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

Monday, 12 February 2018

Deliberately making the wrong decision

Game 34, 2017-18

On Saturday I gave a free kick when I should have given a penalty. There are no excuses for consciously making the wrong decision, but I'm going to explain it anyway.

The home team was leading 9-0 in a boys' U19 match. I had already awarded them three penalties. One had been saved and two converted. Their opponents simply were not good enough to take the ball off them. The home team's right-winger dribbled the ball towards the penalty area at speed. As he reached the area he was tripped, right on the line. I indicated that the foul had taken place just outside the area and awarded a free kick. No one complained.

The truth is, I was too embarrassed for the away team to award another spot-kick. Four in one game? How could you be so poor as to concede four penalties? My decision didn't trouble me. It was 9-0 in a friendly match. Perhaps the home team would appreciate the chance to try out a free-kick routine rather than bang home their tenth goal of the afternoon.

If the score had been 3-3, or if it had been a competitive game for points, I would have awarded a fourth penalty. So how can a referee justify deliberately making an erroneous call? I don't know. An

Monday, 5 February 2018

A friendly club - except when they're playing friendlies

Games 31-33, 2017-18

The end of the winter break is approaching and the fixture list is gradually filling with friendlies. I return to the club where last time around I sent off the home coach and three players, one of whom threw his shirt in my face and then had to be restrained from attacking me. Has he been banned for life? No, he's in the starting line-up, and is standing at the halfway line with his team-mates having a light-hearted chat with me prior to kick-off about just how nut-numbingly cold it is.

"Last time I was here I showed four red cards," I remind them. They smile at this fond memory and tell me there will be none of that kind of behaviour today. After all, it's just a friendly. The player who threw his shirt in my face looks me in the eye and says, "The guy you sent off that time won't be causing you any trouble. He's not playing today." Either he's thinking of another game, or he's hoping that I don't remember his face (I do), or that I didn't check if his name was on the team-sheet before I left the house (I did). Or, more worryingly, he has two separate personalities.

In the spirit of friendship, it was back to
 liberally dishing out these at the weekend
They're an odd fucking bunch, right enough. They joke with me before the game, and afterwards too. In between, they are almost exclusively unpleasant. There are two borderline red card fouls that I let off lightly with yellow cards and stern warnings. My friend with the faulty memory gets a yellow for a rash challenge too ("Yeah, but what about that foul back there by the other team that you didn't card yadder yadder" - I get this after every yellow, almost every game). A forward goes in the book for not once, but twice, deliberately trying to score with his hand. Again, in a competitive game that would have been a yellow-red.

And then there's the super-friendly number nine, who's constantly telling his team-mates to calm down as they moan at each other, try to provoke the opposition (who remain commendably unprovoked throughout), and whine at my decisions. He scores two goals right after the break to

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A simple law to curb excessive goal celebrations

Last weekend, for my sins, I went with my Dad to watch Gainsborough Trinity play Alfreton Town, two teams at the lower end of the English regional sixth division (National League North). Gainsborough haven't had much success lately, so when they went 1-0 up after half an hour the celebrations were more than you might expect at this level. The goal scorer sprinted towards the home bench and jumped into the arms of his coach. The rest of the team followed and there was an almighty love-in.

My dad, who's very much old school when it comes to sporting behaviour, groaned at this excessive display, just as he'd loudly objected earlier to one of the Gainsborough players trying to get the referee involved in a long and pointless discussion about the exact place where an opponent's free-kick was about to be taken. The Alfreton players, meanwhile, had spotted that the Gainsborough players were now all in their own half, emoting by the bench. They had the ball at the centre spot and were ready for a quick restart.

