Well I never expected to be writing this post so early. Game #2 of the season usually arrives in the May-ish timeframe but this time, the football season starting so soon is an early Christmas (or whichever holiday you celebrate)!
I had a late morning wake-up. What else? I’m on holiday. I ate a quick brunch to get the meal out of the way because I don’t like eating within 90 minutes of KO. 150 minutes is the ideal number but compromises have to be made sometimes.
Reset my game bag to make sure everything was inside and was dressed in my Adidas track pants and jacket. I listened to my pre-game playlist on the way to the game.
School had just let out when I arrived so I was navigating through a slew of students excited that the day was over. I put my bag right at the halfway line and touchline and proceeded to do the field walk immediately. It was only 25 minutes before kick-off and everyone was expected to arrive very soon.
I absolutely expected the goals to be behind the goal line like last week. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Most of the players assumed that the goal had to be just behind the goal line so they were placed just a few centimetres off.
All good after a quick lift-n-fix. The nets looked quite old but they held up after a good shaking.
The goal nets were in great condition like last week so I didn’t have any arguments. There were two mini-portable goals however on the far side touchline used for small-sided football that were difficult to move. I kept note of it to mention to the home team.
As I circled back after the inspection, I met two of my old teachers. My PE teacher and a Business teacher I knew before I graduated. Both greeted me and the latter was the coach for the home team. He jokingly asked if the pitch met my standards and expectations. I responded as smoothly as I could mentioning the deficiencies and that we might have to call the groundsman to correct everything in time. They both chuckled along with me while mentioning that the groundsman was nowhere to be seen as of late!
I was told that there was a chance of a uniform clash a few hours before so I chatted with the home team coach. The home team wasn’t wearing the advertised colours from the website (all-whites) so they were at fault. He was surprised and mentioned he had no clue what the website had mentioned. From his look, he appeared to be a bit impressed too that I had done my homework on the teams and fixtures.
The players from last week’s game were watching as spectators and explained to nearby onlookers that I was the “Cup referee” for those trying to understand why I was there; on the theme of scarce referees. The season was split into two parts; the first four months was the league and the last four leading into the summer was the Cup.
Here are some of the interview questions I was asked by the spectators:
“How long did you have to study to become a referee?”
“Do you work for FIFA?”
“Are you FIFA-certified?”
“Have you refereed Cristiano Ronaldo?”
Meanwhile, the away team still hadn’t arrived. I changed into my warm-up gear and did the same routine as Game #1 minus the sprints. I did however, extend my preliminary jogging by a few more laps to raise my heart rate. On the topic of heart rate, for some weird reason, my heart rate data is arriving very sporadically to my watch ever since I arrived here. It was a good warm-up because all my muscles felt ready to go. That was the good news. The bad news? The away team were nowhere in sight and it was already 10 minutes past kick-off time so I was wary that I would cool down and lose the benefits of the warm-up. I also couldn’t change into uniform because I didn’t know what colours the away team and their GK were going to be wearing.
Two of the spectators volunteered to be club linesmen. I quickly quizzed them on the signals to see what they knew and how seriously they were going to take their roles. The older AR was assigned to the bench side and the younger one on the far side. The younger AR asked me how I got started in refereeing. I smiled and responded that I started exactly where he was in this league. A few minutes later, he told some nearby friends,
I’m going to be a referee!
30 minutes after the published kick-off time, I went to check if the portable goals had been moved. They weren’t, but I saw the away team had just arrived and were walking down the back road to the field. I signalled this to the home team coach while walking back and indicated the goals weren’t moved yet. The away team set-up on their side of the touchline and were in an all-dark-blue strip & goalkeeper in grey while home was blue-white-white & goalkeeper in red. I elected for my 2014 yellow and quickly got changed while their warm-up ensued.
I realised I should have requested for game balls far earlier. I did ask before the away team had arrived but it took a while before they were located and brought to the field. In any case, the players were all ready on the field as I waited for them to arrive. I felt this was a bad impression as I was standing on the touchline waiting. Two substitutes brought them after a few minutes and I quickly checked them. Pressure was only at 6, inevitably. I pumped both of them up to 11 and I tried to walk to centre as calmly as possible aware that everyone was impatient. First impression was everything. I don’t think looking hurried/flustered would have helped.
I called both captains over for a coin toss. After assigning them sides of the coin and well, tossing the coin, the away team won. The captain immediately demanded for kick-off in the first half. I told him that he could only choose the side for the first half. He reluctantly chose to remain where he was. Home team kick-off first half.
I quickly noted it down and took up my position. Have I ever mentioned my Garmin watch takes almost 10 seconds from standby to starting the timer? First unlocking it, then going through the satellite prompt before finally starting the watch.
