Tag Archives: match control

Mass Confrontation

I had an enjoyable game on Saturday at beautiful village green style pitch in the wilds of Surrey.

On paper, this game looked like there would be nothing in it: Bottom of the league v a team vying for a top three finish.

I had refereed the away side before but not made them particularly happy when I sent off one of their more vocal players for two cautions. By ‘vocal’ I do not mean the typical shouty/dissent sort of player which the word sometimes conjures up. He was clearly a strong leader within the side and would give out the good just as he was giving out the bad.

This set me the challenge of keeping a firm grip of the game to ensure that any ill-feelings from that game would not come back to haunt me.

The game itself was going pretty well all the way up to half time. However, there was then a horror tackle on a young home player. He reacted, albeit in a ‘handbags’ way, and the away player then put his hands round round his throat!

I was already well on top in terms of positioning and giving the whistle a good blow. However, I could then see everyone else piling in, including the benches, so it was time to just step back and let the situation play out.

Thankfully, the rest of the players and managers were being helpful, prising the away player away and protecting the home player. Pretty much all posturing. As a result, I dismissed the away player for Violent Conduct and cautioned the home player for his reaction to the challenge (Adopting an aggressive attitude).

I then made the effort to talk to the away side. They were upset that a home spectator had run onto the pitch, kicked the ball at them, and generally got involved in an aggressive way. I assured them that I had seen everything and that it would be reported. This was important, as you don’t want a team to go away from a mass confrontation feeling that the referee has not been fair to both sides. I also made sure to explain the difference being a ‘handbags’ style reaction to gripping someone round the neck in terms of the cards issued.

It was also important to thank the managers for getting involved in a positive way in calming their players down.

It was then half time! Certainly an interesting way to end the first half.

I was not sure what to expect in the second half. What amazed me was that both teams came out with a positive attitude and played a fantastic game of football. There was no trace of any aggression. If anything, it was good natured, with a home team player saying to me as he came out, “Shall we have another fight now then, ref?”. The game went right to the wire, with the away side getting the winning goal in the final play of the match.

Only one additional caution was needed, for a blatant block on a player making an attacking run up the wing.

This was one of those games where afterwards I felt I got everything spot on. A demonstration that the best way of easing any potential ill-feeling from a side is to just get out there and totally ‘nail it’ the next time you see them!

Here’s a bonus video of a fellow Surrey FA referee dealing with a mass confrontation which was a bit pressured! (Skip to 3m14)

O Captain! My Captain!

The Respect campaign, courtesy of The FA, has been running for a while now. Most recently it has spawned Respect FC to continue buy-in from the public.

One of the edicts of the campaign is for Captains to be a focal point of their team in terms of interacting with the Referee. A key aspect here is that the Captain has no formal responsibilities in the Laws Of The Game but by working together it can really help with control of the match.

However, this really does depend on the just how good the Captain is. In general, I have found that there are two types:

  1. Will lead by example. Will work with the referee to calm down members of their team as required. Will assist with communicating the referee’s preferences to the team.
  2. Will have been nominated due to being the loudest member of the team. Most likely to criticise decisions they don’t agree with (loudly). Will be leading by example but the wrong sort of example! Leading the charge for the first caution of the game.

A strong captain is worth their weight in gold. If both teams are blessed in this way then a game will pretty much run itself!

Here is some general advice in handling captains in the best interests of the game:

  1. Make contact before the coin toss. This doesn’t have to be much. Perhaps just ask who they are during the equipment inspection?
  2. Get them involved when briefing the Club Assistant Referees. They can raise any queries plus it will help there be no surprises with the way you work with the Assistants.
  3. Brief the teams on any expected behaviour during the equipment inspection. Explaining it just to the captains prior to the coin toss is okay but… When does the captain have the subsequent chance to tell their team? If everyone knows from the beginning what your views are then the captain will find it easier… and so will you!
  4. Get the captain involved when disciplining as much as possible. They will be more likely to be able to calm down team-mates than you. Remember the stepped approach: This doesn’t just have to be when showing the cards!
  5. Keep in touch with the captain during the game even when there is no misconduct. Are they doing a good job? Tell them! Thank them!
  6. Captain not helping? Stop trying to get them involved. There’s only so much you can do.

I hope you find this useful and please do post any of your own advice with working with Captains in the best interest of having a great game!

Me vs Sunday morning football

'Free header!'

On Sunday morning I had a veterans league cup game. It featured a Div 3 team vs a Div 4 team so perhaps no surprises that the Div 3 team won pretty convincingly. That said, the skill level was not the highest I have seen and at one point I was starting to think that if it was not for the penalties no goals were going to be scored.