They looked to the referee for a signal. And according to the laws of the game, he should have let them play. They would have had a clear run on goal, aside from maybe the home side's goalkeeper. But the referee refused to give the signal for the restart until all the Gainsborough players had finished hugging each other and had lined back up in position.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Saluting Harry, the amateur leagues' mental monster

Game 30, 2017-18

There's always a Harry, isn't there? He's one of the senior players on the team, and he plays in central defence. In this country - if he was good enough to be an active professional in the first division - the football press would adoringly label him a "monster of mentality".

Not Harry, but a Harryesque
tackle (pic N. Lotze)
As it happens, Harry's mainly just a mental monster in the amateur reserve leagues. He's absolutely uncompromising in the tackle. He never holds back when there's a challenge to charge into. He seeks out the ball like it's an incoming missile, and he's the last shield that will prevent it from causing wholesale destruction. Once intercepted, it doesn't matter where the ball goes, just as long as it's nowhere near his own goal.

As a referee you can pick Harry out, at the very latest, two minutes into the game when he barrels into his first aerial challenge. It might be earlier, however, during the pre-match handshake - he won't look you in the eye as he walks past, but his grip betrays a swift tinge of menace. Harry's sort do not really believe in referees, who are only there to soften up the game. He knows already that I'm out to spoil his day.

That's not the only reason you notice Harry, though. He takes the game by the decibels. He's a highly charged motivator and a highly vociferous moaner. Don't expect to hear from Harry if you do something well, unless it's clattering an opponent. But he'll let you know if you screwed up a pass or

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Gentleman is a Dope and other jazz records for referees

The winter break is here. It's time to count my earnings. Every week, rather than allow my chiselling compensation to be swallowed up by the daily cash flow of my wallet (pills, thrills, hearing aid batteries etc.), I drop the risible €22 in to my Manchester United 1977 FA Cup Winner's souvenir mug. Every few months I take Mrs RT out for a meal (because she never complains that I spend my Sundays being a human sponge for choleric inadequates), or I indulge myself in the sort of stuff that people of a certain age cannot resist: superfluous gadgets and old vinyl.

Receptacle for a mug's wages
There's a second hand record shop I often cycle past on my way to and from games, and inevitably I wonder why I'm not in there perusing forgotten Meisterwerke instead of pedalling off in to the wind and the rain to voluntarily face the wrath of athletically backward men operating on a collectively shortened fuse. Last week, though, in the comfort of knowing I won't be refereeing for at least another six weeks, I delayed a long overdue office clear-out in favour of finally stepping inside, the wages of abuse burning a hole in my jeans pocket.

I don't regret the amount I squandered because this turned out to be the finest record shop in the world (and I've seen a few). It's small, but friendly. Each one of the three clerks made sure to welcome me, and one gave me a quick orientation course before disappearing to make me a cup of coffee. Was there anything I wanted to hear? Sure, stick on this Kenny Burrell Japanese

Sunday, 3 December 2017

What to do if a player throws a snowball at a coach

Game 29, 2017-18

Last spring at one of our regular referees' meetings aimed at our ongoing edification, I presented a critique of our online test on the Laws of the Game, where the object seems to be not to test you and make you a better referee, but to catch you out and go, "Ha!" As an example of the multiple stupid questions we are obliged to research and correctly answer once a month, I cited the following puzzler: "During a game on a snow-covered pitch with the ball in play, one of the players throws a snowball at the opposing team's coach. What is the referee's decision?"

White lines - don't do
 it! Bravely, we did.
Why is this such a stupid question? I asked rhetorically. First, there's a long winter break in this country, so you rarely if ever officiate matches in the snow. Second, due to global warming it hardly snows during the winter months any more at all, let alone outside of the winter break. Third, a game on the hypothetically snow-covered pitch would probably be called off anyway. And finally, in the very unlikely event that you ref a game on a snow-covered pitch, what are the odds of a player throwing a snowball at the opposing team's coach?

The answer to the question is clearly 'red card' for the offending player (and even then it depends on context - the question doesn't allow for the fact they might be arsing around). But the monthly test wants to know more than that. What's the re-start? Drop-ball, direct or indirect free-kick? Get that part wrong and you lose both points - you don't even get a single point for getting the 'red card' part right.

