This did not start off as a fun week. I was at work late on Monday. I mean quite late. I was at the bus stop waiting for the bus when the Assessment report e-mail had arrived. My heart was in my mouth. I knew it wouldn’t be good but the question is how bad. What feedback would I get?
Start of week
There wasn’t much which was rather disappointing and it wasn’t positive whatsoever either… I called a few friends to discuss. It was a bit of a numbing feeling. All I could then remember was the abuse I received during the game. I didn’t sleep very well that night. It was a huge blow to my self-confidence and made me question whether I was cut out for this.
I went through four of the first five stages of grief for the rest of the week. Referees have their own rage too after bad games usually accompanied by a bad mood. I certainly had my fair share.
The important thing was to sit down and re-strategise. Missing the pivotal moment of dissent in the game had cost the control but it felt like there was more to it than that. I recalled most of the memorable incidents and noted how I reacted and could have reacted to have perhaps pulled the game back into some semblance of control. I drew up a list of things I needed to change in my style.
Refereeing works because everyone part of it forms a tight-knit group to protect each other. This is especially important when a colleague faces disappointment. There were a few cases in the week where sometimes we have to act behind the scenes to help another person get back up again. It’s always an achievement keeping a dedicated official in the game because after all, football needs them.
Wednesday was training day. I went to the nearby football pitch and did high intensity sprints in an S-diagonal across the field. Literally.
I placed a few Gatorade bottles to guide me around one arc the centre circle since it wasn’t well-marked and started at a corner flag with a light run and ended in a hard sprint as I turned deep around the bend. I was trying to adapt to the feedback given to me.
My ankle had been troubling me over the three rest days which was rather odd since I didn’t feel it during or right after my previous games. A two lap warm-up worked wonders because it loosened up and I could move around better. That was the last of those worries.
On a side note, do you know how hard it is to pull out a red card from the back pocket when running at full speed? Especially in those adidas 2010 shorts, the back pocket is not easy to open when moving at all. I tried multiple times thinking about having to deal with a DOGSO offence on a breakaway where I would be potentially caught far behind.
Practice makes perfect so I kept at it. This element of my referee training is for things I need to tweak in my on-field style. Things like when you anticipate a player in your view and when you want to crane over for a brief second to keep things in view, I work on by side-stepping to the side very quickly to remove the leaning habit. The practice here makes it easier to do on the field.
After the run, a friend called and I went for a light work-out in the gym. I had a game the next day and wasn’t prepared to feel sore or feel the effects for the rest of the weekend so I did a brief all-round workout. Everything was lightly worked as I wanted it so I was still fully fit for the next day.
I had a double-header on Thursday. The first was a middle and second was a line. A colleague picked me up and we traveled to the field in the nearby town. It was a cold day which was rather odd for August but reflecting on things, it was just as bad last year same time. I was dressed in long-sleeve; the same as the rest of my crew.
The game started slightly challenging as players liked talking a lot with respect to decisions but a critical moment arrived at the 20th minute. A breakaway and attacker running towards goal in an OGSO. GK comes out and they both play the ball outside the penalty area. The ball gets flicked up and when at chest height, the goalkeeper almost instinctively plays the ball with his hands and knocks it a yard forward. I didn’t exercise patience at the time and a quick whistle and I was reaching for my back pocket.
After I had blown my whistle, a teammate kicked the ball into the open net. I first thought he did it in frustration but he wasn’t sure what to do. I found it a little odd but it didn’t particularly seem like unsporting behaviour so we returned to the free kick (original offence) and waited while a new GK had to be dressed.
The rest of the evening was rather uneventful. It was rather funny to watch a player run at one my ARs because the AR was much much larger than him. When I say funny I mean as a lol-moment and not out loud! I reacted very quickly and sprinted over after the offside decision. It was an immediate caution with no questions asked.
The second game of the evening wasn’t very eventful but had a few challenging wait-and-sees. The coach was also quiet calm and empathetic. I even had to explain the rule with foot placement on throw-ins to the bench and the substitutes were impressed saying like it looked like I knew what I was doing.
Saturday was an early morning wake-up. I met with a colleague and carpooled to the field. The nice thing about getting a ride from someone else is meeting people and chatting with them before/after the game for longer than the short time we spend on the field together. The Saturday morning game wasn’t very eventful. I missed a tackle in the lower age group that I should have called however sometimes a lapse in concentration or second-guessing gets the better of me at times. Sometimes I feel a bit of dissent helps as a source of stress and motivation to work harder and gauge what the players prefer in the game.
The day was far from over however.
