Published on January 29th, 2019 | by Bill
This week, with the news of a potential referee strike across grassroots football, we thought we’d reproduce this piece from our sold out Issue 28, written by Wayne Holloway.
OPEN ON: Chelsea VS Man City.
Scrubbing the screaming Chelsea fan vs. Raheem Sterling footage backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, controlling their movement and gestures frame by frame, as the fans themselves seem momentarily possessed by an obscene, visceral hatred. In the pantomime of football, these meat puppet racists will we hope, soon exit stage left pursued by social media…
First round of the London Cup, somewhere in the wilds outside the North Circular, North London. A cold, wet winter. This is proper non-league U18 football, the beating heart of the beautiful game. Dreams of a Cup run, these now young men, ex-boys, up for the contest.
The ref blows the whistle and…
During the week the FA had changed the Referee for the game three times, sending emails to the club secretaries with the replacement Ref’s details…
On the pitch one bad decision follows another, the Ref doesn’t seem to know where to put himself and awkwardly plays catch up with the run of the game. Two strong sides, full of energy and movement and he can’t keep up, let alone control the game.
It’s as if he’s never done it before.
From bad throw in decisions, to offsides, to fumbling the whistle for a missed free kick, stop/starting the game, disrupting the flow of play, bringing the ball back for time delayed free kicks, the players, Mums and Dads and the coaches all growing increasingly irritated.
After ten minutes we throw on two linesman to help him out. He’s so bad that both teams are on the same side when it comes to his decisions. With each bad call, we joke amongst ourselves on the sideline.
‘Referee you fucking moron.’
‘It’s a fucking foul you blind cnut.’
‘Fuck off Ref.’
Late decisions after being pressured by linesmen and supporters.
‘REF YOU CNUT!’
‘ORANGE BALL REF, YOU’RE FUCKING JOKING!’
Blows the whistle but nobody is listening.
By half time he’s lost it.
A yellow card (FOR FUCKS SAKE REF!). The once kids but now young men, surround him, talk back, show their disrespect at every decision he makes.
He’s lost them. The supporters, the coaches, the subs all shout abuse, gesture their frustration and mocking laughter from the touchline. The Ref is now hesitant about even the smallest decision and seems to have lost the will to blow his whistle.
After a competitive and evenly matched first half another inevitable bad decision gives one team a penalty and the energy of the game dissipates thereafter. Two more goals follow and the game fizzles out, all the energy and frustration slowly focusing on the referee.
The final whistle. The teams shake hands, united in their disappointment at a game badly handled. But most of them shake the Ref’s hand as they go off.
CLOSE UP ON:
The Referee. Something is wrong. He stands immobile on the pitch. He’s shaking a little.
We whisper amongst ourselves…
‘Is he OK?’
‘What’s up with the Ref? Go and have a look, I think he’s in trouble.’
The Ref stands with his arm covering his face. It looks like he has a nosebleed, so one of us goes up and offers him a hanky. He hasn’t got a nosebleed, he’s hiding the fact that he’s upset, possibly crying.
We feel fucking terrible. The two sides go back to the changing rooms and into the clubhouse where the home team are serving chips and rolls for both sets of lads. The Ref staggers towards the changing room alone.
We approach him.
‘Are you ok Ref? It was hard out there.’
He tells us it his first ever game as a referee, he’s a rookie Ref, his first game an U18 Cup match.
‘God mate, they shouldn’t have thrown you in to that game, really sorry it’s outrageous. I hope this doesn’t put you off’
‘No, no, I love it,’
‘Are you sure you’re ok?’
He looks like he’s had a fit, he’s shaking, he doesn’t really know what he’s saying, he’s humiliated, disorientated and has another U16 game to ref in half an hour. This guys a hero.
We shouted abuse at him. I shouted abuse at him. The FA should be as ashamed of themselves, as we felt.
First time Refs should ref junior games. Thank God the two teams were decent people as well as players, otherwise it could have kicked off. The Ref could have been assaulted.
The FA has a duty of care to its refs. The money they have should set up a buddy scheme for new Refs, where perhaps retired referees turn up to be there to support new Refs through their first few games.
We have a terrible shortage of Refs the FA tell our club secretary. No shit Sherlock.
As I delete the Chelsea fan footage from my phone, I feel complicit. It’s football, you shout abuse at refs, players, it’s nothing personal – they are playing roles same as us, that’s what we are shouting at. It’s a performance. It’s the game, the pantomime of footie. It’s not personal. racism is going too far, we should kick it out, but the rest? Harmless banter.
None of us are good enough, one being worse than another doesn’t justify it. Both are just points on the same sliding scale that goes from bullying, verbal abuse to racism.
The red mist. A tribal identity that allows you to scream abuse at a black player on the pitch whilst standing next to a black fan in the stands. Raheem Sterling and that young Ref deserve better.
And the rest.