Week 14 and 15 were dominated by the Super Cup.
The countdown was on as it was leading up to the end of March. I knew the tournament was getting closer but it was more exciting to know it was in my own backyard! A local international tournament. I don’t think an opportunity like this would ever happen again.
I touched-base with the referee coordinator (RC) who sent last minute instructions ahead of the opening match day for arrival, equipment and attire. The field venues were in the outskirts of town in the desert area but once you stepped into the complex, it looked far from it. The facilities looked beautiful.
I double-checked my bag before leaving to ensure I had everything I needed for a full day of refereeing. I did my research on the teams and schedule online and was rather disappointed. They mostly seemed like local teams and it didn’t seem like the international flair that was promised would be delivered after all the hype.
Navigating was a chore for the first day since I’d be taking the same route for the next four. After passing by a few cricket stadiums and arenas, I soon found the football complex. It didn’t take very long to find the RC because I was greeted immediately by him as I walked into the building, who was hustling and bustling around moving boxes. He greeted me by name and there was a big smile on his face. Unfortunately, I knew I was a few minutes later than he asked. Can you ever expect a referee assignor/coordinator to let a late referee go without a word? He made a small mention of it but was more relieved I showed up since navigating was harder on the first day.
I was the “local” referee but I hadn’t done much travelling to fields or this complex around the city while I was here. The RC asked if I had any friends around town that would be interested in helping officiate or supervise events. I knew it was bleak given that Saturday was match day in the only other league I knew with qualified match officials but I made the calls anyways. Unfortunately, nothing came up. The RC had disappeared. I decided to find myself a changing room/area to get ready in. I walked through the complex indoors marvelling at all the football memorabilia posted for display and found the dressing rooms. There was a well-positioned sign outside: “Match Officials Only”. As I pushed the second door open, I realised I was entering a crowded room. The room was filled with referees dressed in black all of whom were English.
Now this was a daunting/awkward experience. I was the odd one out. The RC was in the room delivering instructions. After letting him know that I had left a few messages, he responded.
He introduced me to everyone and there was a collective response. I couldn’t help but smile back. I was both excited and nervous. I shook hands at a few introductions but I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t remember a single name by the end of it. I knew I would be embarrassed by this later. I made my way through the room to the back where I squeezed into a spot at the end. It was a top notch dressing room. Perfect for a full squad and just snug enough for a referee roster of just above 20.
Everyone was primarily dressed in Umbro or Nike just like I was used to seeing English Premier League officials. Some even had the Barclays Premier League logo on their uniforms, their RA logos or other sponsors. One other referee was wearing the Adidas 2010 and I was the only one remaining wearing the Adidas 2014. Since black was the colour of choice of the tournament for referees, I dressed in navy blue (my favourite colour from this uniform line).
The debrief soon began. I’m not sure what I had missed before I arrived but it didn’t seem crucial. The RC had only really gotten into his stride now. He mentioned tournament-specific rules to keep in mind, points of interest and finally the appointments. He called out crews of three and handed out the match cards to one of the members. I had to listen very carefully to mine to identify my team since I didn’t know any names. I was working with two older referees; SB and JT.
We met and discussed the games we had. Here came the difficult part. There were U12 Boys, U14 Boys and a U16 Boys games. SB asked both of us
So which games do you want to do (in the middle)?
I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know both of them very well or their tendencies and I was still setting a first impression. What did I want? I wanted the most challenging appointments possible which usually meant the older age groups. I didn’t want to be pushy and chose to believe I would get what I was meant to get.
Anything is fine with me
SB took the U16s, JT the U14s and I got the U12s.
In the first game, my first decision as an AR was to signal for a foul a few yards in front of me. Unfortunately, I was a little too eager and the second I had raised the flag, I realised the opportunity for advantage presented itself. Oh no… Luckily enough, I was waved down, to my relief, and I sprinted back to follow play. it was briefly discussed at half-time and I knew I had to wait-and-see a bit more with fouls. I have been generally timid calling fouls in games as an assistant referee so I was actively working on this area for improvement. The referee still encouraged me for making the correct call. Meanwhile I was thinking,
Great… First call of the tournament and I blew it.
It was a very busy day with seven games and a lot of field rotation. The fields were in good condition. I had not expected it to be so.
Reflecting on the first day, I could not have been more wrong. Most of the team names on the schedule went by an acronym that didn’t seem international-y. There were teams from every single continent to put their skills on display.
The weather looked odd in the evening as we stood outside on the verandah of the restaurant/bar upstairs. All the referees were relaxing after a tiring day back in casual gear. All the teams had returned to their hotels through the team buses. I remarked as I looked out at the fields,
The weather looks a little odd…
Sand, dust or vapour of some sort was thick under the lights but it wasn’t something we could feel. I thought nothing of it on the taxi ride home.
The games had ended late enough that day that the organisers promised to cover my transport. After all, I was the only local referee. I got home well past midnight and the shower was a welcoming sight. I knew I had a choice ahead of me:
Stretch my muscles or be carried off on a stretcher the next day.