It was great to see Mark Clattenburg back in action in the Barclays Premier League after what felt like an age away whether intentionally or not by the PGMO.
Tuesday was football day and up at 6am. I hadn’t been refereeing for a couple of weeks but this was a day to play. After a short car ride with my cousin, we joined a game being played by middle-aged people. It was in a cage, goal posts without nets and red stone earth floor covered in red dust. Sliding or falling on this surface would not be pretty but it made for a stronger bounce of the ball.
I’ve found that in recreational football, players prefer the ball softer. Much softer. I mean at 6s or less so the bounce wasn’t much of a factor here. Balance was a lot more key and using the cage was another factor that changed the game. There was still out of bounds with throw-ins and goal kicks but that was all. No goalkeepers. More interestingly though, you couldn’t score a legal goal unless you were closer than 7 yards from the goal which was marked with a straight line.
An interesting scenario in the game was when there was a long ball up field to my defending goal. There was only an attacker and a defender. They both jumped and the attacker flicked the ball back and into the goal. The defender (a teammate) seemed to feel that he was fouled during the jump. An argument ensued as it does in rec football. The legality of the goal came into question, some people argued and the rest, including me, abstained. Our opponents were stubborn and refused to have the goal overruled. That left a sour taste for the people arguing on my team which meant only one thing. The goal scorer was a marked man.
Surely enough, a minute or two later, he ran down the side wall of the cage in possession of the ball. A defender took the opportunity to block him off sending him into the side of the cage. It was a foul and he didn’t get hurt very much but sympathy… He wasn’t getting any nor the foul. Might have been better for him to give up the goal. Things sort themselves out when there isn’t a referee or rather when there isn’t, players will take action if they feel the referee isn’t. Important lessons.
Since I started refereeing, my enjoyment of playing football has reduced. Refereeing has found more enjoyment for me and more challenges to look forward to. It was different physical exercise though to play on this surface.
I was travelling again soon enough.
I made the travel a bit of a challenge because I chose not to speak a word of English on the way. That is rather using multiple languages. The immigration officer smiled at my attempt to communicate with her at one point. It worked though!
Match appointments started arriving on the horizon. Travelling, changing location and managing refereeing is always difficult because it means maintaining relationships and constantly having to prove oneself. It’s definitely made my elevator pitch sharper. By the year’s end, I may be an active referee in four countries though! The appointments were good news though. I was missing the pitch.
The weather was much better in the Middle East (relatively).
Saturday came around with two youth matches in the premier league. I arrived a half hour before kick-off and took in the sight. It was a beautiful pitch. The pleasure in refereeing comes from officiating matches on well-maintained fields and this was certainly no exception. From well-marked lines and shining goal posts to corner flags and flags at the halfway lines!
I warmed-up on the far side of the field using my Powerade water bottle as a marker to pace exercises and dynamic stretching.
I was eager to see how the game was going to unfold, the players react and so on. To my utmost surprise, it was the coaches that came out at the front of this race. I was working the competition level without assistant referees but they still yelled about offsides as though their life depended on it. They almost treated it as though someone standing on the line got it wrong. Both coaches took their turn demanding I used “linesmen”. I explained that nobody was willing to move on the line let alone stand there in the heat so offside decisions were still left to me. Both seemed to mumble but not before I lost my patience after their yelling later. I soon arrived at the touchline and asked and told the home team coach that his behaviour was not going to be tolerated. He believed that it was his divine right to yell for decisions. He was told that the next step would be removal which he seemed very upset by but there wasn’t much to hear from him after. Both coaches empathised with me at the end of the game having had no ARs.
I had to hurry over to the turf field on the other side of the stands for my next game in the double-header.
It was a warm day so I was sweating a lot and needed to hydrate very often.
The second game was far easier to anticipate positioning. The teams took possession and methodically worked their way up the field. Once they had, they played it in a semi-circle in front of the other team to exploit any gaps. This let me sit near the second last defender pacing with play and turning ever so often to keep my eyes on everyone.
The game was also more physical and the cautions had to start coming out. Unsporting behaviour, delaying the restart of play, persistent infringement and even finally, violent conduct when a defender retaliated and kicked out at an attacker when not challenging for the ball.
There were several target players to keep track of in midfield and at least five I had to keep in mind for persistent infringement candidates.
The main incident of the game arrived early. An away team attacker entered the penalty area heading towards goal diagonally. He was passing a home team defender with his back to goal. As he passed, the defender turned and shoulder charged his opponent on the shoulder sending him flying. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. Play on. 15 seconds later, I stopped play to get treatment for the attacker lying on the floor clutching the side of his head. The coach was irate that a penalty wasn’t given.
It was only a while later I realised my positioning had gotten the better of me. It was indeed a shoulder charge but the players were a size mismatch so the shoulder made contact on the side of the head near the ear. It was a mistake. The away team coach was quite upset for the remainder of the game but calmed down after and we had an amicable discussion after the game.
It was a tough set of games and as I ran across the diagonal on the 4th goal of the game, my calf muscle twitched. I knew I was at the end of my mileage so it was light jogging for the last couple of minutes.
It was a sunny walk back through the desert pathway.
I was happy to get two days off after. My muscles felt like rubber bands that had been stretched too much. Hamstrings were not too bad partially because of the compression shorts. My calves on the other hand… Pretty much strung out. I don’t think I had ever felt like this before. After all, I had run a little over 14km.