Giving up

So I had a bad experience in my last game, and would do a lot of things differently.

This morning though, I cried off an FA Vase game with anxiety and panic attacks.

I thought about making up an excuse to the FA, but in the end I just told the truth and apologised but said I could not do the game.

I won’t get another FA Appointment. But I really don’t want one.

Last week I went to see my football club reach the first round proper of the FA Cup. I enjoyed it.

Having considered the last couple of weeks, I’ve decided refereeing is not worth it.

I’ve enjoyed refereeing in the main. In the 5 years I’ve been refereeing I’ve found it relatively easy to get promotion to level 5. I even considered getting fit and going for level 4. Most weeks, both teams are pretty happy with my performance. My club marks are above average over the season, despite me always putting bookings through and not compromising on discipline.

But all the good times refereeing are not worth that one moment, two weeks ago, when I was sat in the dressing room, with the door locked, scared to leave and being criticised outside it by players I’d just given up my Saturday for.

Scared.

I was scared.

I know giving up isn’t a great role model for others. I know that others will demand that I don’t let the club win. I hope others have a thicker skin. Maybe one day I’ll come back to it.

But for now:

Two weeks ago I was sat in a locked dressing room scared. It’s not worth that. So I quit.

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“It happens to us all”

I had one of those games yesterday.

I was involved in a farce that was not even a step up from Sunday football without goal nets or officials yesterday.

I have kept the names of the clubs from this report, for now. This is an extract from my letter to the AFA.

It is certainly the poorest example I have experienced in my time playing and officiating in the AFA (since 1999).

I know that at some points today I could have taken more decisive action and there are a range of learning points. I am disappointed in my personal performance, but I do not believe this absolves the clubs, and particularly the away side, of responsibility for what occurred today.

Prior to the match:

I was appointed to the match as a late replacement. However, the phone call from the home side was courteous and informative. However, nobody met me when I arrived at 2pm. It wasn’t even clear which building I should be in. Eventually, I found another official who assisted me. I got changed and then worked out from some straggling players from the home team’s 3rd side that I needed to travel down the road a fair way in order that I could find the pitch. I did this, arriving at the pitch at 2.30pm. Unfortunately, there was not one home team player there. I have no idea where they were or where they were getting changed. They arrived at 2.40pm.

The home side arrived with 20 minutes to go. They had not done a team sheet and I received this 5 minutes before the game. They also had to put nets up, deal with a goalmouth puddle I had identified, and they had failed to provide corner flags. I insisted that these were retrieved before the game could kick off. We hence kicked off 10 minutes late. I had to chase the home side for each of these things, and had to find the captain myself, introduce myself, and try to get the game on The home team captain has apologised for the poor organisation.

The away team, meanwhile, did not understand that they had to do a teamsheet in order that they might use repeat substitutes, and they asked if we could have club assistant referees. I obviously declined this. I provided them with a sheet of paper and pen to complete this. They claimed this is because they now play in a different league.

The away team did not have a consistent football kit. There were four different versions of shorts, six different coloured socks. After consideration of the distance they had travelled to play the game, along with persistent representations and pressure from many of the away team’s players, I decided to allow the game to go ahead. The goalkeeper also had no top apart from a black one. Though it is understandable that I would want the game to be played (as did all players on both sides), on reflection, I should have said the match is postponed unless a more appropriate kit can be found.

Having compromised on this, one away team player (the captain) had a ring which could clearly not be removed. He claimed he has never removed it and needs to get it cut off.Having compromised once, I felt I had weakened my position and had a number of players challenging the laws of the game.

By the way, if you’re a player reading this, NO jewellery means NO jewellery, not taped up or anything.

At this point, I stupidly felt somewhat intimidated by the the away team players. I allowed the captain to play with the ring taped up. On reflection, I should not have let the player participate in the match. I am disappointed in myself. I also think the club needs to be clear about equipment their players are allowed to wear. This game felt like a ‘kick about on a Sunday’ and I was far from happy regarding the standards that were in evidence.

During the match:

In the fifteenth minute of the match, I made a decision that did not go the away team’s way. I had to caution their manager and substitute for running onto the field of play in order to remonstrate with me: “Are you saying that’s not a penalty? That’s a joke!”. This remonstration continued throughout the match from a number of the away team players. For the record, I believe the decision I made was correct though I accept I could have been in a better position to make the decision. I think the players came together, neither had control of the ball, and they both played the ball. The reaction suggests I may have got it wrong, but as always, the decision was made in good faith.

From this minute, the away team questioned every decision, including using tactics of intimidation by discussing my performance publicly with each other (I realise that this is something I should have intervened over with stronger action). Every single decision was challenged. At one point I was told to “fuck off” by an away team player. I know I should have sent this player off, and should not have allowed myself to be intimidated by the away team manager (who in the second half once he had entered the field of play as a substitute, for example, would see a challenge and say “don’t you dare give that as a foul”).

I should also have sent the manager and another player Mr xxxxxx from the field, and they led dissent that means that there were at least two other red cards I could have issued. I really believe I could have sent off four away team players in this game.