I met with a colleague and senior referee and we traveled together to watch a FIFA match. A bit of force of habit of starting the watch when the half starts.
Got to watch Bibiana Steinhaus in action.
The game ended in a dramatic kicks from the penalty mark and it was a tiring day.
My first real challenging game after last week was on Sunday. Both teams weren’t great fans of me. The last fixtures I had with both of them in the middle on separate occasions ended in multiple red cards. What a way to ease back into things.
I arrived at the field with a different mental focus. On the game only. I arrived at the field from the nearby bus stop to see the home team captain walking to the field from the other direction. I greeted him and had a brief chat as we walked to the field. There was a game happening on the field for the prior booking so I sat between the benches where the referees bags were and watched silently. I greeted, in passing, the away team assistant coach who knew me. He said “You look different today”. I had a different mental focus for the game.
The match started off with some quick play. A telling moment was after the first goal. The ball was played to an attacker in the penalty area. It struck his arm which was slightly out by his side (a few inches) and landed a few yards from him (playable). A few subsequent passes later and it was a goal. The opposing coach on the near side exploded. My usual mechanic is to signal the goal and walk backwards to where he was. I turned and walked towards him as he continued to yell. I did my best to maintain a calm face with composure. As I arrived, he stepped onto the field by a step or two. The coach also selected his words very carefully as he paused several times while yelling to find the choice words to use. I knew I had no choice. I had to let him go because of disrepute. Only two words. “Coach. Out.”
I didn’t know where the game was going to go from there. It was a delicate situation. The players had looked onto what had happened and it was up to them to decide how the rest of the game was to proceed.
10 minutes later, an attacker is playing the ball in the penalty area. The goalkeeper is behind him preventing him from getting around and then the goalkeeper goes through his legs and brings him down to get the ball. Penalty. As I set up for the penalty, I walk in a circle in my usual mechanic to ensure players aren’t encroaching. I get them to stand off the line. As I get back to my position I provide a warning. “Step in if you dare me to retake this penalty”. It was an ominous warning but an impression I was trying to set early. I heard a “H0|y $***”. They knew I was serious and meant business. I blew the whistle for the PK and gave the encroachment a little more attention than I usually do but not a single person dared to toe the line. They all stood back in almost fear.
Later in the game during a corner kick, a defender was trying to encroach on a short corner. As my assistant was trying to back them up, I blew the whistle several times to get them back. The player immediately raised his hands and backed up. I had achieved what I wanted. They would listen to me without much hassle.
I did miss a few fouls during the game which I acknowledged to the players privately who were happy that I hadn’t discounted them as not fouls when I spoke later. I’ve also built a habit of talking with my hand covering my mouth for private words to prevent anyone from being able to tell from afar what I am talking about. Something I picked up from watching referees on TV.
Sometime during the game a defender committed a foul that could have been considered tactical. I awarded the free kick and had a chat with him because there was a little dissent from him prior and told him that this was his warning. He later committed a foul and I played advantage. I noted that I would return for him. When the ball went out of play for a corner kick. I halted the restart and pointed back at the point of the offence and displayed the caution.
I had been practicing Ravshan Irmatov’s style of displaying cards which looked so sleek and without showing them in a threatening manner. I don’t think I pulled it off very well because it may have come with some strong body language. Also Ravshan holds it so high and straight that I feel my muscles being pulled as I hold it up in the same manner. I mean that there’s just a stretch so it’s slightly less comfortable although probably better presentation. Lots of referees show cards in an aggressive manner which I believe shouldn’t be the goal behind the message of the card.
A damper on my performance had been when I realised I was in a potential passing lane ahead of an attacker. I tried to take evasive tactics but I couldn’t move in time. The ball travels eerily fast sometimes. It struck my leg onto a potential through-ball for a breakaway and I was furious with myself. The players may not have realised my own quiet reaction but it was quiet for a professional sake. There was a groan as the midfielder was upset and a mention at the end of the game and I apologised for it. The score was 4-3 at the time and the match ended that way. Still on my mind.
The match ended in silent respect. There were handshakes and I was pleased with the outcome. It could have gone in any direction but it went in a positive one. Players either came by for handshakes or silently nodded as they walked by.
The away team goalkeeper walked by as I had finished completing the match reports and was getting ready for my second game on the line. He turned to look at me and said “You must be really conditioned” having witnessed me putting in a shift. I was surprised I could sustain the energy to manage the 180 minutes. I had worked harder than I ever had before.
Here’s some stuff I received in my shipment last week. I think I forgot to post this because I was so consumed with my end of week game.