I consider this Game #4 this season because these games qualify me as being active.
It was no ordinary appointment either. I won’t lie to you here. I was definitely nervous pre-match. It was set to be a highly competitive match. All Cup matches are because there must be a winner and only one team will prevail. This was going to make or break my season.
Sunday was match day and there was nothing else on my schedule, on purpose, to do otherwise. This gave me perfect planning time.
I woke up with plenty of time ahead of me planned with meals and a timeline of what I wanted to get done before the game. Only three hours before, I could feel the blood pumping and a bit of adrenaline. I was nervous! I was also very excited. I began listening to some music or rather my routine playlist and it calmed me down. After all, the referee needs to be calmest on the field. It worked great.
On the bus ride, I listened to my pre-game playlist while doing a final revision of the Rules of the Competition to look for anything specific. I had already read it three times before over the past week but good to have it fresh before the game.
Upon arriving at the field, the away team had arrived and were parked beside the gate. The gate to the fields were locked as the city was only scheduled to open them a half hour before the game’s kick-off time. That was rather annoying as I would liked to have been beside the field to complete pre-match preparations at leisure. it meant a delay so I used some time to chat with both the home and away team before my full team arrived. The sun was shining down so it felt like forever but reflecting on it, it must have passed by very quickly because the assessor had arrived.
All right. This picture is vastly misleading but this is how it was when I had departed for the field. It looked cloudy and felt just a bit cool. It was scorching during the game however. Every pass of cloud cover was reprieve.
Luckily, I was so focused on the game that being worried about being assessed was the last thing on my mind. The four of us (crew and assessor) went by to the nearest spot of shade so I could deliver my pre-game instructions before we began our pre-match duties. It went by fairly smoothly and my assistants asked questions to fill in the holes I had left out. It was a young and willing set of assistants so I was very happy how they worked with me.
Once it was complete, my assistants and I walked to the field; the gate had been opened. I made a quick pit-stop near the changing rooms to confirm colours (home team, home GK, away team, away GK). There were no colour conflicts but I was preparing for some attention to detail. Socks, shorts, shirt, everything. I gave the quick warning about colour of tape being used and undershorts and then moved onto the field. The goalkeepers were wearing a neon yellow and a green so I decided that we would wear black. I prefer selecting colours that contrast the most to the ones on the field but I followed the FA-adopted guideline of referee uniform colour selection procedure.
As we walked to where we were planning to leave our bags, the oldest member of our crew asked me if I was nervous. He had actually done the Entry Level clinic with me three years ago. It was a loaded question. I was the leader of the team and was setting an example and the tone for the game. My assistants would be mindful of how I felt. After all, an insecure referee could rattle an assistant’s performance/mindset perhaps knowing that information. Should I unequivocally say no? I took the honest approach. I told them I was but not anymore. 🙂 They laughed and it was the right decision I thought.
Suddenly, the timeline felt short. I had arrived over an hour before the game but I could hardly start doing anything until we were physically on the field. It became delegation time and my crew worked fantastically with me to pull it all off. Then in the span of 12 minutes, I managed to fit in an equipment check, full field inspection, referee crew warm-up, pumping game balls, getting changed, collecting game sheet and game fees and a thorough net check including repairs. PHEW! I was happy we got it all done. That really took the pressure off the start.
One of the home team players arrived late to sign the game sheets a few minutes before kick-off. As he arrived, I greeted him by name. I do my best to learn as many names on the field prior to the match as I can; it can have a surprising helpful effect. He was taken aback by surprise. “That can’t be good if you know my name!” I chuckled after some fun banter. I remember every player I had sent off in the past. Maybe because it isn’t a very large list but oddly enough, I can re-write the dismissal report from memory and reference the game. In fact, I remember who was playing, where it was played and when it was played. He must have left an impression or the dismissal report was detailed to write. No points for guessing I had to dismiss him last season but I wondered if he had remembered. I guess players vividly remember the referees who give them red cards as well? He never mentioned.
I looked to my team to ask if I looked good. Sometimes a funny gut check but it gets a few chuckles/giggles before the game and always nice for me to make sure my badge isn’t upside down, I forgot my whistles or my collar was up. I once had a FIFA ref point out my collar was up. All good. Coin toss. The captains arrived, I welcomed them with a smile and went through my usual routine. I like leaving them with a smile and building up some anticipation to the few words I do say. Coin toss done. Crew had it written done. Walked to the centre circle before wishing each other a fun game and breaking to check the nets and get ready. The teams were slightly slow (they wanted to kick-off late but I didn’t) so the game kicked-off 3 minutes late; out of my control and with little complaint from anyone.
The management style I tried to mirror in this game was one I had seen from Antonio Mateu Lahoz who can be seen smiling the vast majority of times during the game but when he isn’t, you know it’s very serious and there is zero tolerance. I felt it helped me build great rapport with players on the field. Perhaps it was the team and competition but I felt the players respected that and helped me gain a firm hand on match control.
My AR2 saved me early in the match on a flag I missed. According to my pre-game instructions I asked them to quickly judge whether I would be turning to see their flag immediately. If I wasn’t, start yelling for me as if their life depended on it and it was followed to a tee. I turned to see it and became more vigilant.
