Every once in a while I have to send someone off, and on almost every occasion, it goes down like a turd in a punch bowl. But the fun of refereeing is we have to predict what kind of response they are going to show – will it end in me being chased off the pitch like a turkey being chased by Bernard Matthews, or will I find me, my suit and my expense claim form on the first train to Glasshoughton for a tribunal?
Now for the tale of my first ever red card. Picture the scene – a crisp September morning, in my first eleven a side match, for an U13s league cup fixture – five minutes to go, and it’s all even at 1-1, with both sides chasing a last minute winner. As the side in green is through on goal, the defender in red (a rather appropriate colour for their style of play) decides to grab the attacker by the throat and drag them to the floor. Red card any day of the week. Right?
As I walked off the pitch, I was greeted by an elderly woman, who decided to block my pathway with her zimmer frame. “I can’t f***ing believe you ref'” she exclaimed, “you clearly don’t know the rules you stupid b****rd”.
Now at this point, my bewildered face made it’s appearance, but she was more than happy to explain that “yellow and red cards aren’t allowed at junior football”. I tried really, really hard to explain how terribly, terribly wrong she was, but honestly, it was like speaking Chinese to a Mexican.
As a colleague later told me once he’d refereed this team, she is clearly a loose chip on the microprocessor.
Last season at junior football, it was a common occurrence for me to spend hours travelling to a match on the bus – or even worse, waiting for hours in the cold at a bus stop, because of timetable restrictions on early Sunday morning buses. This season, now I’m moving up to open age football, and have started studying at college, I made myself a promise to stop agreeing to that crap, and do games within a reasonable distance.
My rule of thumb was going to be as simple as – if I can’t get to it within an hour, I just won’t do it. Yet, this September I have spent seventeen hours on buses – plus another two hundred and thirty minutes at a bus stop or station – just stood there, waiting endlessly whilst cars passed me by. I’ve worked out that I spent just over twelve hours travelling to three matches which were well out of the Wakefield area. Just imagine what I could have done with an extra twelve hours last month. How many formulas could of been learnt, or how many miles ran, or how many articles read in those lost six hundred and five minutes?
Why do I waste this time without question? Because I want to please everyone. The girls league referee secretary who had placed her faith in me during my first season, and even gave me a league cup final centre appointment – I feel somehow forever endeared to her, and took a three and half round trip on the chin. The junior league who gave me a five legged journey when I asked for a fixture – I didn’t dare question it, all because of the odd sense of duty I feel when handed an appointment, especially when I requested one.
I can’t please everyone on the pitch. When you make a decision on the pitch, it will naturally upset someone who it went against, almost all of the time – even that highly contested throw in from the half way line!
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 to “true happiness” as I’ll ever get.