initial fault of not leaving the pitch lies with the player, who is surrounded by fans and colleagues, versus the referee, who is unlikely to initiate violence with that in mind, I would be inclined to say that the player was probably the one who started the fight.

Now, what I say next is based on that assumption, so bear that in mind. We do not know what has been said between the two, any previous history, and gang connections, anything. But we have to accept that all of these are possibilities when talking about Latin American football. Putting myself in the situation where I am fighting with someone who is surrounded by friends, with potential gang connections, beknownst to me or otherwise, and a fist fight is slowly going against me, let’s say I’m now on the ground. What do I do? Do I accept my fate, and lay down, and hope that the violence stops, or do I make a desperate bid for survival, by stabbing (and bear in mind there was only one stabbing, and it took a while for death to occur) my opponent in order to give me a potential escape route?

So often people will make snap judgements on these incidents because that’s all we have time for in the modern world, full of news stories. Especially ones full of news stories with no real substance to them. My purpose from this article is not to attribute blame however. As I’ve pointed out, either party could be responsible, even though once more, I feel responsibility lies with the players/club for not accepting a referee’s jurisdiction, and avoiding all the proceeding violence completely.

No, my point is, in a country that is clearly so steeped in serious football violence, we can all be glad that there won’t be any major footballing events held there, as oppose to, let’s say England, where crimes of this nature are comparatively non-existant. Events such as the Confederation Cup, or World Cup 2014, or the Olympics in 2016. Let’s just be glad they aren’t all held in Brazil.

What?

They are?

Oh.

First Encounters of the Controversial Kind

OK, that title was a bit of a push. However, I had it in my head and then couldn’t think of anything else. So there it is. Live with it. In this post, I’ll tell you how controversy reared its ugly head, and how I punched it repeatedly in the face until it died.

The scene is set. Refereeing my second girl’s game, somewhat hungover, with about 4 hours sleep in the bank, I was almost certainly asking for trouble. I expected trouble, though it actually went quite well. I was very routine with everything, as you can imagine, being hungover I wasn’t fleshing things out, just getting on with it. This actually may have improved my routine somewhat, which is strange to think, but I think every experience is an opportunity for you to better yourself in some way. My personal ethos is when experience offers me sweets, I get in its van.

Although it seemed a fairly even game, one side had so much more up front than the other…no, you pervert, not like that. It was 2-0 after about 20 minutes. Then, a normally even tempered girl had some complaint about what she felt was a push, and yelled, “Are you ******* blind ref?” Thankfully, I was not blind and saw the culprit. I blew my whistle and called her over. Now, my hungover mistake was saying, “That’s a sending off offence,” anywhere near where the opposition could hear. The girl responsible immediately started pleaing for me not to send her off. Something along the lines of, “I’m really sorry, I’ll get substituted off and you can give me a yellow” she said. Given that all I wanted from the situation was to be in an environment where I wasn’t being questioned quite so aggressively, I accepted this, and showed her a yellow card, after which she trotted off the pitch to be replaced by another player.

Now, this to me, was quite a well handled situation that would keep everybody happy. Ohhhhh no. Firstly, I had about 5 girls from the opposition surrounding me, furiously telling me how wrong I was that she hadn’t been shown a red. I explained to them that the offence was committed against me, not one of their players, so the punishment was one that I deemed appropriate to the offence. One of them responded with, “She’s just blackmailed you.” Which was only worthy of note because it made absolutely no sense. I do enjoy a good nonsensical comment from a footballer. When I had finally dispersed the gaggle of girls that were understandably frustrated but less understandably incensed, the manager of the girl I had shown the yellow to was shouting at me. I assumed he wanted to make a substitution, and so I jogged across. Only to find out that he was angry too. Now this I did not understand…if anyone was to be upset, it should not be the manager of the team who I have essentially just done a favour for. He obviously was not privy to the conversation that I had with his player…for the sole reason that it would have wasted everyone’s time to have a gigantic discussion about the punishment for her offence. So rather than consulting his player, he decided to yell at me and tell me that I wasn’t allowed to make up rules, and that a yellow didn’t equal a sending off yada yada yada. As if I didn’t know that. Emotion truly blinds people sometimes. Later on this manager did apologise after I explained everything to him, and thanked me for explaining it.

