It was a relaxing start to the day because I had plenty of time before my games. I was initially afraid I had arrived late because the dressing room was empty. I frantically got changed into gear and rushed out to look for everyone and where I was assigned to.
The first set of referees I ran into pointed me to the field behind the complex that we hadn’t used yet in the tournament. The games that had been postponed from the day before were to be played there. I walked briskly over to find 4-5 referees walking around the pitch inspecting it. Only… there wasn’t much to inspect. There were no lines for football! The lines on the pitch were marked out for rugby and faintly that too.
I realised that I wasn’t late after all. Everyone was still in casual gear so I suddenly felt overdressed; my kick-off was still more than an hour away. The extra goals on the field had to be moved and I happened to be the extra wheel and couldn’t help out without getting in the way so I was a silent spectator following the proceedings.
I still didn’t know who was on my crew at this point. I knew their names but I hadn’t matched the names to faces yet over the previous two days. Alas, it turned out that none of the four referees on the field were them. They mentioned that the groundsman for the complex would come out to set the markings on the pitch.
I went back to the main field area to watch a few of the games get some footage of the tournament. It was a beautiful day after all.
It was nearing kick-off time and I finally met the rest of my crew. When I met them, my thought was
“Ahaaa. So that’s who they were”
We arrived at the field to find that none of the lines had been marked! Thankfully a field marshal was nearby for us to ask and who could radio in the relevant party. The teams arrived and set up in the shade nearing T-30 minutes to KO. It took quite a while for the facility personnel to arrive who proceeded to chat amongst themselves. Something was wrong and I wasn’t sure what it was.
There were three games for the day and the crew planned to do one each. I was given the first one in the lowest age group yet again. Since I was in charge of the first game, I had to take charge of the situation and ensure everything was ready for the game. I stepped up to chat with the grounds crew who was busy chatting with the tournament organisers. I found out that not all the equipment was available to get the markings done properly.
The goals were currently not on the goal line but advanced onto a line used for rugby about 10 yards ahead. The measurements for all the necessary markings weren’t known such as the goal area, penalty area etc. Moreover, the main person running things was off on the day because it was a Friday (weekend in the Middle East).
Everything changed immediately when the grounds crew realised we had the same mother tongue. All of a sudden, they seemed much more willing to help me and let me take charge. The tournament organisers realised I had things in hand and stepped away. I let the teams know it would be a 30 minute delay to mark the field and let the grounds crew know that I would give them the measurements for the markings and that we didn’t have to draw thick, strong lines so that any approximations would fade away in a few days. They were very concerned about the exact measurements being drawn onto the field.
Marking the pitch
The rest of the referee crew stepped back into the shade to talk between each other and rest in the shade. I was a little surprised they weren’t getting involved but perhaps they thought I had things in hand. It was the mental support which I needed more of at this point. This was not something I was used to dealing with.
- The touchlines had been marked but the goal lines weren’t.
- Rather, the one that was marked was too close to the rugby posts that it wouldn’t let the goal fit in between the rugby posts and the goal line. We chose to extend the top of the goal area, which was lightly marked, all the way to the touchline and have it serve as a goal line.
- I left that as an exercise for the grounds crew as I decided what else we would need. Goal area, penalty area… that was enough?
- A centre circle, corner arc and penalty arc were luxuries at this point really and we didn’t have much time to get things started.
I hesitantly inspected the field area near the goal because I knew choosing the wrong spot and distance to mark the pitch could have a titanic effect on the games that day.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Meanwhile they had almost finished marking the goal lines on both ends which I was called to confirm before they firmly drew them in. I pointed out two spots with the help of the female member of my crew. This was meant to be the two corners of the goal area. They inserted picks into the spots and tied a string between the two so that the lines drawn against it would end up straight.
Getting lines straight was only a part of the problem. Making sure they were identical on the other end of the field was another because it could easily be a straight crooked line (like a parallelogram). Does that make sense? I didn’t realise this at first. We did the same for the penalty area. I was more afraid of creating a larger-than-life penalty area than a smaller one for obvious reasons. I was sweating by the end of all of it but job done. Or at least partially… there was still a day’s worth of games to ref.
For the first-time, I realised marking a pitch is not actually an easy/simple job. My respect for groundskeepers who masterfully maintain perfectly straight and symmetrical line markings on their pitches just went up. It’s not as easy as it looks.
For the first-time ever in my career, I used in excess of four languages on the pitch in one game. This was massively confusing because sometimes, I wasn’t sure which one to use at times and racked my brains before each conversation to mentally “switch mode”.
The funniest moment came during a defensive free kick in the penalty area when a substitution was requested. The players were moving upfield and the substitution wasn’t entirely obvious to the kicker so I called out to him.
He looked at me quizzically.
Attend s’il te plaît
Just a minute!
He acknowledged gesturing with his hand and then chuckled realising what had happened. There was a huge grin on his face after that. My uncle once told me, a guaranteed way to bring a smile to someone’s face is to greet them in their mother tongue. Good advice.
Let me rewind. That was my second game when I was on the line. Back to the first game which kicked off an hour late. It was a young age group but I had trouble dealing with challenges from players who were physically larger than everyone else. This created a mismatch during tackles leading to the whistle being blown when a shoulder charge turned into a shoulder-into-the-head really. The bigger players were getting frustrated. It was not an easy task since I had to protect the players when then fouls occurred but it only served to infuriate the bigger player.
