I came into Day 4 with three goals:
- Aiming for the highest appointments
- Selling referee equipment to at least one referee
- Learning the names of as many referees on the roster as I could
This was a nerve-wracking day. They would announce who would be appointed to what game and the appointments would directly reflect our work and performance over the last three days. Everyone was out and about enjoying themselves and helping set up. The proceedings for the final match day were less hectic because there were less games that had to be covered but the significance of each game was much greater.
Once we had done a bulk of the setup work, we all returned to the dressing room. The long-awaited match officials photo had to be taken but the head referee was nowhere in sight so we took our own initiative. The security guard stationed outside our dressing room was summoned to come in and take control of a ref’s iPad and squeeze us all in. The head ref had asked us all to wear black for the photo but since I was wearing the Adidas 2014 set of kits, there was no black. The closest I had was navy blue and the head referee playfully grumbled that I had to find a black one for the photo. Luckily enough my Adidas black warm-up shirt was enough and I was front-and-centre of the picture.
As everyone was dawdling around, I pulled out some newspaper from my bag along with some equipment and put it down on the sink area putting all the referee equipment I had out for show. Presentation-wise, there was a decent spread and it began to catch peoples’ eyes. After all, fluorescent Tornado whistles tend to do that! Better yet, the head ref showed up and had his eye on an organiser and a few other items. He helped spread the word and a couple of others came by and made purchases. Not as much as I would have hoped (or rather expected) but good enough. A victory nonetheless.
The Final Appointments
Once the photo was taken, we returned to our seats on the bench in front of our cubbyholes. The head ref had finally arrived after sorting out some logistics. He told us how happy he had been with all of our performances on the pitch. The appointments were then dramatically announced one-by-one.
He began reading out names leaving a poignant pause after each name to let it sink around the room. It definitely enhanced the dramatic effect. The lower age groups were called out first. There were consolation rounds and championship games to be played. At this particular tournament, they were called the Challenge Cup and the Super Cup respectively. I patiently waited to hear when my name would be called. Following each match announcement, there was a round of applause.
My name was called. AR on a U14 Boys Super Cup game! But wait, I was called again on another appointment! And another. I was beginning to feel sheepish as I sensed there were a dozen eyes on me from around the room. They weren’t mega-appointments but the quantity spoke on a different note. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. No doubt I was blushing and avoiding direct eye contact with anyone. There was a playful joke going around about giving me all the games. Perhaps it was the ‘local ref’ factor.
And then the most important game I was announced for came.
U16 Boys Challenge Cup Final Referee
Everything culminated in the top age – U18 Boys Super Cup Final. Everyone was watching the head ref with bated breath. Who was going to be appointed? The room was undoubtedly nervy. Then it was announced. It was the ref I had worked with on my first game! A well-deserved appointment. Having had a chance to observe the referees I could, he was undoubtedly the best, most experienced and the one with the best feeling for the game. Everyone hopes for the top appointment but when you see someone shine, there is no shame in missing out on an opportunity to someone like this. I was beaming with happiness on how the day had started. All set.
Once, he had finished, he stressed that the games assigned to the referee of each match was a direct consequence of their performance. The assistant referee appointments were not as scrutinised. There was a subtle air of grumbling.
The day began with one of the referee crews starting well ahead of the others. Since there was no admin work to do, we all walked out to watch them and sat in the spectator area. We were all dressed casually. There were no other spectators other than us for this first round of semi-finals. As the game kicked off, we cheered and clapped on every call the referee made. One of the teams was seated in the same bench area and the substitutes felt so sheepishly outnumbered that they clapped along with us albeit meekly. I couldn’t help but enjoy that part.
I was beginning to know the names much better at this point and changed positions to sit with everyone and talk more. After all, this was the final day of the tournament. I also managed to satisfy my curiousity about the culture in English refereeing asking questions about tendencies and habits I had seen both in-person during the tournament and on TV.
I was surprised to meet people so involved in refereeing and the English RA. Certainly not something I had initially expected.
U14 Boys Super Cup Semi
I got dressed for my game and joined one of the young promising referees. He looked like he could be a Provincial by his attitude and approach but I was yet to see him in action. It’s always fun to see what a referee has to reveal with their skillset on the pitch after they make an initial impression in the pre-game chat.
This game was end-to-end. One of the teams took an early lead with two goals.
An attacker for the trailing team made a break in front of my touchline with a lot of empty space. A defender came across and pushed him with one arm. He stumbled but regained his balance and ran forward.
Another defender came and tripped him this time. He stumbled again but regained balance and turned straight to the penalty area.
He moved across the face of the goal not far from the penalty mark and finessed it into the top left corner. Everyone erupted.
As I trotted back down the touchline, I was in awe of the double advantage in the build-up. Two somewhat quick succession decisions that led to something truly beautiful. The drama was far from over though. An equaliser sent the game into extra time. The team that had the lead then went up 3-2.
In the closing stages of the second half of ET, the trailing team was attacking hard. The penalty area was crowded on a corner kick. A shot just a yard wide of goal was made and a desperate defender deliberately handled it to scoop it out over the goal line. I would say to “safety” but the shot was off target. Penalty kick and caution. The ball was netted and the match equalised yet again! Quite the theatrics.
U16 Boys Derby
My final game had arrived. I was raring to go but I don’t think I had fully understood or appreciated the importance. 40 minutes before game time, the head ref passed by and spoke to me in a serious tone.