This would be the key point to take from this for any new or aspiring referees, communication is paramount to almost everything you do. If you explain why you do something, you will have a much easier time of it, even when you make mistakes. Owning up to mistakes is often a good trait to have as well. Don’t pretend to be perfect, because unless you are, like me, it will simply make life difficult for you when you do make mistakes.

Overall, the game was a good competitive fixture, and one that, thankfully, although no one was thankful for it, was not ruined by a needless sending off.

Aside

A Goal only a Ref would score.

My long overdue return to playing was today. Showing up for a pub team whom my best friends play for, It has to be said, after at least 2 years away from 11 a side, my overall aim did not include getting on the scoresheet.

Funnily enough as the only substitute, I was handed a flag, and there I was, helping to officiate a game, except this time I was paying £2.50 for the privilege. I got every decision bang on, but that is not the point of this post, but the best instrument I play is my own trumpet. Take that however you want.

When I eventually came on in the second half, with around half an hour to go, (I think we were 2-1 up at the time), I dropped into midfield, into my self styled playmaking role. My first touch was a first time pass. I think it went off at what is technically an obtuse angle from where I intended it. Great start, I thought to myself.

As the game progressed, I got more and more involved, pulling a few strings which led to a few goals, which meant we were comfortably around 5-1 up. The referee at this stage was beginning to let a few things go, as you may expect, in favour of the team that was down. Understandably, I felt, he just wanted the game to be fairly free flowing to the end which was around 10 minutes away. Any controversy that could be avoided, was.

But he did not count on me being there.

As I ran through for a pass, the opposition manager (who had been very flag friendly) was busy flagging me offside. I accepted that I might have been, despite my doubts about his credibility, and in any case the ball rolled through to the keeper and I didn’t touch it. (So technically I had not committed an offence.) The referee then dismissed the offside, and shouted “Play on.” The keeper, who had the ball, was clearly not paying attention. He dropped the ball down on the floor ready to take the free kick. That had not been given. So I, somewhat apprehensively, walked up to the ball, which everyone else was retreating from getting ready for the free kick, and took it to one side of the keeper, and passed it in to the goal from about 4 yards.

I half expected the referee to rule it out, even though I knew he’d shouted play on. Once you have dismissed a decision like an offside, you cannot suddenly go back and give it. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but the reaction of everyone on the pitch (even most of my own teammates) was incredulous. Thankfully for me, the referee stuck by his decision and signalled a goal, which as far as I’m aware, was the correct thing to do. As you might imagine, the opposition did not think as well of him as I did. As I saw him being surrounded by about five players shouting at him, I even felt like it wasn’t worth me scoring for the fuss it had caused him. A certain professional sympathy washed over me, which I knew would happen. Now that I’ve been on the other side of it, I will never give a referee grief for anything. One of the lads ended up getting cautioned for their arguments. I could understand their frustration, but I could hear their arguments, and they were flawed.
“How was the goalkeeper supposed to hear you say play on?!”
Well, I was stood right next to him, and I heard it.
Listening is an important skill; even in football.

Added Time:

At least I waited to play before I got on the scoresheet, not like this guy. From what it says, it sounds like the ref was coming out with some unbelieveable tekkers. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1760290.stm

And this…well this is shocking…I don’t know why the referee is even stood there, and it looks like a mistake…but he’s bloody quick to give the goal, and doesn’t seem bothered at all!

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Referee requirements : Dark Hair or Bald Please

I noticed at a referee’s meeting a few weeks back that it seems to be the case that if you’re a referee, you go bald. Some people, such as Howard Webb, and Lee Mills, seem to shave their head as a choice. And fair enough, I’m not sure that either Collina or Webb would look quite as authoritative with curtains or a mullet. It seems to be the go to hair do for the pro referee.

Unless that is, you are a referee from Europe. Now, there are two of this specimen. You’ve got your greasers, and your oddballs. The greasers are instantly recognisable, and tend to originate from the Mediterranean countries. They must use up at least 50% of the world’s supply of hair grease.  (They’re limited to 50% because Cristiano Ronaldo buys out the rest) There seems to be no apparent reason for this, other than you look more like Dracula. I suppose no one wants to f%£* with Dracula.

 

The others are a much more entertaining breed. They come from countries like Lithuania, have names like Hansel Wolff, and a hairstyle that would not look out of place on the Crystal Maze. I’m not sure if it is the fashion in those countries, that hasn’t yet passed 1973, or if…just a theory here, it’s the best tactical choice for a referee’s hairdo that we’ve covered. If there was a choice between arguing with a bald guy, Dracula, or someone who looks like they could have escaped from an insane asylum, they’re the ones I’d pick last. They’ll never win our hearts, but if you watch, they referee a lot of our European and international football games.