The problem with our online test, I argued to my doubtless captive audience of colleagues, is that I will never remember the correct answer to such an obscure question. And should it somehow ever happen, not a single other person present will have a fucking clue if I've re-started the game in the

Monday, 27 November 2017

Spectators racially abusing a player - how should a ref react?

Game 28, 2017-18

When a player swears at someone in the crowd, it's supposed to be an automatic sending-off. Just before half-time in yesterday's game, the away team's left-winger is standing in front of a bunch of kids, aged around 5-12 years old, telling them furiously to "piss off" just before he takes a throw-in. I leniently show him the yellow card, but he barely seems to notice, he's still so steamed. Coming off the field at the break, I ask him what the problem was.

Lenient yellow proved to be a lucky call...
"One kid was spouting off anti-semitic insults," he says. "A ten-year-old kid!" That's problematic, as the home side is ethnically north African, while the visiting side is the city's principle Jewish club. I rescind the yellow card, and am very happy that I hadn't shown him the red. I also ask him to avoid slanging matches and come straight to me if there are any further incidents in the second half. Then together with a reluctant steward, I oversee the expulsion of the kids from the ground.

The game itself is fine, for once - the few moments of tension quickly de-escalate either through my intervention or the conciliatory behaviour of the players. Are they perhaps overtly aware of the potential uproar should there be any nasty incidents

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The curse of neutrality - referees as fans

Lincoln City v Coventry City, Nov 18, 2017

Almost 36 years to the day before this game I was watching the same home team, Lincoln City, in the same stadium, Sincil Bank. I was on my own, and standing on a long since demolished section of terrace close to the player’s tunnel. I’d never stood there before and I never stood there again, but when the final whistle went I moved close to the tunnel to take a closer look at my heroes as they left the field following a 2-1 victory.

A game I was at just
36 years ago.
You’d think the fans would have been happy at the result, and I believe that most of them were. One man was genuinely furious, though. As the three referees approached the tunnel, I could see him jumping up and down in anticipation. As they walked down the tunnel he yelled, “Bloody disgraceful, referee, you’re an absolute bloody disgrace.”

The referee’s performance had been entirely unremarkable.

Fast forward three dozen years and I’m standing at almost exactly the same spot, except on the other side of the tunnel - it’s the first time I’ve been this close since that game in 1981. This time Lincoln have deservedly lost 2-1, but myself and several fans are applauding them off the field for their effort, and because they played their part in a fast and entertaining game of football.

Then the three referees approach the exit. In my view they have done well to keep a furious party under control, even as they followed the modern trend for ignoring several clear cases of pushing, shoving and holding. One man among us, however, is livid. As soon as the officials are within earshot,

Monday, 13 November 2017

When your family comes to watch you ref

Game 27, 2017-18

There’s a short history of family members coming to watch me referee over the past decade. The pioneer was my father-in-law, who watched me in action all day at a youth tournament in the US a few years ago. On the ride home, he was resolutely silent. He remained so until two days later when we were watching a game on television. Then he remarked: “This referee’s a lot like you. Very frugal with the whistle.”

Bright shirt on a grey day (pic: N Lotze)
Last year, Mrs RT came along to a men’s game, bringing a book in the expectation that she would be bored. She never even opened the book, being in equal parts horrified, fascinated and entertained by all that unfolded before her, with her husband the centre of attention for 90 minutes. For the following two weeks she followed me around the flat shouting, “Hey ref, what the fuck is that dirty fork doing on the draining board? And where the fuck’s my dinner? Come on, referee!”

This weekend it was my youngest daughter’s turn. She was telling us about an exercise for her design course where she had to take a photograph to illustrate an article for which the students only knew the headline: “Compassion is an unlimited resource.” Oh yes, come along to my game tomorrow, I said, you’re sure to see plenty of examples of