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.
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