Which leads me to my final point. Remember that guy who refereed one of the more significant England football games? Anders Frisk?anders frisk

He was the one who received death threats and was forced out of refereeing due to overwhelming pressure from the English fans and media. Well, thanks a lot everyone. He was the only blonde referee I have ever known. I could not name another, nor have I seen one since. The blondes only take up 2% of the world’s population, and you destroyed their ambassador for refereeing. We are surely doomed to a life of brown and black, and that’s if we’re lucky. At last count, over half of the ref’s in my refereeing society were bald.

As for the gingers? Well, I know one lad. That’s it. Not seen any pro ref’s that are ginger. Let’s face it, at the top level, refs get enough stick. You don’t need to give the uneducated mob ammo to use against you. At a Bury vs Wycombe game I attended, the crowd singled a player out because he had a beard. It’s madness. Perhaps the gingers are quietly represented by the shaven headed referees. I guess we’ll never know.I recently asked some referees why they thought there were no blonde referees, and a disproportionate amount of brown/black haired referees. The FA seem to have recognised the lack of female officials is a problem. Why has no one noticed the lack of blondies? Why isn’t something being done? I urge UEFA to pull a Romania-type stunt at the next major international tournament, and have all of the officials dye their hair blonde, in a bid to encourage those who must surely feel unrepresented and disparate at the lack of their fair haired brethren in charge of football games.

Otherwise, I fear the future of refereeing is dark…haired.

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Kickin’ it Old School

Deutsch: Fußballer U 10

Deutsch: Fußballer U 10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished refereeing my first age restricted game. I have also just finished the most stress free game you could ever wish to referee. (Yes it was the same one.)

Now, why is it that petulant moaning takes place in a game with adults, when its non-existant at an Under 13’s fixture? Granted, these kids are with their teacher…but you could understand a child getting frustrated if they weren’t performing well and speaking out of turn. In football, maturity seems to have swapped shirts.

Who does the onus fall on then? The players? The fans? The manager? Assuming that the children were better behaved because they knew they would be angering their manager, (teacher in this instance but I’m aware it is managed in other children’s football as well) we can assume that they control themselves because they have been instructed to. I doubt left to their own devices that they would naturally accept the decisions without dissent.

So do adults not receive the same instructions? Of course they do. Perhaps not to the same extent, but a manager, in my experience of playing, will generally make a note of saying don’t mouth off to the ref, as he knows that players get cautioned for it, which is detrimental to the team’s performance.

Why then, does it continue to plague the adult game? Individuals, especially adults, tend to make their own decisions, rather than listening to the manager, and have been brought up in a society that abuses referees. This is going to result in abusive behaviour towards refs. The RESPECT campaign has made steps towards amending this, but is still one giant leap away from resolving the issue.

Many comparisons with rugby have been made, and in my opinion, rightly so. Why should one sport put up with a problem, when another has got a clear working model that solves that problem. Sin binning players seems like a bigger change than it would be. Rugby seems to do fine, and arguably an extra man makes a bigger difference in a game that involves a lot more physicality. I bet that if you searched online for “fans outrage at continued sin binning”, your top result would be an unrelated article on a catholic rock band who took a stole a wheely bin. Because sin binning works, and everyone accepts it. If we’re taking ideas like goal line technology from sports such as rugby and tennis, then surely sin binning could be implemented as another aid to officials? A practical one to make cautions for diving, deliberate handball, reckless challenges, actually mean something to deter the offending player from committing the offence. So many times a promising counter attack will be prevented by a defending player making a cynical foul to stop the play.  If a player had to spend 5 minutes off the field of play for diving, or for breaking up a promising attack cynically, they might just think twice. As they might if they knew that abusing the referee provided the same rebuke.

I don’t want to see fouls, I want to see football like I saw today in the under 13’s game, which was a great game at times. It was so nice to see young footballers playing with expression and skill. Even better to note is that grassroots children’s teams are being encouraged to play football well, not just to win.

If you’re a player reading this, please ask yourself if you would yell at someone who gave you the wrong change, or brought you a full caffeine coffee instead of decaf. Referee’s occasionally make mistakes. They need telling, they do not need you ruining their enjoyment of the game, and the game certainly doesn’t need you ruining its image.