Tempers rose at one point with a big case of ‘handbags’ between two players, starting with the usual “I’ve got to f**king work in the morning!” Normally I would just have a strong word the first time but on this occasion the players stepped over the edge. Not only was there significant pushing and shoving, it was accompanied by the usual ‘see you in the car park’ threats and swearing. I cautioned both.

Cautioning in Sunday morning football is a trial by fire. “It’s just Sunday football, ref” was the annoyed response. As I said to the Captains before the game, my refereeing style is that I referee to the game. If it is all clean passes and kittens then great. If it becomes narky then I’m taking action.

There were several penalties in this game. Two of them (against the losing side) provoked further problems.

The first was a cross into the box which hit the arm of a defender. The arm was stretched out to the side so no question of the penalty and this was not really disputed. However, as it was a blatant break-up of the attacking play I cautioned. Again, “It’s just Sunday football, ref” and “Get a grip!”. I cautioned for exactly the same thing in a Saturday game recently and the player accepted it and moved on. It’s an attitude thing.

The second was the goalkeeper shoving an attacker square in the back as the ball was sailing in from above. The problem here was that it was as a corner was flying in. Everyone was watching the ball whereas I was watching the players. The only people on the pitch that knew about the push were the goalkeeper and the attacker he pushed over! Oh, and me of course hence I awarded the penalty. Predictably, the goalkeeper protested his innocence and it was a REALLY tough penalty to sell.

By this point I was no friend of the losing team in the slightest and I was generally accused by them of ruining the game.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I could have changed but am welcome to any input. It might be telling that a referee I worked with recently (Level 4 and on the county Development Programme) said he basically gave up refereeing Sunday football because of how enforcing the Laws just gets you into trouble! After all, I’ve recently had Sunday teams turn up in black kits and not know what it means when you win the coin toss. Sigh.

Despite the above, there are some Sunday players and even entire teams with great spirit who both know the Laws and play with great sportsmanship. I just hope I’ll meet them more often!

Reading the riot act

Asserting control...

I am a big believer in that the referee should be pretty much invisible. The game should flow and be about the players. However, there are times when the referee must deliberately raise his profile.

One of the leagues that I referee on is a youth league. Following some positive feedback on how I dealt with a severe Violent Conduct recently, I have been put on the ‘games of note’ list for the league. This means that I get given games where one or both of the teams have become ‘known’…

Youth games can be refereed by other youths. They may naturally be fantastic referees but due to their age can start with a disadvantage with regard to winning respect from some players, managers and spectators. Note: some. I regularly smile at some of the great sportsmanship that is shown within the game! Anyway, as (allegedly) a fully grown man I can be sent in as a ‘stunt referee’ as required.

I had one of these games at the weekend.

No problems to begin with. It was a tight game and I remember thinking that I had not had to give any fouls for at least the first ten minutes. Could it last…?

The problem was that the goals started to come. In a very one-sided fashion. The losing team responded by becoming a lot more physical and frustrated in the second half (They ended up losing 10-0).

... before it is too late!

I dismissed one of their players for Violent Conduct (an open handed chest strike). This was claimed to be a retaliation but I did not see the alleged first incident and can only give what I see!

Shortly after this, there was a late challenge for the ball from the same team which shoulder-charged the opponent to the ground. It wasn’t just late but tinged with maliciousness.

This was when I had to raise my profile and essentially ‘read the riot act’. I raised my voice so that pretty much anyone around was going to hear me and pulled the offender and the captain over. I made it very clear that they had stepped over the line and that the captain now had to get control of his team. This was finalised with a caution for the dodgy challenge.

This had the desired effect. Those challenges stopped although the losing team also pretty much gave up.

The referee’s presence over the game must match the spirit in which it is played. Just as this means being invisible during a good, friendly game, it means rising to the challenge of maintaining control when a flashpoint occurs.

It has not escaped my attention that I have now dismissed someone for Violent Conduct in my last three youth games. One of those players is now on a ‘sine die’ suspension.

SEE ALSO: Fine for 43minutes! which talks of ‘bossing it’ when games get more heated.

Remember the name

David Lurie wrote an interesting article recently with a self-explanatory title: 5 Tricks for Remembering Names.

This got me thinking as it is something I do really need to work on. When I turn up at a game to referee it, chances are most of the people there I will not have met before: There will be the club officials (secretary, manager, coach, physio, to begin with!) and the players. Multiply that by two.

