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)