Come morning, the Middle East brought its flavour to the International Super Cup. A sandstorm had enveloped the city. I looked out the window early in the morning.
The weird haze last night was a foreshadowing.
Visibility was poor and the health risks would be high as well going out in this weather. The previous sandstorm a month earlier lasted three days so it was hard seeing this abating quickly. In fact, this one looked worse.
With all the hype of the Super Cup, it looked like day 2 may be called off. All that anticipation and excitement. Can you imagine how I felt when I looked out the window – sad… Miserable? Wrong. I was ecstatic. I was so worn out by day 1 that the prospect of day 2’s physical activity was extremely daunting. I wasn’t sure I could go through the same thing again.
The daily schedule had been established for a 1:30pm referee arrival and games only kicking off at around 3pm. After an exchange of emails and a morning of sore muscles, a 3pm meeting time was set at the fields. The sandstorm began to clear at 1:30pm when the notice came out so it looked positive for the rest of the day. The morning hours also made a huge difference in the battle with fatigue.
When I arrived, everyone was seated in the facility cafeteria. A ref called out:
Good to see you again today. Back for more? Last year we had a chap that showed up to the first day and then never showed up again.
I grinned back,
Wouldn’t miss it for the world!
Sure it was taking a physical toll but I loved every minute out on the pitch. I openly chatted about my relief at the extra time off that morning. Everyone else felt the same way although I think they got less sleep at the hotel with all the evening activities.
New day, new crew. I was looking forward to getting to know everyone and relearning names that had fallen through the cracks during the first day’s introduction. I was assigned on the grass fields today and we were moving to different crews across different fields. I didn’t have any games on turf however like the day before. The turf was a marsh green which wasn’t very attractive to look at.
With a late start to the day, the weather was more positive since there was less daylight during games.
The biggest decision I had to make was an incident involving the goalkeeper charging out of goal and recklessly tackling an attacker. The play happened so fast that the ball went well out of play. I blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. After moving towards the spot, I veered off towards the keeper to display his caution. He had his hands held out with his elbows tucked in a slightly meek plea. Nothing doing and not much complaint. PK converted and the game continued to a 3-1 finish. Or 4-1. I can’t remember.
My AR (who was on my crew yesterday) discussed this with me after the game and pointed out that the striker had played the ball too hard so the ball had zoomed out before the contact had occurred. I was so fixated on the challenge that I hadn’t really given much thought to it. I think I may have pondered it for a second during decision-making.
This is a difficult scenario. How do you tell the victim that his opponent’s challenge was careless but nothing can be done because the ball is out of play. No free kick and no card. One of the most difficult game management scenarios, in my opinion.
A foul happened to the same team back in the first half about 12 yards outside the penalty area towards the right side. An attacker was put off balance by a defender during play with no promising attack. The attacker stumbled and scuffed the ball. I blew the whistle, as soon as I saw the scuff happening, having waited for a bit. Advantage pulled back since nothing materialised and it was going to be a ceremonial direct free kick. Once I had the wall setup and blew the whistle, the free kick taker curled the ball over the wall into the top corner sending everyone into jubilant celebration.
I got props at half-time from my AR this time. He said smacking his lips and with a grin,
Later in the day, I was working with a relatively younger crew. They were all taller than me but I couldn’t tell if they were younger. Probably very close in age. Anyways… my Adidas wristband was in the wash since I had used it thoroughly the day before, I was using the thin sweat-wicking bands that I normally wrap around my Ervocom receiver this time. The bands are loose and not as good at absorbing sweat but something was better than nothing in the Middle East heat.
Thankfully, the sand-mowers (as I like to call them) came by the fields and cleared the dust from the morning’s sandstorm away. The two main grass fields outside were clear but the turf field was still coated in a fresh layer of sand that would rise on every step on the pitch. I digress…
The loose bands meant that I didn’t have my usual trusty place to keep my coin after the toss. I thought I’d give it a go because although it was loose, the edges were tighter and may hold up.
Before I had a chance to find out, following the coin toss, my AR turned his heels and made for the touchline and unknowingly kicked the coin that I left on the ground. To my dismay, I saw it skip over the grass at top speed and then vanish. Great… There goes my FIFA coin.
To my relief, I spotted it in the walk-over the pitch at half-time. Funnily enough, it was only a few yards from where it had fallen. Was I seeing things? I put it straight back into my organiser at the halfway line before starting the second half. Phew… Safe. But the saga wasn’t over.
For my next middle, I pulled out my golden B&D toss coin for a change. This time, I turned quickly just outside the penalty area during play and it flew out of my sweatband, bounced off the grass twice as a gold glint and vanished. Not again… This time, I didn’t find it. Despite several walk-overs and some extra refs watching for the rest of the night, the coin was gone. Well… I had two more days to search. It’s not like it was made of actual gold and that players would really care about it. Thankfully it did say ‘Referee’ on it.
One of the members of my crew had a pair of Touchline flags. He offered me the chance to use them for my game in the middle. I was a little surprised at first that he offered. It was expensive equipment and I certainly wouldn’t lend my Ervocom to just anyone. I placed the receiver on my arm and he pulled a medical elastic sleeve across my arm and it held the receiver quite snuggly. I was sufficiently impressed at the idea. I had never thought of that… Gotta find one of those sleeves. The flags were quite comfy to use when I had a chance to wield them on the line.
Having experienced both sets of flags, I would still prefer Ervocom. A bulkier receiver and longer flag sticks but they just look right. For function? Touchline at least for now.
It was a busy day but I felt much better than the day before in terms of physical fatigue. Day 2: Three games.