In a few years, she'll be one heckuva player

April 30, 2004
By TheRef
In many respects she is already, but we're talking twelve-year-olds. It was my last day doing indoor (although I may get scheduled for a few more to fill in for others), doing U12 girls (the oldest this league goes is U14, and only a hand-full of those). There is this one girl that you just watch, and just think in a few years, if she sticks with it, she'll cause a lot of hell to defenders. How can you describe it? Supreme confidence may be it - she went in for the ball knowing she would do what it took to get it, knew exactly where to put her feet, how to out-muscle or out-shield players. She did such a good job that she caused one of our opponents to foul her out of frustration (a big feat for girls of that age). But soccer, even the indoor variety, being a team sport, she couldn't do it all, and her team lost pretty soundly. But if I were her coach, I would really look forward to developing her skill outdoors, and hope it doesn't get squandered.

Outdoor schedules are starting to roll in - the local field shortage causing a mad scramble to find places to play (a number have been forcibly made idle this summer, making it extremely difficult for adults to play, as kids get first pick and priority on all the public facilities), and in turn causing the referees to have schedules on short notice. How short? Requests to ref for this weekend came in.... this morning. The assignors did say they were going to have to do the first few weeks short-notice until all the leagues got their home fields straightened out - I hope they don't have too much trouble getting them all booked. The good news for all of this, is that I'll have a few games with a full three-person crew under my belt this summer before the State Cup begins. Read More »

A slew of referee meetings

April 29, 2004
By TheRef
The grass is green, the sun is yellow, it's warm... no wait... it's gotten much colder, gray, wet. Now awfully bright... dark.... bright.... dark. Now really dark, as my power's gone out.

Oh, yeah... that's why we haven't started the outdoor season yet.

But we do have the precursors - pre-season referee meetings (he says fatuously)! Actually, for the most part, these are good things. I had three over the week: one for the state cup (which, because of our climate happens in the beginning of the season rather than at the end), one for adult leagues, and one for the youth leagues. The state cup meeting was pretty standard - not a lot has changed from last year: U15 and up have limited substitution (ala NCAA from a few years ago when they could re-enter in the second half) - there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of time devoted to the fourth official - which is done very much by-the-book, but is only done by a handful of people because they're only used in semis and finals. I gave a kid who's doing his first state cup a ride (this is my second), and tried to explain how it's great - you get to work with a lot of high-level referees, who take their job very seriously, like with the USA Cup, but they're also local, so you'll work with them again later and throughout the year. You may not get the exposure to FIFA and National Badges, but it's a little more of a long-term good experience; if you can do both than you've done the two best tournaments your average ref can do.

The kids leagues was also pretty standard - it was done by my assignors who mostly geared themselves toward the kids who do the majority of reffing at this age (and their parents, who they invited - a good idea!). A few good tidbits of info (like the weather line they're doing, which will include instructions on cutting short games if the heat index is high enough), but nothing like the notes I took for the adult leagues and state cup.

The adult leagues... well, I started doing them mid-season last year, so this was my first meeting. I'm glad I made it, because of the things I was unsure about last year, and weren't adequately explained by my colleagues, were addressed in this meeting. I'm really looking forward to being on the grass again.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that while I finally go outdoors this weekend... it's for none of those. The same adult league that I did indoors starts over the weekend, and I agreed to take a couple of games. It should give me some time to adjust from plastic and nylon to actual honest-to-god grass before the State Cup begins. Read More »

"Every game should have a winner"

April 28, 2004
By TheRef
The thing about controversial people, is that they're terribly entertaining, and if they're good, they bring up good discussion. Back in the 1980's, I loved watching Morton Downey Jr., not because I agreed with him, but because he was bizarre enough to bring up to discuss with other people (usually in a more civilized manner than his television show). Apparently Jesse Ventura's stint as the Governor of Minnesota was similar - he would shoot off his mouth without thinking (or caring), and let the underlings run the government.

Sepp Blatter is kind of like that - he pisses a lot of people off, but dang does he keep us thinking about the game. Just him going off on an opinion that he really can't control will start a mountain of articles all over the world. As I write this (and yes, you caught me writing something well ahead of publishing it - shhhh!), articles are going up on his opinion that soccer should not end in ties. This, after dropping golden goals from the governing documents of the game, basically meaning that all games should end, if tied, in kicks from the mark. A valid opinion, although it's actually up to the International Football Association Board to take his recommendation, so I wouldn't get too celebratory or up-in-arms.

I'm rather neutral on the subject myself - I'm unsure if it matters either way, although I really don't like kicks from the mark to end a game. It's really way too random. Some purists are going to puke when they read this, but I think that, if extra time has expired (and you're not tacking on more), I'd rather have the shootout that MLS had in their first few years as a league, where it's a one-on-one with an attacker and goalkeeper, starting at about 35-yards out. Perfect? No. But at least it's more like the actual game instead of taking penalties. Read More »

How much money is your organization making?

April 28, 2004
By TheRef
A very interesting article from the Modesto Bee that has no refereeing content whatsoever, but should be of interest to all refs, participants, and more importantly, funders.

It has to do with how much money non-profit sports clubs are making and keeping, while raising fees year-after-year. Some do it as a rainy-day fund, some well.... I know of one club president in our area that paid his wife $30,000 to maintain a web site any kid could do in 15 minutes. Factors mentioned were untrained Boards of Directors, lack of accountability, and multiple allowances for non-profits to disclose their finances. Read More »

Opps - a lesson in what not to do

April 27, 2004
By TheRef
This is one of several articles about a referee who banned a player from playing with a headscarf in Australia - I chose this article because there is a picture, and it's pretty apparent that there's nothing dangerous about the scarf.

The USSF, of course, has no authority in Australia, but I've found that they do a pretty-good job about being proactive about various issues, and for the last three years, we've have a brief reminder about turbans. