The following is an extract from the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ penned by regular Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy.
YOU NEED GLASSES
“No one needs to tell me how hard a referee’s job is. I wouldn’t take their place for a million pounds.” - Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Aberdeen in 1985
The striker races clear of a static defence and looks certain to open the scoring in what had, up to that point, been a dull and uninspiring Under-18 West Cork League game. A desperate last-ditch tackle denies the number ten and the ball rolls harmlessly away for a goal-kick having last touched the striker’s boot. A vigilant right back who had been carefully tracking back watches the ball roll out over the end line and turns to prepare for the impending kick out. The referee has other ideas and blows sharply on his whistle. Inexplicably he points to the corner flag indicating a corner to the attacking team rather than a goal kick for the defending side. Cue a loud chorus of moans from the defending side, coaches and supporters. The defending team’s right back is absolutely incensed with the referee’s ridiculous decision. He turns and walks in the general direction of the match official, arms wide apart and his face crimson in disgust at the decision:
- “You f*cking idiot. How in the name of God could that be a corner? Did you not see me let the f*cking ball run out?”
The right back’s team-mates tell him to shut up and just get on with the game but it is no use. He is unrelenting and continues his tirade as the players line-up for the corner-kick. The right back just can’t help it and petulantly kicks one of the posts as he prepares to defend his goal:
- “This is a complete joke. Sure what chance do we have with that langer in the middle of the pitch. He needs a f*cking pair of glasses.”
The referee’s patience is finally worn out. He stops the winger from his run-up to curl in the corner-kick with a shrill double-blast of his whistle and roars at the right back to join him between the penalty area and the half way line: “Right. Number two. Come here, NOW.” The right back feels like a complete fool but does as he is told. The right back saunters slowly towards the ref whose face is now red with anger with his hands on his hips and realises what a complete ejit he has been. It is only at this point that the right back realises that the referee is actually wearing a pair of glasses. He stands dejectedly in front of the official for a few agonising seconds hoping the ground will open up and swallow him. The referee begins to hand out the biggest dressing down of the foul-mouthed defender’s life and pulls no punches:
- “How dare you insult me. How dare you use such foul and abusive language? How dare you make fun of the fact I need to wear glasses. Do you not think that I have much better things to be doing on a Saturday afternoon than standing here and taking verbal abuse from the likes of you?
You have been mouthing off since the first minute. Don’t dare take your frustrations and failings as a defender out on me. I’m simply doing my best. I blew the whistle because I thought the correct decision was a corner-kick. If I am wrong, I’m wrong but I have made my decision so shut up and get on with it.”
The ageing grey-haired man motions to his top pocket and begins fumbling about in search of a card. The right back gulps and realises he might be about to be sent for an early bath. He breathes a huge sigh of relief when the official produces a yellow rather than a red card.
- Referee: “Yellow card. Now get on with the game and if you so much as utter another word in my direction you will be off!”
- Right Back: “Sorry.”
I’m sad to report that the right back in the previous story was me. I never felt so embarrassed in my whole life. The dressing down I received should have concluded with a red card, such was the ferocity of my anger and verbal abuse. The man in question would have been completely within his rights to send me off and looking back I wish he had done. Perhaps I would have learned my lesson there and then. I would like to tell you that from that point on I never again verbally abused an official. I would like to tell you that I never swore, never got involved in a fight or never produced a nasty tackle whilst out on the playing field. Unfortunately I failed to heed the referee’s warning that afternoon. My junior soccer career like countless others produced a litany of yellow and red cards for foul-mouthed abuse and dangerous tackles.
One of the nastiest things I ever said was along the lines of, “Why don’t you just put on a jersey and join in their attacks altogether?” As soon as I uttered the words I regretted them. Worse still, the look of hurt and anguish on the referee’s face stopped me dead in my tracks. I was issued with yet another yellow card and apologised profusely. It is one thing to launch into a tirade of verbal abuse out of pure frustration but another (lower) level altogether when you imply that the individual who is trying his best to be plain useless.
Why do match officials receive such a hard time from players, managers and supporters? If you ever arrive early enough to an under-age or youths match you’ll find your first clue. Normally players are togging out or acting the maggot in a huddled circle surrounded by boots, tape and jerseys. As soon as the appointed match referee appears the comments begin:
-“Ah no, not him. He’s useless. We have no chance today with him refereeing. He’s a terrible ref. Red raw useless. Don’t take any sh*t from him. Just keep shouting for everything and he’ll be on our side in no time.”
What chance does any referee good, bad or indifferent have when such a negative attitude already exists among players even as young as twelve-years-old? Officials have a difficult enough task in keeping the peace out on the pitch without even being given so much as a chance before a ball is even kicked. Young (and older) players possess an ingrained negative attitude to match officials meaning the referee is the easiest outlet of frustration when decisions start going against their team.
There should be more of an onus on the coaches and parents of younger players to set a good example when dealing with referees. How many times have you seen a manager gesticulating wildly in fury at a decision going against his team? Younger players pick up on this and very quickly the mere sight of the man in black produces a knee-jerk pessimistic reaction in a child’s mind. I have seen the same scenario played out in countless schoolboys matches over the past number of years. Referee awards decision against home team. Manager walks out onto the pitch swearing loudly.
Referee asks manager to calm down. Minutes later the referee fails to award a free-kick to same side. Parents of children playing in match begin to join in the swearing, shouting and gesticulating at the match official. All this time twenty two Under-12s are staring silently and taking in the reaction of their parents and coaches towards the match official and some even begin to join in with a torrent of bad language.
If a twelve-year-old player thinks it is acceptable to issue verbal (and unfortunately physical) abuse at a referee then it is highly likely the same attitude will exist within that individual right the way through their amateur career.
(Taken from the chapter entitled ‘You Need Glasses’ from the book – Off Centre Circle). Some copies may still be available on Amazon.co.uk).
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.