The following is an excerpt from Ian Plenderleith's book, "Reffing Hell: Stuck in the middle of a game gone wrong." Illustrated by Tim Bradford (Halcyon Publishing)
Four minutes to go, the score’s 2-3 in a furious and foul-ridden boys’ under-17 game, and I blow for a penalty to the home team. It’s an unnecessary foul from the defender, who keeps his feet on the ground as he backs into a forward jumping for the ball. The forward goes arse over tit and lands in a heap.
I’m five yards away — a clear foul, a clear penalty.
The away team sees it differently. Five players surround me and yell. Their bench is up on its feet, expressing solidarity through raised arms and rubicund outrage. It’s been like this the whole second half, from both teams. I don’t change my mind, but I show a yellow to the loudest dissenter and they back off. The home team converts the penalty.
“You lost control of the game in the second half,” the away team coach tells me afterward. I walk away without telling him what’s on my mind in that second, tempted to show him what ‘lost control’ really looks like.
Another way of looking at it would be to say that he lost control of his team, as did the home bench. Fired on by the bellicose reaction of the coaches to every foul, the behavior of the players deteriorated, leading to more fouls, more dissent, and a deeply unpleasant atmosphere.
In the first half there were no cards, because I was a touch too lenient. In the second half, I handed out eight yellows and issued multiple appeals for the players and the coaches to calm down. Aside from abandoning the match, there wasn’t a lot else I could do.
I can remember hearing this old cliché in the stands as a kid. The ref would book a couple of players, there might be a flare-up, and an old bloke would turn around to another old bloke behind him and say knowingly, “The ref’s lost control.” The other old fellow, usually smoking a pipe, would concur with a nod born of wisdom and experience. It’s not the wankers kicking opponents and squaring up to each other who are losing control. It’s the referee.
After a long inquisition at the final whistle — the away players laugh with open contempt when I explain the penalty decision — I walk back to the changing room feeling that, for €14, I could have better stayed at home laughing at my own reflection in a mirror. “Well reffed,” says one kind spectator as I leave the pitch. “Don’t let the bastards get to you.”
Before the game, I’d met a young referee who’d just done a boys U13 game. He’s still at school, and has only been reffing since the start of the year. He thought it would be a good way for him to stay involved in the game when he stops playing. “Are you enjoying it?” I asked him. “Not really,” he replied. “I’m thinking of packing it in.” Why? “The coaches,” he said, without hesitation. “They never stop complaining.”
Soon they’ll be able to complain that there’s no one around to ref their sorry games.
Refereeing in Soccer America & Around the Web...
Recent ref, rules and officiating coverage and commentary:
1. Digging ourselves into a handball hole. But there's a very simple way out. By Ian Plenderleith
2. Watch: What a referee did to earn 12-game ban By Mike Woitalla
5. PRO's Inside Video Review (NWSL) with Greg Barkey.
6. Mic up referees for TV – an idea that ended badly in England By Steven Pye (The Guardian)
8. New Jersey Town’s Little League umpire abuse ultimatum turns tables on unruly fans By Jeff Goldman (NJ.com)
"If a spectator violates the code of conduct and becomes too unruly or abusive, the person will have to umpire three games, under the supervision of an official ump, before being allowed to return as a fan."
9. Behind the scenes at English professional referee training camp By Ben Fisher (The Guardian)
10. Tim Ford, who will server as a video match official, is the lone American among the 25 referees, 38 assistant referees, 18 video match officials selected for the 2023 FIFA U-20 Men's World Cup in Argentina (May 20-June 11). LIST: Game officials for the 2023 U-20 World Cup.