P.S. If you would yell at people who bring you the wrong order, stop reading my blog. I don’t like you.Wrong Order

Be The Ref: Putting you On The Spot

I recently was asked to give my view on a hypothetical refereeing conundrum.

Here is a refereeing scenario for you, who will act as the referee…What would you give?

The scenario is…a striker runs through on goal with the ball at his feet.
The defending player and the keeper collide outside the box, and the keeper player grabs the foot of the attacking player who goes down just before entering the penalty area.
The ball meanwhile, continues to roll towards the goal, where it is obviously going to cross the line.
The defender removes his boot and throws it at the ball, which is in the goal area (more commonly known as the 6 yard box).
The ball deflects wide after being struck by the defender’s boot.

Post your decisions in the comments section of either the blog or facebook, and state why you gave that decision. I will read each decision and assess your reasoning. People always think they could referee a game, let’s put your knowledge to the test!

There will be a follow up scenario, which will change this scenario slightly, but poses a bit more of a problem with trying to justify the decision.

A Black Brother of the FA’s Watch

Having been the “Man in the Middle” for the first three fixtures of my refereeing career, I got a request to be an assistant referee two weeks running. The first turned out to be at the home of one of my old playing clubs. And so came my first test of removing bias from decisions. I never worried that it would be an issue, and for the most part, you have to concentrate so much on what is going on, that you forget who is playing. It was slightly awkward when I judged a ball to be over the goal line (which it definitely was), and my friend’s father decided to yell across, “Well done Quinny, remembering your Rossy roots!”. I ignored that as best as I could, but the awkwardness took control and made me smile. Gladly, none of the opposition noticed, (as it was the 89th minute, and an equalising goal I’d awarded), it could have spelled trouble.

I’m not sure if the difficulty with bias would grow if I was the referee, rather than the assistant; however, being an assistant seems to be a lot less stressful than being the referee. There’s less for you to decide, and so long as you keep a good position, it’s hard for people to question your judgement on matters such as offsides. Having been a striker in my playing days, I know only too well how much you can feel you are “onside”, and be told a couple of minutes later by a teammate that you were about five yards offside. So players tend to be coming round to the fact that a well positioned linesman will get most decisions right.

The second of my two games brought about a whole other side to the game, and in truth, a much darker side, which manages to creep into a lot of lower standard football. The FA have had their RESPECT campaign going for a while now; it is an ideal that I totally agree with, and am glad has come about. From the aspect of the fans, and perhaps players, abuse towards referees has almost been a part of the game, ingrained from an early age. But this was an instance, not for the first time, I’ve witnessed, that really made me question the mentality of a lot of people who go to watch amateur football. Two fifty-fifty decisions about throw-ins, and one club was in uproar of how terrible we were, (you’ll be surprised to find out that both decisions had gone for the other team). But rather than just complaining about decisions, it quickly escalated into personal abuse. You only need to glance at whom the abuse was coming from to know that you should grant it no credence, yet it is still unpleasant, and should not have to be endured.

I can only compare refereeing so far, to being a “Sworn Brother of The Night’s Watch” from George R. R. Martin’s, “Game of Thrones” (and not just because you have to wear black). You make the decision to become a referee, and you have suddenly taken on an Ambassadorial role for the FA, without ever realising that was part of the deal. You realise quickly, that there are things you can’t say, to anyone, in the interest of fairness, no matter what you feel. As in the story, you can take no part in quarrels that don’t interfere with the game. You have to remain, at all times, in all aspects, impartial. The main strength of the analogy, though, is the fact that you can come from any walk of life to be a referee, there are no social status requirements, just as you can to become a Man of the Night’s Watch. In the story, this means that both highborn lords and the dregs of society – rapists, murderers, and general scum – are mixed in together. Now, I’m not saying that referee’s are all highborn lords…but I’ll leave you to make the link with the rest of the people who tend to show up to these games. I’ll also leave the gory details of the things you feel like saying to some of these people – but of course having to refrain yourself, with a decent amount of willpower. Never having been addicted to anything, I can’t truly compare, but I imagine that telling one of these Jeremy Kyle candidates exactly what you think must feel like the first cigarette after having a long break from smoking. Hopefully, as I’ve never experienced that feeling, I’ll never be tempted to do so. I’ll let Mr. Kyle continue his fine work.

