By Randy Vogt
I became frustrated, exasperated and annoyed.
Earlier that week, I had told the home team coach that I would be a little late as my previous game was going to finish a few minutes before the kickoff time of his game and that game was four miles away. When I got into my car after the conclusion of the previous game, I heard thunder. The weather forecast had been calling for lightning and thunder. Listening to the radio as I drove to the field, I heard static on it from the foul weather and the forecast upgraded to “dangerous lightning and thunder” just a few miles away.
I arrived at the field at kickoff time to watch a surreal sight as both teams were lined up ready to start the match and the spectators were ready for it to begin as well but there was no referee. If the weather was good, I still would have to check the player and coaches passes, the field, goals and ball. I went up to both teams and said that we cannot play in thunder and a coach replied why not as “It’s thunder, not lightning.”
I informed the coaches that the latest forecast called for dangerous lightning and thunder and that we probably should postpone this match right now. But if they wanted to wait, all the players, coaches and spectators should go to their cars and we might be able to return to the field after waiting 30 minutes after the last clang of thunder or bolt of lightning, per a 2005 United States Soccer Federation position paper. I mainly heard very loud thunder but by then, I had also seen a flash of lightning.
One coach in particular was more interested in starting the game than the safety of his players. Five times I said, “The players and spectators need to go to their cars and get away from this open field” but nobody paid attention to what I said. I also added, “Whether kids are playing soccer or standing in an open field, it’s dangerous for them.” The coach who was gung-ho about trying to play told me, “I cannot force these parents to send the kids to the cars” but his attitude was a big part of the problem.
These teams did not know me. I might have refereed thousands of soccer games at all levels and written a book about it (which includes in it safety procedures for thunder and lightning) but nobody wanted to listen. So that’s why I became frustrated, exasperated and annoyed as they would not listen to common sense. I went to my car as both teams practiced while the loud thunder continued although it was not raining.
How quickly we forget. Not far from this field, five spectators watching an unaffiliated, amateur soccer game were severely injured in 2008 when they were struck by lightning.
And what happened at my field then? Thankfully, nothing although the sky became much darker and both teams decided to leave five minutes later. Heavy rain then flooded the field. My 15-mile drive home was challenging because of the pouring rain and difficult visibility.
Soccer Americans might say “Duh, Randy, I know that thunder and lightning are too dangerous to play in.” But two coaches last Saturday did not know this and they put their players at unnecessary risk.
And nearly a decade ago, I stopped a youth game when lightning struck and we all went to our cars. On the adjacent field, a professional women’s team was training -- they stopped practice but did something stupid by standing under trees instead. You cannot make this stuff up!
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional games in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com/)
Further Reading: Lightning Safety for Outdoor Sports By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.