Monday, 22 May 2017

The strange recurring case of Robbie Ratchet

Games 51-52, 2016-17

After a couple of years refereeing in the same city, you start to see familiar faces – coaches, groundsmen, fellow referees, even spectators, and of course the players. A handful are unforgettable, either because they threaten to kill you, or simply because they boast an amusingly alliterated name. That’s one of the reasons why I always recognise a player we’re going to call Robbie Ratchet. The other reason is that he’s a little bit nuts.

"Sir, I wonder if perhaps you might
reconsider that decision, please."
The first time I reffed a game with Robbie two years ago, he got into a verbal fight with some spectators during the first half. It’s theoretically a straight red card, but I had a word and told him to calm down. At half-time he came up to me with a grin and said, “I’m actually a really nice bloke.” Then in the second half he lost his rag at me for making, from his point of view, the wrong decision, and then committed a serious foul – within half an hour of telling me what a nice bloke he was, Robbie was off with a yellow-red card and his team lost 2-0.

A year later, I reffed the same team. Robbie was in the starting line-up, but not on the pitch as we were about to kick off. I asked his team-mates where he was. “Oh, he showed up late so he got dropped to the bench. Do you know him?” I recounted how
I’d sent him off the season before and they laughed. “Yeah, that’s Robbie.”

He came on at half-time, and as we were about to kick off I said, “You’ll keep it calm today, right Robbie?” He looked surprised and obviously didn’t recognise me. “Of course,” he said, like he was miffed and mystified at the very idea of him losing control. Seven minutes later he was dispossessed and thought he’d been fouled. I thought otherwise. Robbie ran right up to me and furiously screamed in my face that his opponent had almost broken his legs. I showed him a yellow card. His captain shouted at him and immediately subbed him back out, and he stewed on the touchline for the rest of the game.

Which brings us to this weekend and my third meeting with Robbie’s team. Another year on, and I’m wondering if he’s matured (Robbie is 34). The first half is remarkably calm – no shouting, very few fouls, the score is 1-1. Then our man comes in for a hard tackle so late that not even he complains when I show him a yellow card.

In the second half Robbie gets subbed out and I think that’s it for today. But then, a few minutes later and with his team 3-1 down, he’s sent back in to try and revitalise the attack. He certainly livens up the game – he’s decided it’s time to start moaning at the ref. “Why are all your decisions against us?” he whines. I ignore him. Then he’s put through clear on goal but he’s two yards offside. I whistle and, you guessed it, Robbie explodes and starts yelling at me.

And so, I think, here we go again. Yet instead of sending him off, I walk over to his captain. “Can you tell Robbie that if I hear one more word from him, he’s off.” His captain chews him out. Robbie shuts up. I’m glad about this because, in spite of everything, I kind of like him.

Afterwards Robbie seeks me out in the changing room. He knocks politely, and wears the same shit-eating grin he had the time he told that he’s a nice bloke really. He shakes my hand and apologises. It’s possible that he’s finally recognised me as someone who in the misty past has shown him a card or two. And I feel a sense of mild satisfaction - today we engineered it so that, come the final whistle, part-nice bloke, part-nutter Robbie Ratchet was still on the pitch.

Game 51 (Boys U15): 5-4 (2 x yellow, 1 x time penalty)
Game 52: 4-1 (2 x yellow) 

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