Having said all this, there is clearly a deep, psychological reason embedded in the brains of these football louts who have probably been banned from professional stadia. I’ve heard it mentioned by experienced referees that, for a lot of these people, those two hours on Saturday is the best it will ever get. It’s hard to imagine that myself, even loving football so much. So it must be simply incomprehensible to people who have no interest in the sport. And yet, if you can imagine, that those two hours on that one day a week is the pinnacle of your life, you might be able to understand why those people get so frustrated when it doesn’t go the way they want it to. Compare it to only walking a dog once a week, and expecting it to behave perfectly when you take it out, and you’re…well I was going to say some of the way to understanding…but damn, that’s a good analogy. It’s just like that.

5-A-Side Refereeing

When I qualified as a referee, they said, there were three reasons to want to be a referee:

To get to the top, to make money on the side, and for the love of the game.

I wanted to referee for all three reasons.

5-a-side refereeing does not count towards any sort of progression in the eyes of the FA, nor is it particularly great experience for refereeing. It pays quite well, however, and all you have to do is stand at the side of the pitch, and be the referee.

five a side-299-Edit

five a side-299-Edit (Photo credit: Stewart Black)

What it doesn’t say on the tin, but what I already knew from my playing experience in a 5-a-side league, is how seriously some people take it, and as a by-product, how much the players complain. When you process yellow and red cards in a five-a-side league, they don’t get a fine, the same as players would in an 11-a-side game. You can report things to the FA which means that in some cases, they can be fined, but it doesn’t seem particularly easy to do. I sent two players off for fighting last week, and I was asked if I wanted to report it to the FA to fine them. But as one was defending himself, I didn’t want him to receive a fine, and I would’ve had to report both of them equally.The second time I sent someone off, he was already off the pitch with the substitutes, and I told him he wasn’t coming back on. He continued to shout abuse even after I sent him off, yelling about how I couldn’t do anything now I had sent him off, so he might as well stand there. It was only when I told him I would write it up to the FA and he would be fined that he eventually shut up. He tried to come back on during a substitutes break, to which I simply stated, you’re not coming on, I’ve already told you, I’ve sent you off. To which the captain of his team then said, “Why aren’t you letting him on?” Slightly exasperated by this point, I explained what being sent off meant.I should point out for clarification that the other team were the team who I had sent a man off last week from, but the one who was defending himself. The feedback that I got from all members of their team was that I hadn’t done anything wrong, even when penalising them, and that they were as confused as I was why the other team were complaining so much.

Here’s just what I don’t understand about 5-a-side. Five a side, is essentially a bit of fun. There are no cash prizes, and no one (outside of the league) cares what happens in the league. Even some people in the league don’t care, because they’ve just come for a fun game of football. Most of all, as I try to emphasise to teams who complain that I am in some way biased, I don’t care. I do five-a-side for the money, and nothing else. So why is it that some people care so much about 5-a-side? It baffles me even more that the game in question, with the moaning team, was a friendly. In a branch of football that doesn’t matter, in an unknown Bolton league, and a lower one at that, there is a friendly held, which means it matters even less. These people find a reason to moan. I didn’t, but I wish I had, asked the player who I sent off, if he enjoyed himself a lot more when he couldn’t play, than the five minutes he did play and felt able to moan and give abuse. The answer is an obvious one, but I would have liked to see his response.

My message to these players is quite clear. I will not tolerate people who arrive at a pitch for trouble, rather than a game of football. Two weeks into my refereeing career, and I have sent three people off. All of them in 5-a-side. All of them because they got far too wound up.

In response, I propose:

All 5-A-Side Footballers…

Chill out?

My First Game : Real World Refereeing

I was lucky to be reffing my first fixture. I wasn’t lucky because of the appointment which had come before my qualification as a referee, nor because the pitch had several large puddles covering it. I wasn’t lucky because it was a high standard of football, because it wasn’t. No, I was lucky because in the run up to the game I had gotten about 4 hours sleep in a restless night which I spent most of on the toilet, and I had been in that situation for the past day. The build up to the game was not filled with the pre-match nerves I had always assumed would be there. I was too busy wondering whether or not I would be able to go for 3 hours without going to the toilet. I had asked Justin, my brother-in-law, who is a referee, and a good one at that, to come to assess me and give me some pointers. But earlier that morning I had told him there was a 99% chance that he’d actually have to ref the game in my place.

