Three weeks ago today, I stepped out onto the pitch (after initial confusion over where the pitch actually was) to officiate my first adult match of football. After an eventful season of junior football, and a ten week break, I had mixed emotions.
The first of my emotions was fear, as I recall an open age game I went to see my refereeing mentor officiate. Ten minutes into the second half, and he’s organising a goal kick, as a spectator from the sidelines chucked his coat to the floor came onto the pitch, punched the goalkeeper, ran off again whilst a fight began. My mentor didn’t know any of this was going on until he turned round after several shouts, to see just a fight, as the spectator was back on the sidelines with his coat. Following that trip down “memory lane”, I was “shitting bricks”, to paraphrase a foul-mouthed friend of mine.
Once the match begun, another feeling was fatigue – “maybe I should of worked on my fitness in the off-season”, I muttered. I realised I could no longer hide my fitness levels as I could with junior football, with my height of 6ft 1?, and a 9-a-side pitch.
The first time I really became involved in the match was in the 32nd minute, as I used the captain to reduce the dissent from the “wee centre ‘alf” who had plenty to say. I felt smug as I used the orange team’s captain to calm the player down – just like in the FA training video! The feeling of smug ran out in the 73rd minute, as his remark “I’m gonna knock your feckin’ ‘ed in ref’, how is that offside you wee fat bastard?” brought about the only misconduct of the match – a straight red for OFFINABUS (offensive and abusive language).
Seventeen minutes and three peeps of the whistle later, the game was over. The usual hand shakes followed, and the murmur of “thanks ref” too.
As I bent over to change from boots to trainers for the bus ride home, a seven foot tall neon yellow figure approached. “I heard that was your first proper game ref”, he said with a thick Yorkshire accent – I presumed by first proper game he meant first open age game. “Fuckin’ ‘ell, I wouldn’t of liked to of reffed that for my first ‘en. I wouldn’t of wanted to ‘ave played in if for me first ‘en. You ‘ad a good ‘en considering”.
I felt proud of my performance, although fitness and communication definitely needs improvement!
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
– Napoleon Hill
The start of my officiating journey begins on a cold Sunday morning in August 2014, and after three weeks of summer holidays, having becoming slowly accustomed to waking up at midday, the six o’clock start was unwelcome to say the least. After booking my course, I was advised that “you should be fit to referee, not referee to be fit”, and consequently worked on my fitness for the weeks leading to the course. I felt that I still wasn’t fit enough, and hoped I could hide it. That was until I met everyone else on the course, including the tutors, and to quote my grandfather – there was “some lard on the hoof” in that room.
Following the fifteen hours of tutoring and training, I felt confident to face the three written exams, especially after my extensive revision of the laws of the game. I had dreamt that these exams would be the start of my successful refereeing journey, and following a motivational speech by Premier League referee Robert Madley, I felt that I could one day be on the TV too, and get to send John Terry off in the FA Cup final. After all, I was part of the future of football in England, and I was young, and had “time on my side”, and anything is possible if I put my mind to it, and of course, the sky is the limit.
As the refereeing tutor prepared to tell everyone that they had passed, I was discreetly escorted out of the room to be let down, just like a baloon – quickly, painfully, and loudly. As I diluted the already weak tea with my tears, I realised that even though the sky may be the limit, 75% was the miniumum to pass the course.
I was handed the resit version of the exam, and suddenly realised my refereeing stock had fell significantly, as I approached the first question : “‘If a player is cautioned twice, they are sent off’ True or False?”.
Three weeks later, I was trusted with a division five fixture, and judging by a ten year old player’s brutally honest comment on my performance – “you’re shite ref!”, I wasn’t doing too well. These days I would have the little git off in a flash, and the misconduct report would be sent within an hour of the final whistle. But in those days I wasn’t as confident, and I blew the whistle for half time early, and sorrowfully ran to the toilet (which in grassroots football is “that bush over there mate”), and once again cried my fourteen year old eyes out. In order to try and cheer myself up for the second half, I put my headphones on and pressed the play button. It didn’t work, even though Christina Aguilera told me I was “beautiful, no matter what they say”.
As I apologetically marched past the Leeds United supporting parents, I feebly blew my whistle, in order to kick off the second half of the fixture. Later, I realised I made the second biggest mistake I’ll ever make in my refereeing career. I didn’t start my stopwatch! I was forced to have a guess at what time the half was over. No one seemed to complain, so I assume I was close enough. Either that or I made mistakes so much bigger, such as running away from play, or not giving a single foul because I was petrified to blow the whistle.
I would look back on that game in the future, and take a lot from it, and it would become a great marker for what I was yet to become. But for now, I needed to forget it.
I did learn something valuable that day – even though money can’t buy you happiness, it will get you an ALDI quiche lorraine, 200g of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and a family pack of Custard Creams. That may be as close as I’ll get to “true happiness” as I’ll ever get.