My request for late night games worked because two rescheduled games appeared for the week. I accepted both game offers and prepared for a bit of travel. The first game was Monday night at a local school. I had already been there a few weeks ago so I knew what to expect in terms of facilities.
I arrived at the school about 27 minutes before kick-off. I was rather annoyed at being three minutes past when I wanted to be there. To my utmost annoyance, the security guard at the entrance of the school didn’t permit me to enter through the entrance I did the last time. That meant I had to walk around the boundaries of the school. Arrival went from 27 minutes to 7 minutes before kick-off. I was clearly not happy before the game but I had to clear my head before kick-off.
It was a longer field than I was used to so getting wide in the patrol paths was an important element of my game. The game was filled with goals and I had a tough time making offside decisions. There were a few scenarios where I had no reason to believe an attacker was in an offside decision. Of course my view was far from ideal not being where the assistant referee should be – the luxury of ARs. The game ended, as a result, on a mildly sour note for me. The players of the away team were disappointed with the offside decisions and I couldn’t help feel the same. There simply wasn’t more I could do. If I thought it was, I would have called it but the helplessness of the situation was what made things discomforting.
The assignor chuckled when I spoke to him later and assured me things were fine. He had done his own checks with the teams. There weren’t any complaints from the coaches.
The second game of the week was far more interesting. I left home over three hours before kick-off to start the trip. I hopped onto the metro which was a one hour ride into town. I missed an early transfer bus so waited at the bus stop for 15 minutes.
After the bus reached a ways out of town, I called a taxi from a petrol station near the bus stop.
The taxi arrived after 15 minutes and some navigating to pin-point where exactly I was. By this point, I was pretty close to all-out desert.
The taxi got me to the field with change to spare. It took a lot of planning time to execute this trip.
I had plenty of time to walk around the field and inspect. The small goals on the touchlines had to be moved back. There was only so far they could be pushed away and there were no entrances or space big enough to move them to. The field was turf. Not my favourite really but it would do.
I had left home with plenty of time to spare in case there were any hiccups so there was plenty of time pre-match.
The away team players had arrived and were casually chatting with each other while dressed in pre-match attire. Meanwhile, I was getting ready to warm-up. I was close to wrapping up my warm-up when the home team arrived and the away team’s players were mid-way through their own warm-up. The home team coach gave me a warm greeting. It was the coach from Week 10. I knew I had higher standards to meet on the day. Whether or not the decisions of the prior game brought the game into disrepute in his opinion, if I made a perceived mistake today, I would tarnish my relationship with him and have trouble managing the touchlines for all future games. I wasn’t there to make decisions he liked. However, I needed to make sure I was in the best position as much as possible today so my work rate had to be high.
It was a warm and humid Arabian evening. The game was soon under way. Did I mention the away team were not playing with a full team? 10 men while the home side had a larger than usual squad with a plethora of choice of substitutes and three team officials. The away team were known to be a very good side but the smaller than usual team almost evened up the game.
I had a lot of running to do this game but more so to get width or behind fast breakaways. The home team netted a goal after numerous chances. The away team replied with a goal to bring the game to a tie at the start of the second half. Another goal by the home team brought it to 2-1. The momentum began to swing and three minutes before the end of the game, the away team scored to level the game at 2-2 in an exciting finale.
During the half-time break, I went back to my bags at the halfway line and touchline. A few spectators behind the cage curiously began to chat with me. They found out to their surprise that I wasn’t a professional referee. Again, not many referees around here.
During the game, an aerial collision resulted on a defending player sitting on the floor with a bloodied nose. I wasn’t aware of the injury. I hadn’t thought anything of the challenge or even noticed that the player was hurt until 5-10 seconds later when I turned to look back. He was sitting on the ground attending to his face but facing the other direction. He turned his head and I quickly noticed the blood. I immediately blew the whistle to stop play since there was nothing promising and moved to the player who was close to the touchline in front of his bench. I didn’t believe there was a foul that caused it but rather an incidental collision. The player was taken off to be treated and a substitute came on.
No complaints from either of the coaches about the officiating this game.
I managed to get a ride from the away team coach to somewhere closer to home. That saved me at least two hours right there! During the train ride from the drop-off point to home, I chatted with one of the away team players who was still studying in school. It wasn’t very long ago since I was studying in that position as well so he was pleasantly surprised to hear we had something in common other than an interest in football.