It stands to reason that it really helps to build a rapport with people if you actually remember and use their name! Especially if, as referee, you want to give the impression that you do care about the game and are not just there to scowl, blow your whistle and pick up your money at the end.

Think about the long term as well: If you are visiting a team that you have refereed a few times before but don’t recall any of their names, that will not look so good. Depending on your performance the previous time they may remember you really well 😉 This has been really powerful when I’ve used it with players before: Mainly because I cautioned them in the last game! It’s almost a discrete, “Hey, I’m watching”.

Some points of my own that I will add onto the back of David’s article:

  1. ACTUALLY LISTEN: This is where I fall down. I listen to what people say in terms of the content but I seem to automatically filter out their name as ‘not relevant’. So make an effort to pick it up, use it, repeat it to yourself, visualise it as a sign on their forehead, whatever you like!
  2. USE YOUR NOTEBOOK: This is not something you can get away with without looking strange when normally meeting people. However, as a referee you are expected to be jotting things down in your ‘little black book’ and things like manager names and the like definitely fall into this category. It is also part of the ‘Look Like You Know What You Are Doing’ toolset!
  3. SOME PLAYERS ARE SPECIAL: If your match is using team sheets then you have 22 players + subs to memorise. Unlikely to happen! However, try and memorise the key players: Captains and goalkeepers, for example. During play if a player becomes special then discretely check your notebook and start using their name. It can help get their attention a lot better but use your judgement.

Do you have any tips for remembering names? Ever had a bad situation because you have forgotten, or perhaps BECAUSE you used a name?

Positioning and rapport: Keeping on the right side of players

Stay close... or distant!

Physical positioning is a key aspect of building rapport with people. There is a lot to this concept including various NLP principles. An excellent general article on this subject has been written by Nicky Kriel: Communication – Let’s get Physical! and I strongly recommend that you take a look. The article details how space, angles and sides come into play.

We use these when refereeing to deliberately elicit the desired response as part of a stepped approach to discipline:

  1. THE QUIET WORD: Running up to a player discreetly during play and asking them to calm down, or explaining something you have heard them grumbling about. Typically side by side, so it does not feel confrontational or lecturing. The positioning is saying: “Hey, we’re on the same side here”.
  2. THE NOT SO QUIET WORD:Raised voice from a distance: “That’s enough now”, “I’ve seen it, I played the advantage”, “GREAT challenge!” If aimed at a player the intention is also to let others know things have been seen or heard! The eye contact is there but no change in positioning from the referee. The positioning is saying: “Here’s my comment for everyone to hear, but we are just getting on with things!”.
  3. THE TALKING TO: Play is stopped for this. The player is taken to a neutral spot and addressed head on. “I don’t want to see any more challenges like that”, “This is your last warning: Stop questioning my decisions”, “I’m cautioning you for that tackle”. Gestures are used so that the other players on the pitch have an idea what is going on! The positioning is saying: “I’m not being nice now, I AM lecturing you and everyone is getting to see why!”

The positioning in the above cases has a real impact on the game and the players. Imagine how you would feel if they were twisted around? A ‘quiet word’ when someone draws attention to it and is looking at you head on and invading your personal space? How about you’ve done something REALLY bad but someone just comes up to you side-on and says, “Don’t do it again”: Would you actually feel disciplined or instead that you had just got away with something? How would it look to spectators?

Positioning is a powerful force with building rapport and vital for keeping control of a match. Do you have any positioning tricks?

Minding the language

Keeping a form of control on ‘industrial language’ is one of those niggling refereeing problems. The referee has the power of dismissal for this criteria:

using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

The language in question can be in use in any way: Towards the referee, towards a player’s own team, the opposition, a spectator… It just has to be deemed to fit the criteria by the referee.

The problem is: Where do you draw the line? An instinctive expletive after missing a goal? Frustration at an incomplete pass? A cry out in pain after a dodgy tackle?

In my last game acting as Assistant, the referee took great control of this. He briefed the managers and captains that he was not going to tolerate any swearing other than the instinctive type. Now, most referees will take firm action at any such language towards themselves but he was implementing a general policy.

It worked really well. He was very stern with those who went against it and the clamping down really helped with showing authority and good match control. I have had very good games where the only complaint afterwards has been about the language: “There were children present” / “There are houses bordering the ground” / “We tell our players to keep it clean; what about the opposition?”

Of course, NOT doing anything about it is still complying with the Laws of The Game, as this is one where it is down to the opinion of the referee as to what is offensive or not! However, is it right?

I’m going to give this one a whirl in my next game as I feel I may have been a little soft on general swearing up to now. Wish me luck!