The highlight of this week has been returning to my high school to officiate a football match. This is especially the case as I started refereeing there and it’s where my roots are.
I started off with a late wake-up. I was up late watching Atleti play Barcelona in La Liga officiated by Undiano Mallenco. In my opinion, it was a well-handled match and looked like he had good match control for the most part.
The next morning, my cousin and her son (my nephew) came to visit. I think my nephew was excited to see my Fuleco (he had one too) but more so to see the ball in its hand that he tried to tear out! Luckily I rescued Fuleco in time with all its body parts intact. My cousin mentioned that the weather outside looked great. A good omen.
Referees are a bit of a novelty because they are scarce for the purposes of this context. More to come on that.
It was a warm welcome when I saw my old PE teacher as I arrived at the field. I spent some time catching up, then clarifying competition rules for the match. I then got down to getting ready. I did a field walk remembering all the memories of being on the pitch half a decade ago. It felt like forever ago when I last started on this pitch. As usual, the grass was very short.
The match was set to be 2×25 plus 2×7½ (extra time if needed) followed by KFPM. The touchlines were marked with cones to reduce the width of the pitch for the age group.
I stripped off my tracksuit, changed into my warm-up gear and warmed-up in the centre of the field using my water bottle as a marker. The home team was using one half taking shots at goal, the track team was using the touchline for sprints, so I used the centre circle for my lone warm-up: high knees, heel raises, leg sweeps, full hip flexor rotations and varying speed-sprints.
The competition levels didn’t make use of fully qualified referees, or assistant referees for that matter. I had started out ARing here and had learnt a lot during that period. During the warm-up, players began to realise that I was there to referee after one of them asked if I was a student. I chuckled and told him that I had been.
A few players then ran up to the PE teacher asking:
Is this a serious game, sir? How come we have a real referee? I’m not sure if I should be playing in this Cup game. This is too big for me.
All pleasant and enjoyable to hear, not to mention entertaining. They meant “real” in terms of presentation and function at least. At least half the team came to where I had put my bag and pored over my equipment.
Most of them looked wide-eyed as they saw me put my cards in my pockets.
“You know there are no yellow and red cards in this game, right ref?”
“Depends how you behave” [looking back, trying to hold back a smile]
I knew they were right but it was good to keep them on alert. They certainly seemed awe-struck. Did I mention referees were scarce?
First game of 2015.
Strong whistle for kick-off and we were off. I spent the first few minutes adjusting to being back on the pitch again with my positioning. The weather was partly sunny but not very warm. Enough to squint at times but that was all. I was far more interested in seeing how the players would behave and what their general friskiness-level was at. It was more than I expected but of a different nature. More so with arm-grabbing at restarts that had little effect so I didn’t need to interfere.
Throw-ins were the next challenge of the game because certain throwers didn’t have the technique down pat and despite the feedback, I let the odd throw-in here and there go to keep the game going and definitely not with anything blatantly wrong.
Have I mentioned that I don’t like the 2014 referee shorts? The pockets are deep like their 2010 counterpart however they feel like they have more space which make them baggier. So much so that while jogging on the field, my yellow card went flying out and a small breeze took it a few metres away. I knew exactly when it happened with a few helpful hints from nearby players as play continued. 😉
Play then returned and I was able to back-pedal and then pick it up as I kept an eye up. I moved everything in my shorts pockets to my shirt pockets then. It felt odd since I’m not used to keeping everything in my jersey. Running wasn’t quite the same but at least things weren’t flying. OfficialArbitre knows what I’m talking about!
The weather at this point was beautiful. Not too hot, not too cold. Just slightly cool as the sun was on the way down but not quite at sunset. I couldn’t help but enjoy the setting of the great weather and being back out on the pitch again.
In one scenario, the home team goalkeeper had made a save and advanced to the edge of the penalty area to punt it. While he was in the process of releasing it, it slipped out of his fingers and rolled a few yards ahead. He ran and pounced on it. Something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sure if the slip out of his fingers made it legal or not but I leaned towards my gut instinct and awarded the indirect free kick. Some of the players even appealed for a penalty. They were young so I explained that it was an IDFK only. It was soon set up and my focus was on the wall when the attacking team played through a complicated set-play that didn’t work. It made their coach upset to no end.
I looked down at my watch. Not long left… Whistle had to go now. Score’s tied and we were headed to extra time.
Extra time began after a short break that the coaches wanted for tactical instructions. Most of the players were lying on the field after the final whistle looking somewhat exhausted but rather tired that the match had been played at a stalemate this far.
As the players were being briefed, I thought back to the lessons that some senior referees had taught me.
Assertiveness and establishing my authority had been an area I needed to work on. One simple way through first impressions was not to allow the captains to choose the side of the coin for the toss. The referee should decide, indicate and the outcome is then for the players to determine (sides vs kickoff). When I first heard this, something didn’t seem right. When I pulled the LOTG book out, I realised that there was no mention of the captain being allowed to choose the sides of the coin for the toss. Interesting… This didn’t have much influence at this level (or so I thought) but was good to keep in mind for the future.
Another lesson was the timing of re-entry onto the field. Certain coaches and teams try to dictate authority of the game and its pace by trying to force an early restart after half-time. This game was far from one of those but I thought back to this as I was drinking from my Powerade water bottle.
The match was going end-to-end when the game kicked-off again and I had several full-length diagonal sprints. Several promising attacks and a few obvious goal-scoring opportunities kept me alert.
The match was decided on the away goalkeeper’s mistake in the first minute of ET. A free kick, goal kick or throw after a save… I don’t quite remember. Home team attacker intercepted a short pass and slotted it in the bottom right corner of the net.
There were a few goal-mouth scrambles including a spectacular one involving diving body saves from the away team during the second half that must have involved 21 players in the penalty area. I forget how it came to be but must have been during/after a corner.
Also, in the second half, to my utter shock, I saw that the goal had been moved back a clear yard behind the goal line. I had corrected the issue before the game began but it somehow was pushed back again. I halted an impending corner kick to correct it and ensuring that the clock was stopped (and that it was communicated to the trailing away team). We managed to get it back in place with the help of a few players and restart the game accordingly. I wondered how the nets had moved back again.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a pre-match pic!
The home team began to make substitutions at almost every stoppage towards the end and with unlimited substitutions permitted at such a young age group, I didn’t stop them but I made sure the appropriate amount of time was added back. The only thing I was afraid that this would affect was the trailing team’s momentum so I kept a close eye on the timing of the requests.
1½ minutes of added time later, I blew the whistle after a promising attack had dissipated. I made sure the tone had finality and everyone knew the game was over but it was a few more seconds before the home team realised they had won. One player even asked
Did we win?
At the end of the game, the first request was:
Can I see your cards?
Their eyes were beaming as I pulled the red card out of my back pocket to show them but most were surprised it wasn’t made of metal and was just, in fact, a fluorescent card. I didn’t know how to console them but they were still happy.
I got changed back into warm-up gear to do some stretches to finish. On the way back home, my calves and hamstring had tightened up and I could really feel it. I knew I would need a few days recovery since I was just getting back into things. It was a great run and experience. I thought carefully about the decisions I had made on the walk and metro ride home.
Looking forward to match day Sunday now with a bit more of a challenge (higher age group).