The level of challenge of my position as referee was unacceptable, and I found it unmanageable. It included the manager challenging that I ran the substitutions procedure as per the laws of the game (at the half way line, checking equipment and doing things properly). This was vocal and inappropriate: “I might think it’s just me but everyone thinks this about this ref”.

On reflection, I should have issued these cards and been resolute.

In addition, on three separate occasions in the second half a number of the away team players, in response to a decision that I made, attempted to organise the remaining players to leave the field of play. On one occasion, a player threatened directly to me to organise the team to leave the field of play (I have given this player’s name). I believe this was an attempt to intimidate me to alter future decisions. Repeatedly threatening to force the game to be abandoned is not in the spirit of AFA football.

I cautioned five away team players. I know I should have cautioned far more.

After the match:

Immediately after the match, one young player from the away team came to shake hands with me. Many away team players remonstrated with him for doing so (he gainly pointed out that the game doesn’t go ahead without referees), and shouting at him saying that he should not have shaken my hand. This included the away team manager. This was most disappointing and reflects badly in what occurred then in the dressing rooms. I have to point out that the young player did himself great credit as he was one of the players I’d earlier cautioned for dissent, and he showed some of the remaining players up as he lived up to the expectation that we ‘leave everything on the field’ in the AFA.

In the dressing room, unidentified players from the away team made a point of standing outside my door having a discussion about how “shit the referee was”. This wasn’t just loud, but shouted, giving me the impression that it was with the intention of me hearing it. It was certainly well above the volume necessary for a conversation, and I presume with full knowledge of the dressing room I was changing in.

Later on, another away team player was on the telephone and similarly shouting. He said “xxxx, we’re giving the referee 0 and writing a report. OK, we’re giving him 1 and writing a report…. (pause) OK we’ll give him 50 and write a report as that might get listened to”. I do not know who “xxxx” is but I do not understand why the volume of this conversation was necessary, nor why it had to happen right next to where I was clearly changing. This had the effect of intimidating me.

I should point out that many away team players had been introduced to me just outside that dressing room prior to the game. There can be no doubt they knew where I was changing.

I am happy to be held to account by clubs for my performance and application of the laws of the game. I am not happy to be intimidated. I waited in the dressing room with the door locked until these players had moved from outside the door.

I am disappointed by my performance today and do not believe I lived up to the standards of an AFA level 5 referee. I will be taking a break from refereeing and contacting the relevant leagues to close a number of dates. I should have sent a number of players off today, I should have been more resolute in my dealing with the players, and I should have taken control after the match.

However, I am disappointed with the poor organisation of the home team team. I think this is worthy of note.

I am disgusted with the intimidation of the away team players, which began before the game, was exacerbated throughout the game, and continued even after the game. As an experienced referee and Deputy Headteacher, I am fairly resilient. This was beyond anything that is acceptable in AFA football or in any walk of life.

For the record, despite all the above I returned to the home team clubhouse where I had positive conversations with members of home team. Their hospitality and conversation were fine and exactly the experience the AFA expects.

I enjoy refereeing, but one instance of this is not worth the pleasure of many weeks of refereeing in the AFA. I am proud of my knowledge of the laws of the game, and strive to set a high standard. Two years ago, I organised for a referees’ course to take all of our sixth form football academy and make them AFA referees, and one of my current sixth formers is an AFA referee and I regularly talk to him about the pleasures and how to improve.

This is my single worst experience as a referee.

Follow me on twitter: @afareferee

Old Aloysians Vets 6 – 0 Trent Park

I had a fixture in the AFA over 40s Veterans cup this week.

The pitch was excellent, though the nets were some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Given that nets are not specified equipment in the laws of the game, I elected not to challenge them. I’m convinced it was impossible to patch them up, and I’d have been faced with having to not play the game, which no-one wanted.

I did keep standards high asking players to remove wrong-coloured sock tape and wedding rings. I had the usual “no ref has ever asked me to remove it before – I’ll tape it up” nonsense from three players. Nonetheless all the players complied. No jewellery was worn, even under tape.

The players on both sides really wanted to win this game, and it made for a competitive encounter. However, the home side dominated from the first few minutes and could have scored more than six. Indeed, the away team goalkeeper pulled off some superb saves.

It was a good-spirited game and I enjoyed refereeing it. The teams were generally well behaved but there were three bookings.

I cautioned a player for a tackle in the first half. In truth I could have allowed play to go on and cautioned him during a break in play, but I decided that the advantage wasn’t clear and there was benefit to ensuring the players knew I was on top of it. Though they were well behaved, the temperature of the game was relatively high throughout.

In the second half, one player swore at another, using the c word. It went over the top, in my view, so I cautioned him for unsporting behaviour. In the ensuing situation, a player that had been on my radar for a while was booked for dissent.

This was an interesting caution: the player suggested he wasn’t dissenting, but my judgement was that he had repeatedly undermined the decisions I was giving by expressing what had happened and what his interpretation of the laws were. Though I will talk to anyone, as I’ve said before, once I’ve explained why I have given a decision to continue to contest it undermines the officials and is dissent. Given I’d talked to this player earlier in the game, I cautioned him.

