Being a referee is not easy: you have players, managers and spectators all vocally disagreeing with every decision you make against their team, even when it may be the right decision.
Ok, so I may only be a level 9 (trainee), and may have officiated in only three matches so far (two Sunday league and one youth league), but I’m sure it won’t be a stretch of any proportions for you to believe that, in the space of just 250 minutes (the youth game was 35 minutes each half), I have heard almost every expletive-ridden insult known to mankind (including some rather inventive phrases which I, in all my worldly experience, had never heard of before) – though I should point out that almost none of this took place at the youth match, where the players, coaches and spectators were all very well behaved.
Here’s the thing: referees are only human. Humans make mistakes. We all do. Some are silly mistakes which are of little importance in the grand scheme of things, like not giving a penalty (sorry, Sheffield United fans, but it’s only a game of football – life goes on!), some are more serious and can have a major effect on someone’s job or life, especially if they escalate quickly.
It may only be a game of football, but as a referee, you are expected to be almost superhuman. You are expected to be able to see all 22 players plus your two assistants at all times. You are expected to see every kick of the ball and every incident and hear every word that comes out of every player and manager’s mouth. And yet, with only two eyes and two ears that simply does not happen.
Instead, as a referee you do your best, despite the calls from players and chants from spectators (especially if you are at the higher levels). Yes you’re going to miss things every so often and yes you might give a wrong call every so often, but as long as you keep moving and keep your eye on the play as much as you physically can, then, overall, you will be viewed as a good referee and respected.
Since passing the Basic Referees Course, I have taken to mentally evaluating the referees at Priestfield as much as the players, and seeing things from their perspective has been enlightening.
For example, in last Saturday’s match against Scunthorpe, referee Peter Bankes dismissed Gills captain Doug Loft for a challenge against Luke O’Neill. Cue cries from the Rainham End of “the referee’s a-” well, you get the idea. However, on defending Bankes on Twitter (Loft jumped at O’Neill, which is an instant dismissal), I was heartened to see a majority of like minded assessments. Such a shame, then, that whilst the majority of fans found themselves agreeing with the decision, there was still a barrage of abuse coming from the stands.
Of course, to referee at any level, your shoulders need to be broader than the Thames Estuary. However, it continues to be a blight on the game that referees of all levels can be on the receiving end of any kind of abuse, which is why I am signed up to – and fully and wholeheartedly support – the FA’s respect programme.
For those of you who are not aware, the respect programme was introduced in 2008 to try and kick out the abuse, the parents interfering when all little Johnny wants to do is play football, protect children from some pretty sickening uses of the English language and, ultimately, make the game more enjoyable for players, referees and spectators alike. Please do take a look at the link above to find out more.
Football, especially for children, should be a game to be enjoyed. No one should leave the field of play feeling like they don’t want to enter it again. Yet, somehow, it had become accepted that the abuse and interference was just a part of the game.
Well, just as racism has been (almost) extinguished from the modern game, so too should this ongoing menace. The respect programme has already had a fantastic impact, but still more needs to be done by everyone involved with the game at every level.
After all, it’s all about one basic, common sense trait: respect.