This is going to be a tough game. Both teams hate each other. There have been text messages exchanged. Can you handle it?
How do you think I felt having heard that? I was grinning with excitement. The bigger the challenge, the better. I didn’t want the biggest game with all the fluff. I wanted the hardest one because it’s an opportunity to prove my performance and worth.
Yes, I’ll be fine.
What was I actually thinking?
Consider it done.
There was still a decent amount of time left before the game. I walked back to the dressing room to get ready having heard what colours the teams were going to be wearing. Before I could escape, one of the referees got a hold of me and they wanted me to give a television interview. I was hesitant at first but it didn’t look like I had a way out. They asked me to talk briefly about my experience and how the tournament was. Thankfully it didn’t step over any Code of Conduct/Ethics of referees that I was acutely aware of.
Then, I realised something. For the first time, in a very long time, I wasn’t refereeing or representing a National FA. That was certainly an odd feeling. Not that it changed what I said. I finally managed to get away from the television crew. This time I was caught by the Youth Premier League assignor for the city. We chatted a bit about the tournament and how things were going. I let him know that given the extreme morning heat, I couldn’t continue refereeing (it was taking it’s toll). He was around watching the Super Cup final.
Really at this point, I needed to get mentally ready and clear my head. There was so much going on that I needed to focus on the game at hand and my strategy. I barged into the dressing room. It was empty. I sat down for a few minutes thinking about how the next 90 minutes would go.
The U18 Boys Super Cup was taking place at an adjacent field in parallel so there was quite a supporting crew watching both matches with an undoubtedly bigger focus on the Super Cup match.
I was prepared and on high alert from the get-go. I wasn’t going to lose control of this match on lack of vigilance. Both teams were from my ethnic area. As a result, I had a strange feeling that helped me with match control. A lot of ground passing kept possession moving wide across the field and then came my moment of truth.
The ball was passed across the penalty area by a defender to one of his teammates as they were circulating the ball and possession. The ball took an awkward skip off the ground and the defender who squared up to try and control it with his chest instead controlled it with his upper arm just below the shoulder.
There were appeals from the attacking team but I had waved it away. It was quickly quelled because of my quick reaction. I was a little surprised at myself to be honest. The more I thought about it, the more I regretted it but I didn’t want to make another mistake so I tried to forget it.
An opposing team striker approached me at half-time. He didn’t say much and we probably had the most unintelligible conversation possible having uttered a few words back and forth and being satisfied (or at least appearing so from a body language perspective). The score? 0-0.
I chatted with my ARs who agreed that nothing untoward had happened during the half that would indicate this was a tough game or that there was history. I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right things or the monster was yet to be unleashed.
The second half kicked off and the home team went up 2 goals. As the clock ticked, it started getting nervy. Fouls started causing sparks to fly. Players began directing their focus at the challenges given the difficult scoreline to overcome. As conversations became more verbal, the game started heating up until finally a foul occurred right in front of the leading team’s bench.
The substitutes and spectators a few yards from the touchline began egging and coaxing the attacker who had committed the foul. Jokes about the scoreline. I couldn’t identify an offender or even tell if they were all substitutes because the field didn’t have much in the way of seating arrangements nor identification (just people all around). As I saw the situation escalating, I held the striker by the midriff while he was facing the crowd and led him away from the touchline.
I had a quiet word with him because I believed I had a better chance convincing him to forget them than to quell the crowd in this situation. Perhaps in any other game it may have been possible but in this one, a different challenge altogether.
I convinced him that his team had a very credible chance of making a comeback and that the opposing team was targetting him as a distraction. The focus on the game was the way to succeed. He looked at me as I spoke and after I finished, it looked like he snapped out of a trance.
Ok. Let’s go.
I was startled. Had what I said really worked? I’m going to have to remember those lines.
The handling decision stayed on my mind and was probably much bigger in my head than everyone else had perceived it to be because there was no mention of it later.
I blew the final whistle and watched as the winning team celebrated. I was happy with how my ARs had helped me out and somewhat over how I had managed it. I was in a sense of disbelief that it was all over. Surely there was at least one more game? I could feel there was a sense of emptiness looming. Tomorrow’s problems.
By the end of the day, I was astonished at all the names I had learnt. If I had put the effort in on the first day, I’m sure I would have learnt every single referee’s name and have been able to have had a conversation with them.
When my game was over, everyone was walking over to another field including the referee and players. The senior Super Cup final was being moved because the sprinkler system started mid-way through the game! I walked by to say goodbye to everyone I had met and exchanged contact info with them. The one time I’ve found a dual use for a “referee book” (wallet). After they all wrote their email addresses, some of them even joked saying they didn’t want me to send them marketing emails on products. I couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
As I walked around finishing the final errands before closing, a coach from one of the teams who was getting ready to wind down ahead of his team’s flight back was asking where he could deflate a game ball he had; airport security wouldn’t allow a pumped ball to be taken. I asked him to catch me on the way out and that I had the equipment to do that for him. He indeed caught me on the way out and I deflated the ball from him after pulling out my gauge from my organiser. He was quite happy and we wished each other the best of luck.
A busy weekend with over 60 km in mileage. Plenty to recover from.
The tournament experience was amazing fun. There was the ups-and-downs but it’s definitely something I’d love to be a part of again.