SPORTS

Sympathy for Soccer Referees

6/9/2006

Every World Cup there are some calls or lack of calls that get fans roiled up and calling for a referee's blood. I get as mad as the next fan but I sympathize with the men with the whistles because I've been in their situation.



Every World Cup there are some calls or lack of calls that get fans roiled up and calling for a referee's blood. I get as mad as the next fan but I sympathize with the men with the whistles because I've been in their situation. Below is an article about my experience refereeing soccer, a job I had for four years



Every Tuesday afternoon I feel a stir in my bones when I look at the clock and realize that it is 5:30p.m.- time to prepare myself for the game.

I quickly shed my street clothes, put on my black uniform adorned with white cuffs, and roll up my socks.

The breeze, created from my rapid acceleration cools me down as I head for the Eglinton Park storage house on my bicycle, the meeting place for all the referees. I greet my fellow adjudicators of kiddie soccer and engage in small talk on the recent World Cup matches.

Five minutes later, an angry parent approaches and informs us that the coach wants his ref. This coach is every referee's nightmare. He is notorious for adamantly contesting even the most mundane of calls and a cold shiver runs down my spine. The last time I reffed for him I was accused of "ruining the game for the children," and subsequently "destroying their childhood," all for misdirecting one single throw-in. I pretended to go to the bathroom, but I was stopped short by the head referee. "Ok, one of you is going to go," he said matter of factly pointing in my general direction.

My fate for the next hour was decided by a simple coin toss. Mere apprehension cannot even begin to describe the utter dread that coursed through my veins as I walked onto that forsaken field. I was chastised even before I blew the whistle for my tardiness and I knew that this was just a sign of things to come. I looked up above and prayed to God that I would get out of this one alive and unscathed. The kids were anxious to get things started so I let out two valiant toots from my whistle and the game began.

Seven-year old kids do not really play soccer, its more like a strange form of rugby where you can't use your hands. They all run to the ball and form a scrum, then move together like a pack of wild dogs from end to end. This peculiar style of play makes it tough on the referee to call fouls without being amid the scrum themselves. On top of this handicap, the coaches at this age level are given free reign to gallivant around the field and direct their players conduct, like the captain of a rowing team. Add the screaming parents on the sidelines and what you have is a real war zone.

That brings me to my role: the peacemaker, the judge, the arbitrator and voice of reason amid chaotic shouting matches, the soccer referee. I have to make sense of everything and I mean everything that goes on. The third shift in, the same coach is on my back again complaining that number two on the other team has been on three times in a row. It is an obvious exaggeration but I humor him to quell his ear-shattering rant and call a time out. The other coach is outraged at the gross accusation and presents me with her time sheet which clearly shows that the player in question double shifted once and only because a couple of players on the roster were absent. I blow the whistle again, overrule the accusation, and the game continues.

Two minutes later I am treated to an anomaly in soccer as a defending player falls on top of the ball and clutches it between his thighs. I stand overlooking the young tyke awestruck, never before in my four years as a referee had I seen such a bizarre sight. My lips instinctively pursed over the opening of my whistle but I had no idea what the call would be. After an awkward silence I raised both my hands and shouted "illegal holding, indirect kick."

The coach jumped at this knowing full well that 'holding' is not one of the seven official fouls in soccer. He ran toward me, profanities flying out of his mouth accompanied by streams of spit which stung against my forehead and neck. I couldn't do anything but take his flagrant abuse until play would eventually ensue.

My watch was my only ally. I looked down and smiled for it was halftime and I would have five minutes to rest.

This Article First Ran in the North Toronto Town Crier and was the first article I wrote that I got paid for

Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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