By Don McMahon
Everyone involved in football, professional or amateur, has been intimidated or seen such events happen to others during their years in the sport.
However, the art of intimidating the officials is something that has reached new heights and even influenced the FA and the PGMOL stuffed suits, to such a point that EPL officials regularly and consistently tolerate abuse. If that same abuse happened on the street to any of us, we would respond rather aggressively and certainly report it to the authorities.
So here goes, a simplified course on how to intimidate the officials!
1: The intimidation begins well before the official takes the field. When he or she receives their appointments for the week or month, depending on the league’s policy, they are likely to be happy to officiate certain teams (well behaved) and despair at officiating others (undisciplined). Sometimes, with particularly notorious teams, they may actually ask to be replaced by another official.
2: The intimidation could have begun even BEFORE that, as when the official(s) went to a discipline hearing, stated their facts and information based on their game report and then were told by the accused team’s manager and the player that they are liars or need glasses or were prejudiced or simply in error. The cherry on the sunday intimidation occurs when their own League management questions their report. ¨Are you SURE you saw player X punch player Y?¨ etc.
3: Having lived through that demeaning and distressing experience, the official now has to take the field with that very same team, often shortly after testifying in the discipline hearing. Players and managers have long memories and don’t willingly forgive officials who ¨screwed¨ them. Their behaviour on and off the field reflects that rather clearly.
4: When the official begins to prepare for the match, especially a tough one between two teams that have a history between them, then he or she begins to ¨worry¨ about how the game will turn out and what they will do IF it gets out of control. When I officiated in what we commonly called bad boy matches, I always made sure I knew where the escape routes were!
5: The official arrives at the field at least an hour before kick-off and checks the nets, field conditions etc. and then collects the player registrations and team sheets to confirm that all is correct. This is usually a fairly mundane event BUT if the officials find a discrepancy in the registrations and / or team sheets, then he or she has to point this out to the manager. This raises an already high temperature to the boiling point. IF , under the worst circumstances, the official refuses to allow a player to play……watch out! The other stress during this time is the comments that players make about the referee or assistants while they prepare for the match.
6: Once the teams take the field, the referee will usually call the opposing captains to the center-circle and explain how he or she tends to officiate. I would usually outline my free-kick philosophy (especially for quick free-kicks) and how to approach me if they had questions about a call. I would also warn them that they were the only ones allowed to speak to me unless I asked someone to do so, and that it must always be politely. I warned them that dissent, apparent or hidden, if noticed, would be cautioned, etc.
7: The game is off and an offside is given to one team. The opposing manager screams from the sidelines, ¨that was no offside¨ and we are now battling our inner demons and doubts, regardless of whether we acknowledge that claim or not.
8: The assistant misses an important call (serious foul play) , which the referee was too far away to see, so the fouled player retaliates a minute or so later and is cautioned or ejected. Now the punished team begins to crowd both the referee and the erroneous assistant until they are patiently sent on their way. The poor linesman is shaken and the referee now has to calm them down and encourage them, without being too obvious to the spectators and players/managers.
9: Here comes the big call, a defender’s handball in the penalty area!!!! Almost immediately there is anger, surprise and subsequent intimidation from the punished team. And of course the fouled team joins in by encouraging the referee to get on with it. The kick is taken and scored so the game returns to the kick-off. All the way to the centre circle the ref hears mumbles and commentary of discontent……but not enough to really react but enough to bother them subconsciously.
10: Finally the game ends and the officials remain on the field while the players exit. As they walk past the managers, they get the LOOK from one or the other, or heaven forbid, both! They are tired and stressed and can’t wait until they get into the shower to wash off all the bitterness and rancour of the last 90 minutes. Sometimes there is a sliver lining in this, If one of the assistants if a female, BUT I won’t get into that just yet…no double entendre intended!
11: We still have to return the registration cards and team sheets to the teams and we usually send the assistants to do that. I know it is a big cop out but hey, any port in a storm. We also have to safely leave the grounds and if we are taking public transport, get to the bus or train station. This is the time we all wish the league would provide a helicopter or at least a limo service!
12: That evening we get a call from the League referee coordinator, who says that team X is appealing the match because the officials were;
d) visually impaired,
f) wankers, etc.
I could go on about intimidation, from the parents, spectators, league administrators, other referees, club management, in some cases the media, sometimes the national association warning you about your place on the national list and your risking a FIFA nomination,and so on but I think you’ll get the gist.
Now multiply this by a factor of one million when talking about professional referees. As one, I have had an entire jug of beer pored over my head while doing the line at a professional match, been offered all kinds of sugar and spice from over-amorous supporters of a professional team (talk about tempting!!!!), been hit by a battery (not an automobile one thank God) and if you don’t think that’s intimidating, think again, spat on by so many people while leaving a big stadium that I had to exit under an umbrella, threatened by an irate professional director of an international tournament with a fate worse than death, had to be escorted to my car by two WWF bodyguards bigger than a team bus,etc.
It takes solid mental strength and a resolute character to return to this type of challenge every week and I can tell you from experience that even the FIFA officials can succumb to intimidation when it is continuous or career threatening. So the next time you jump all over a kid in the middle of the field trying to do his or her best as a referee, cut them some slack…….and remember that in a civilized society, such abuse would NOT be tolerated outside the ground so why should it be tolerated inside?
Since it seems somehow relevant: the Insult of the Day (which appears on the home page each day) today really is lacking in politeness – Shakespeare certainly knew how to do it.
She sweats, a man may go over-shoes in the grime of it. (Comedy of Errors)
- How the match fixing will pan out this weekend and then stop, leaving me with a choice
- Ref Review : Arsenal – Watford, a game of two halves…
- Do referees influence results or not?
- 12 April 1913 – Woolwich Arsenal 1 Derby 2, and so Arsenal were relegated for the only time in their entire history in front of a crowd of 4,000. In fact they drew their final two games (including one away to Tottenham) but by then it was too late.
- 12 April 1948: Arthur Shaw signed from Brentford. He was involved in the cigarette allegation story, playing 57 league games for Arsenal. Despite being a league winner with Arsenal little is known of him other than that he played also played for Watford and later for Southall, Hayes and Gravesend & Northfleet.