The biggest change in my refereeing that I worked on this game was my administration of the free kick wall. Having informed everyone that it was a ceremonial restart, I tried to have the wall back as quickly and efficiently as possible. Funnily enough, there were vanishing spray jokes (sometimes initiated by me) at every opportunity. They didn’t budge thankfully. I proceeded to give them a quick low-down of how they could position their hands and what I would permit very similar to how I have seen Clattenburg do it. It worked as well and the players were quite satisfied.
I went for a dangerous option in this game; the Valkeen. One of my referee friends had told me that he really enjoyed the experience. My first try or so left me wary of it given the different mouthpiece as compared to the Fox 40 Classic CMG. The plastic cushioning made it softer to keep in my mouth. I experimented with the Blazza the week before and it wasn’t a great experience. The sound was too loud for me to bear even and the mouthpiece was no fun to use either.
The Valkeen was different however. My gut instinct told me to go with it on the day and I was hoping the pitch/sound may work in my favour. It was slightly awkward to adjust to at first but the mouthpiece wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Much easier to use but definitely not as soft as the gold ‘ol Fox 40s. I will keep it for the difficult games. It worked well on the day and served it’s purpose. No issues other than temporary partial deafness at the start. That can’t be good can it?
Soon enough, the match kicked off. I started looking to adjust my positioning immediately and employed a box system of control at times (be-where-you-need-to-be). The first foul came at the 4th minute. I knew that I could stamp my authority from the start and obtain match control and then go from there or see what the players want to do and proceed. They wanted to play so I worked at it to make sure it stayed that way.
I sought to begin anticipating where the ball would be with my positioning. The initial nerves of the game had settled. It took some time before I was judging it well. I like the box/rectangle diagonal because I can enforce my authority through my presence and continuous verbal instructions such as “Play smart”, “Don’t foul” which I thought helped on several occasions where it looked like a collision was imminent. I was foiled on one occasion in anticipation and referred to reacting instead. A play was building up and my position forced a change in direction of an attacker in midfield causing him to lose the ball. He verbally reacted in annoyance in general (not to me) and I didn’t want to disrupt it further so I sat back and sprinted when I needed to.
I looked at my watch at the 30th minute. The sun was shining down and it was hot. No sunscreen today because I didn’t want the sweat to mix and get it into my eyes and blind me. I would take the burn over being blinded today! Luckily I didn’t but I started to feel parched. I soon forgot.
The second half was much better settled in all aspects of my refereeing according to the assessor. Likely I understood the game better and any nerves had disappeared. I was solely focused on the game. I was even anticipating position better. It might also have been because of the knock-out match nature, that the team with the potential of being knocked out playing all-out attack and pushing in one half.
There was no real discipline that needed to be dealt with or administered during the first half but it was yet to come. My first card of the game came and it was red. Almost five yards from me, I had a side-angle view of a defender in possession of the ball in midfield and an attacker just barely a yard away about to challenge him. Suddenly a two-footed tackle on the ankle and my whistle went. I almost felt like I had been taken into auto-pilot because my hand went instinctively for the back pocket. It was out. There was a bit of argument but there was no change in decision. It was the first time I had caught serious foul play.
I found a better connection this game when playing an empathetic approach. During an attack from the side of the penalty area just outside, a defender blocked off an attacker earning him his first caution and a one-foot studs up challenge from close proximity warranted the second and marching orders.
Almost 75% into the game, players started mumbling about being thirsty so during a goal kick, I swung by the benches on the touchline and received an ok from both coaches being fine with taking a water break. Soon enough, they got a reprieve. I was also able to effectively deal with an injury (not off a tackle) that occurred and with minimum hassle.
Both players came after the game and shook my hand being happy with the overall officiating and haven accepted their red cards. How often does that happen?
The debrief felt fairly short in the department for the feedback I received.
So, in conclusion, I had really enjoyed the game. I don’t think, from a quick reflection on blog posts that I have felt really great about a particular game over the past but I thought I could have said so for this one. I am trying to aim for the healthy critical thinking mindset as opposed to one of an insecure referee (if that’s what it comes off as). I’m always hungry for better and more.
I had been fried by the sun during the match so I was burnt out for the rest of the day and the next day’s recovery was very useful. I spent sometime writing up the match reports that evening in addition to having them proofread by a few fellow referees to ensure they included adequate detail.
Three take away points:
- Goal kick positioning
- A touchy subject for a long time. I had learnt a lesson not to turn my back on a goal kick but my fitness isn’t good enough to back-pedal at top speed so I will have to use the early part of down-time of play to get back and better judge where to be. I try to stand right outside the drop zone but sometimes the goalkeeper miscued and I was right in the centre of the drop zone. To me, the centre circle has always been irrelevant for positioning i.e. I am not afraid to stand in it if it’s the best position.
That awkward moment when you are on the field looking at everyone’s body language to figure out where the ball will land without looking up. And… everyone is looking at you.
- Anticipating where the ball will be on the field
- Sometimes not easy and game-dependent.
- Dissent management
- To preserve and protect the game and referee’s authority
Regardless the assessment came back not too long ago and I received a high mark! Calmness settled and very happy how it all went. The season continues on a positive note.