I know the away team were frustrated and felt that I was less open to explaining my decisions to them. Reflecting, I don’t think there is merit in their frustrations, but I do understand them.

I made three obvious mistakes this game, all from offside and two of which were from blowing up too early. In each case, the home side suffered as a result. While this is a problem that comes from not having assistants, I think in these three examples I could have done better.

In the first half I blew and gave a player offside as he was clearly in an offside position from my view. I didn’t give myself the extra half second to ensure I checked the entirety of the line and blew up too quick. In fact the right back was probably playing the player on, and I should have checked more carefully.

In the second half I blew and gave a player off side, but he didn’t get to the ball and by the time I’d blown another player had run on to the ball further out wide. The second player was onside.

Later in the second half, a defender took a goal kick. It was headed down and a through-ball was played. I blew for offside and as I did I saw the defender still coming out. playing everyone onside by a significant distance. It was clearly not offside and I just didn’t see him. I’ve no idea how.

In the first two occasions I apologised. In the final one I apologised and awarded a drop ball, but the home side sportingly didn’t contest it and played it back to the keeper.

I think all three mistakes are ones I wouldn’t make later in the season, where I’ll be less eager to the whistle and allow myself time to get the decision correct.

There were a few other decisions the players disagreed with, but I am satisfied that from my position I gave as good a decision as I could. I think my positioning was good throughout this game, and I felt fitter than last week.

There was one final aspect of the game that I found challenging and interesting. One of the visiting officials repeatedly stood a few inches on the pitch, or a few yards on. He was not a named player, so I couldn’t caution for entering the field without permission. I warned him twice. It felt harsh to send him away from the pitch, but I suppose that is what I should have done according to law. He was good-natured and took the warnings, but I think I should have been stronger.

Overall, a decent game but a few things I think I can improve on in my performance. I hope the players enjoyed the game.

Follow me on twitter: @afareferee

Old Finchleians V 0 – 3 Alexandra Park IV

I was delighted to be given two FA Cup appointments on the line this year, one of which I had to withdraw from.

However, after these dizzying appointments, I wasn’t sure what dates I’d be available for so I only registered with two leagues a week ago. I was hence given quite a long journey for a league game at 4th/ 5th team level.

My first run out as referee this season was a Minor League One North encounter in the Southern Amateur League. The pitch was satisfactory, with a  few bumps, and I had to ask for the nets to be taped up (each one had holes right by the post).

The players were well turned out. I had the usual “but we’re not the premiership” responses to requests to remove the wrong coloured sock-tape, one player not thinking I was serious and just tried to wear it anyway. I feel a bit petty doing this, but I also think it’s important I support colleagues who referee next week or the week after and might be being assessed. I hate the phrase “the ref last week let us…”

Anyway, the game passed off without significant incident. Both teams tried to play football, the pace was decent and there were precious few challenges of any note in the first half. The away side missed two very good chances and the home side missed one. The half ended 0-0. Alexandra Park looked slightly stronger but the best individual player was playing for Finchleians.

In the second half, some of the challenges were meatier, and there were a number of appeals for fouls that I didn’t give. I certainly found myself using my voice more. After about ten minutes, the Alexandra Park substitute scored a well worked goal from a cross into the middle. I’m sure Finchleians will think they could have defended it better.

The remainder of the game saw Finchleians chase the game. I think AP looked more likely to score on the break and I could feel that I wasn’t match fit as I chased the long ball/ quick breaks towards the end. With two minutes to go, AP scored two breakaway goals (one a fine individual strike after a turn, the other a well worked cross where the attacking numbers overwhelmed the defence) to give the score an exaggerated look, but I thought it was much closer than that.

Both captains were superb at helping to maintain control of the game – even if they disagreed with my decisions. Players were generally gracious about my explanations of decisions (I like to explain decisions though I won’t take argument).

There was one booking. A challenge with ten minutes to go saw one player duck slightly to head it. The defending team player went to play it with his feet. Due to the attacking player ducking, the offender thought I’d been harsh. I explained my decision and he walked away saying “that’s bollocks”. It wasn’t hard to decide caution for dissent. The captain came over and ensured his player followed the booking procedure without getting into further trouble and I thought that was really good proactive captaincy.

There were three decisions where I was unsighted, all of which were goal kicks (or maybe should have been corners). I think in each of these I’d have been more likely to get the decision right if I’d been closer, and I need to make sure I’m match fit. I will be in a couple of weeks.

My fitness is in question. The away side goalkeeper had a big kick which I found that I was struggling to get into position for when I was at that end of the pitch, and this is related to the above paragraph. I felt my calves threatening to cramp at about 85 minutes and will do some work this week to ensure I’m fit for next Saturday.

This was an enjoyable game. It was competitive and respectful. As a level 5 referee I would expect to usually be on games a little higher up but I really don’t mind doing games at this level (though I’d prefer them to be in East London – but in this case I was very late informing the league of my availability so I’m grateful for the game). I’m also pleased the season is underway.

Disclaimer: these are my reflections on the game and should not be used for any reason other than entertainment. They are my views alone and not those of the FA or the AFA.

Follow me on twitter: @afareferee