Thankfully, the human body works in wonderful ways, and as soon as I was outside and jogging about, the illness seemed to subside, and as it started to rain, my mind wandered back to the simple matter of refereeing my first game. I looked across the playing fields with a certain sense of…disbelief. Every single pitch had litter strewn across it, it appeared someone had shredded an Argos catalogue and tried to grow Argos catalogue crops by spreading them across the fields. The pitch that the home team initially said they played on, had something that resembled a WWII mine lodged in the ground just inside the half way line, and was flooded in several areas. I began to have doubts for different reasons that I’d be refereeing my first game that day.

As it was, and as I explained, I really didn’t want to have to call the game off, if at all possible. I was looking forward to the game; probably more than the players were. I jogged around the rest of the pitches on the playing fields, and 3 out of 4 of them were totally unplayable. Fortunately, there was one which was touch and go, which after I asked one of the assistant managers to brush some standing water off the pitch, and after Justin gave his confirmation, I decided to stage the game on. According to the Laws of the Game, the game should not have been played. There was old running track markings drawn across the pitch, which could not be differentiated from the pitch’s markings. There was large patches of mud where the ball would stop if it went through, and the rain, to say it was coming down, would be accurate. I can confirm it was definitely falling from the skies. Unfortunately that meant that the areas we had freed from standing water would soon start to collect it again. But such is life in the Sunday League in the North of England.

The players had all been made aware that it was my first game as a referee. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at first, but as the captains greeted me, and wished me luck, and we had a laugh about the conditions, I thought it was probably for the best and that they might give me a bit of lee-way if I did make any mistakes. Then, after starting my newly purchased referee’s watch (which is excellent), I blew the whistle. As I did, the people I had shared a joke and a chat with prior to the game, became football players.

A player (in white) is shown a yellow card by ...

A player (in white) is shown a yellow card by the referee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About two minutes in, a midfielder from the home team handballed it. It was about five metres away from where I was stood, and his hand actually recoiled from the impact with the ball. I gave the free kick. He shouted at me that it had hit him in the chest. Right there, two minutes into my first game, died any credibility I once thought that players’ complaints might have. With no assistant referees at lower levels of football, I quickly established that it was going to be me against the world in the early stages of my career.

The away team took a 1-0 lead. Unbelievably, the home team didn’t seem to agree with many of my decisions after that. In fact, I had to caution one player who, above about five others who were complaining, yelled, “Referee, are you ******* blind?!” He wasn’t aware that you weren’t allowed to say that. Genuinely, he was surprised I was showing him the yellow card.

During our course, we watched videos on the RESPECT campaign, with clubs themselves taking positive actions to alleviate abuse aimed towards referees. As referees you are encouraged to take disciplinary action against players who show dissent through word or action. In the period that the home team were 1-0 down, they claimed I was the worst referee that had ever existed and that I was going nowhere. Funnily enough, at half time, when they were 3-1 up, I was approached by one of their players who said I had a good first half.

Zero to Hero apparently.

It was generally an uneventful game from my perspective. It actually did surprise me, therefore, to find that the manager of the away team, managed to find a cause to scream abuse at me from the touchline. Apparently people were taking free kicks from a few yards away from where I had awarded them. In their own half. It only seemed to be an issue when the opposition did it, which I thought odd. When I let his team do it to maintain the flow of the game, he didn’t yell at me and order me to have it retaken. Did I mention that his team was losing?

To summarise that game, I got grief all the way through, from the majority of players, and the management of the away team. The home team, off the pitch, were actually quiet and well behaved. As I blew the final whistle, all those football players became people again. Every single one congratulated me on a good first game. The player who I had cautioned had a nice chat with me and apologised for his dissent. He was a prime example of a nice lad who seems to succumb to the strange footballers’ mentality that turns people into a boiling test tube of adrenaline and testosterone, where every whistle or lack of whistle is a combustible reaction.  The manager still had his complaints, but I explained I was being consistent and I told him I understood his frustration as a manager, but that wouldn’t change my ethos on letting the game flow. He gave me 7/10, whilst the home team gave me 8/10. I was happy with that, and even happier to get home and get dry. The £25 match fee helped as well, although I lost ten of it somewhere, and gave five to Justin for petrol. Overall, I was more happy to have jumped my first hurdle without falling flat on my face.