The third game of the week was a testimonial game where the senior students play the staff of the school. I had been invited to officiate despite my mood being against officiating a short morning game. I arrived at the field 20 minutes before kick-off.
There were about 20 students in the stands. I took up a seat in the stands and slowly started getting changed. Slowly but surely, people started arriving and kick-off time soon passed but we were far from ready from starting. The away team players from the U18 Boys Cup match a few weeks ago were playing on the senior students team. I was greeted by a few players. It was about 10 minutes after kick-off and the students’ team had a full squad but the teachers’ team was down to nine. By then, the stands were packed and the area around it filled with students standing and creating a buzz. At least 250 people.
I walked out for the warm-up and the touchlines were packed. The buzz was just as good as pre-game music. The players on both teams were greeting each other and me. I knew players on both sides. I had to go through the crowd to get back to my bags. It was a hot day so I had worked up a good sweat ahead of kick-off.
It was important to understand the dynamics of the game. This was a friendly match that was classified as recreational in nature but you would be a fool to believe it because both teams wanted the win badly. There was no prize at the end of the game. This game was for pride and considered the parting between the two teams from the student-teacher relationship. I knew this because I played in this match in the past.
As I walked up to the centre circle with the ball, the teachers’ team captain engaged me saying
This is a fun game. We’ll have a penalty.
He held a blank stare. He was a part-time stand-up comedian so I couldn’t tell exactly what he meant (if he was serious). At first I thought he was conning me and responded with a chuckle. Like it was going to be that easy to get a decision from me. It was a while before I fully realised that it really was an informal game and not from watching the play. I’d save the fun for the ending then.
The teachers’ team was surprisingly skilled and their team included two alumni. They put up an even fight. There was one player on the teachers’ team wearing a Liverpool jersey. It didn’t take long to see that he was the play-maker of the team dribbling and taking on opponents. The crowd roared with delight after each trick. It was a lot of fun to watch.
The game ending time was set to be approximately at noon. We decided to have two periods of fifteen minutes as a result. Not very long on paper but it certainly felt like a long game! The score was level at half-time with no real threats at goal. There was an aerial challenge for the ball where the student and attacker both made an attempt. The teacher managed to head it. Play progressed and I realised he was sitting down on the field where the challenge had happened. After a few more seconds of inactivity. I stopped play to check on the player. To my horror, he had blood coming from his mouth. The student’s head had made contact with his tooth. The teacher was upset as he went off but again I didn’t think it was a foul. Twice in a week. I was more concerned about the time taken for me to assess the injury and decide if play had to be stopped or not.
Then in the second half, the students’ team found their form and their centre-forward found two opportunities to score almost one after the other. Not long after, they scored a third and the momentum had completely swung in their favour. With fives minutes left, there was absolutely no chance for a three goal thrilling equaliser.
Both teams wanted a exciting end. They just had to take the opportunity as most of them knew. The teachers had ample attacking opportunity but none with any real fizzle. Then a corner kick arrived. The teachers’ captain yelled from the penalty area
Cross it in!
The last two had been played short.
He then looked towards me in my usual position for a corner kick. I looked back and we made eye contact. He winked. I nodded briefly. His attention returned to play. The corner kick was played. It was a terrible cross but my attention was on the captain. He started running towards goal and ran close to a defender before falling to the floor with a scream. I blew the whistle and pointed to the spot.
There were raised arms in the air from the defending team. I couldn’t help but let a smile escape. Everyone knew exactly what had happened but played along for the show. A select few were actually confused however. I accompanied the decision with a long-distance yellow card while pointing at the defender in question. The players soon moved out of the penalty area and the captain squared up for the kick. I blew the whistle and he put it away cooly to the right-hand side. Consolation because the game was over. The deputy principal behind the goal on the opposite side signalled towards his watch clearly asking how much time was left. I beckoned that it was over after the restart was taken.
There were celebrations after the final whistle. Everyone was happy, and was I to get out of the sun.
How’d I do?
The Physical Education teacher, who was watching from one of the corners, was pleased and chuckled about the penalty decision.
He does it every year.
The end of the week was closed with some Laws of the Game quiz practice module for upgrading. Good to stay in tune with things. I stopped practicing questions as often as I used to. It’s good to get it back into it again. I’m rusty.