The game ended otherwise without much trouble but AR2 said that one of the bigger players caused me enough grief that he definitely would have been cautioned him with his patience level. I probably should have.
The Big One
The second game arrived and the sun had set already (back to the present in our flashback). It was a twilight sky when we kicked off and I was happy to take a break and move to the line. International tournaments like these were an opportunity to showcase your officiating prowess but I was more interested in seeing the refereeing style of foreign referees and what I could pick up from them. We jumped from the U12 game to a U18 game. Conditions favoured a fast and physical game so I mentally prepared myself for what was to come.
The game kicked off and I was AR1 on the team bench side. The game started without any problems until it arrived at the flashpoint. A younger player in possession of the ball was victim to a slide-tackle. No call. I watched this from behind and saw nothing untoward other than a clumsy challenge. The tackler half-jumped, lunged and slide with both feet across so that his shins made contact with the ball and swept through taking the player off his feet.
Was it a foul? I’m not sure.
Was it dangerous? Probably.
Was it stupid? Yes.
Did it look awkward? Definitely.
Neither the referee or I reacted. The challenge happened just outside the centre circle in the opposite half from me. The bench erupted. They were furious how the big player had challenged one of their 14-year old call-up players. I didn’t realise this until the outburst. Yet another size mismatch but with an awkward sliding challenge this time. The key thing to understand why this lunge didn’t appear like a clear-cut send-off was because it was a sweeping lunge almost (not a lunge at the player/ball).
The reaction was enough to start shenanigans on the field and a confrontation between players of both teams. The crowd of players was too large for me to identify what was going on but AR2 advanced onto the field and soon after advised the referee who to dismiss. The red card came out and the victim team was furious as the player stormed off the field.
I tried to use my empathy with the coach to calm him down and to in turn influence his players. His face was stone-cold serious. After I addressed him politely, all of a sudden, he broke into a smile and he said.
You’re too nice
It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that and trust me, by now, I’ve learnt that that isn’t necessarily a compliment on a football pitch. The coach meant well but I interpreted it with all the signals I’ve received from players and coaches over the course of my career to read between the lines in how I conduct myself on the field. I had heard this comment once not long ago from a FIFA referee.
I was on high alert from here on out. The game was on a knife edge. The referee quite rightly tightened his grip on the game to re-gain match control by calling smaller pieces of contact. It sent the right message and I muttered under my breath so nobody but myself could hear (almost like commentary).
Yes. Good call. Slow the game down. Take your time.
Unfortunately for the game, the send-off was enough to render it devoid of entertainment because it became a goal-fest against the team that was playing a man down (the French-Algerian team). They were not pleased.
You killed the game! Terrible referee.
The game ended calmly besides a few mumbling comments and what reflecting on it, was a game revolving on how one challenge changed the course of 60 minutes.
We had to clear our minds from what happened and we had after all, come to officiate to enjoy ourselves so we started cracking jokes soon after. The field marshall came by to ask about scores and misconduct. I had spoken with him earlier while we were marking the lines on the field and his first question to me as he saw us laughing together was:
How long have you known the other referees?
My response? “48 hours”. He was surprised to see the comradery that had built in such a short time. Such is the nature of refereeing and the reasons to love officiating.
It was the final game of the day left to the third member of our referee crew. She felt unprepared to take it on and asked if one of us could do it. The other member of our crew declined it and offered it to me since he had an eventful experience in the prior game and had just done a middle. I accepted and tried to mentally prepare myself again. I was excited. I had enough fitness in me to do this game but I almost abhor receiving last-minute appointments. I find myself mentally preparing for a game for days or at least hours beforehand. A sudden change in plans always upset things and make it difficult to calmly enter the game.
During the game, the ball appeared to strike the hand of a defender not far from the touchline. I wasn’t convinced or at least sure it was deliberate from my position. I quickly react (as I’ve learnt is the best way to sell a decision), and say “No!”. The AR then stops as I see her in the background and signals for a foul (she had seen differently). I trusted her, blew the whistle and indicated the free kick.
But ref you just said no!
I got better advice from someone in a better position than me.
To keep it short and sweet, I had a great game. The game was back-and-forth with goals and the score at 3-2 late at the end of the second half. One of my brother’s classmates was playing as a striker on the team trailing and I recognised him at kick-off.
The trailing team suddenly pulled back two goals in the span of the last 5 minutes sending the entertainment level in the game and the mood through the roof.
On a free kick, an attacker in an offside position charged forward to challenge the goalkeeper for the oncoming ball. Goalkeeper gets there first, is just about to land his hands on the ball when the attacker collides sending him awry. AR1 raises his flag for offside. Ball hits the back of the net. I blew the whistle to indicate a direct free kick for the more serious offence (jumping at an opponent). The defender turned and asked as he moved upfield.
What was it for ref?
Take your pick! Offside or foul.
I walked out of the facility at the end of the evening and happened to be walking beside a family with their child who was playing in the tournament. They complimented me on my performance. I couldn’t help but feel pleased. I knew if there was any day I could have ideally peaked at my performance, it was before the final match day where the most important appointments were given. A very successful match day.
Day 3: 4 games (two middles and one line)