What are the 10 things I least want to see or hear when I’m refereeing a game of soccer?
1. The shout for “Offside!” almost every single time a forward is through alone on goal. It comes from the defenders, it comes from the coaches, it comes from the spectators — a one-word verbal plague of ignorance upon the amateur game. During Saturday’s game, a goalkeeper saved a freekick and then complained that the player who followed it up to score was offside. How did he see that when he was saving the kick? He went on about it so much (and I tried to ignore him, but he ran after me almost all the way to the halfway line screaming, “Offside! Offside!”) that he ended up with a yellow card.
2. “You have to call fouls against both teams!” Usually from a losing coach or one of his players. Oh, really? I thought I was just supposed to call fouls against your team as a heaven-ordained test of your patience. And because I have a real and vested interest in who wins this U15 boys’ district league game. Sunday’s choleric coach, with his team several goals behind, bellowed this one at me. The obvious answer — I’m calling fouls against your team because it’s mostly your team that’s fouling. Perhaps because that’s the way you coached them.
3. “Ref, how much longer?” No matter how many times you call the answer out loud, there will be at least three players who didn’t hear it for every one that did. If you want to know how much longer, ask your coach. I’m watching the game, not my bloody watch. And what will you do with this knowledge anyway? Suddenly start giving 100% for the last 10 minutes after winging it for the first 80?
4. “Ref, their number 10 just called me a pig-shagger.” Or something. What the ref doesn’t see or hear, he can’t punish. And we’re not going to get involved in a conversation that starts with: “Did you just call FC Farmhands’ number 7 a pig-shagger?”
5. The halftime walk to the changing room when you see one of the coaches walking towards you. It’s usually not to see if you want a piping cup of hot chocolate (although — very occasionally — it is). Be prepared to account for a perceived foul you can’t even remember. Register the coach’s disgust and disbelief when you tell him your mind’s blank. Shame on me — another shocking injustice already lost to time and the dark, moist mud of the municipal field.
6. A straight red-card offense. You might think it’s an existential peak for any referee — the privilege of pompously holding up the plastic signifier for a big dismissal. But it’s the moment I hate most, because already I’m thinking, “That’s at least one hour of my Saturday/Sunday night gone writing up the disciplinary report for this dickhead.”
7. The off-the-ball shoving match. This one’s a particular specialty of teenage boys, usually when a bulky defender ushers the ball out of play while his skinnier opponent tries to flail and dance his way around him. Then they square up, push each other in the chest, pout at each other, and hope that I get there to intervene before — for the sake of pride — someone feels obliged to raise a fist. Then I give a lecture like a weary old teacher who’s seen it in the corridor a thousand times before.
8. The Parent With An Opinion.
9. Serious faces. I mean it. During the obligatory pre-match handshakes, I’ve taken to advising players that they are, in fact, allowed to smile. Go on, try it. Enjoy the sport. It’s the weekend in a free and democratic country and you’re playing football.
10. The absence of gratitude. I read an interview recently with an air hostess who said, “All we ask is for passengers to smile and say thank you. It’s not much, but it really means a lot to us.” Ninety per cent of players and coaches don’t bother. But they should. It’s not much, but it really means a lot to us. Thank you.
Ian Plenderleith’s new book reflects the recruitment crisis in refereeing across all sports, around the world. 'Reffing Hell: Stuck in the Middle of a Game Gone Wrong’ is available in the USA on Amazon Kindle from August 8. The book is also available in print directly from the Halcyon Publishing in the UK.
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The 2022-23 FIFA rulebook
The are various ways to access free digital versions of the 2022-23 FIFA Laws of the Game.
Photo: Michael Janosz/ISI Photos