“Come on ref.”
I was really looking forward to this game. It had been a while since I was challenged on an outdoor game. Bonus was that this was a higher age group, longer halves (25>30) and longer periods of extra time as well (7.5>10). My game management needed exercise.
The game kicked off and the teams weren’t sitting back by any means. There were two goals by the away team in the first nine minutes. It wasn’t hard to begin identifying the main players of the game. These were elements of match control that I have recently been learning to identify in the game.
#14 & #45 of the away team were the most skilled players on their team (target players).
#14 was a short player who was very quick but may be susceptible to challenges when it came to physicality with his opponents. Something to keep a careful eye on.
#45 however, was the Arab Diego Costa. Deceivingly quick at times, very muscular and gave the defence a hard time as he led a one-man attack. He also happened to cause trouble in the game with a few careless slide tackles which was more susceptible to persistent infringement.
#45 of the home team was their target player as he dribbled five players in the early stages of the game and it was clear to see he had the ability that could be targeted later on if frustration arrived.
Moment of Truth
Every challenging game has one and a lot can happen in 90 minutes. In this case, two halves of 30.
This arrived in the first half in the 16th minute. Away team striker was in a promising attack with three defenders around him. He was heading towards the penalty area on the right side of the penalty arc when the goalkeeper charged out from goal. I was following behind the attack and had bent my run so that I was heading into the left side of the penalty arc with an ideal panoramic view of play. About two yards outside the penalty area, the away team attacker looped the bouncing ball over the goalkeeper who had mistimed his run.
Everything then happened in split-seconds in my mind. The goalkeeper realised he was beaten and jumped to increase the chance of blocking the sky-bound ball. He missed. The goalkeeper’s hip sailed into the face of the attacker who had his feet on the ground. The collision sent both to the ground with the attacker taking the brunt of the challenge undoubtedly. I saw this since I was trained with the second look and saw the ball bounce off the field of play at the edge of my vision.
Foul. Definitely a foul. The colour of the card was more complicated. I blew the whistle hard and curved my run to get to the point of the collision to indicate the free kick. The goalkeeper was back on his feet by this point and retreating to goal. The ball had gone off the field of play on the chip by the attacker and it didn’t look like he was going to receive it at all even if he wasn’t fouled. I could rule out DOGSO. So caution at worst case considering the tactical nature. I shifted my focus to severity now. Reckless? At the very least. Excessive force? It was hard.
Suddenly, I was sucked out of my thinking trance. I was at the point of the offence and had turned to signal the free kick. I immediately realised I needed to check on the attacker. He was lying face-down in a prone position not moving much. I bent down to ask him if he needed the coach. I didn’t really hear an audible response. After a second, I thought it warranted it with or without his approval. I beckoned at the coach to assess the player. I turned and decided excessive force. I reached for my back pocket and pulled out the card. Fluorescent cards are easy to see whether under floodlights or under the sun and I felt the shock wave of the decision reverberate on the field. Red. It wasn’t a loud reaction nor was there major objection from anyone. The goalkeeper was in disbelief before he started taking off his gloves and a teammate approached to take them.
My attention turned back to the attacker who hadn’t moved much. He turned over and I saw blood on his nose. Before I knew it, a lot more blood started appearing very quickly from his mouth and nose. He was also lying on his back. From first aid training, I had him shift over and lean into the recovery position because I was afraid he may choke on his own blood. His coach finally arrived after what felt like an age. In the meantime, most of his team had surrounded him as well. I had them back away to give him room to breathe while he was recovering.
I stood back and surveyed the scene. It was a few seconds before I realised I had to stop my watch since this was expected to be a major stoppage in play. The player was soon taken off and attended to. A home team outfield player had taken up the goalkeeper’s position and I focused on setting up the restart.
I was a little shaken up by what I had seen but I remembered that I had to clear my mind and get on with the game. I remembered a lesson from a quarterfinal I did two years ago. A senior referee reminded me that I was the leader of my team. The third team. The referee team. On this occasion, I was alone. In another, I would have to ensure my entire teams’ mindset is clear and that they are ready to get back into the game level-headed.
It wasn’t very hard to find the spot on the field where the offence occurred. There was blood on the grass as I approached the vicinity. I had the free kick placed half a yard to the right of it for hygiene, safety and a countless number of other purposes. I had never encountered this situation before; what the Laws of the Game would expect me to do about blood on the field. I only knew about the equipment mention. The restart ensued, the ball sailed over the crossbar and the match continued.
A portion of the send-off reaction was lent to by the fact that the players had never seen cards before either.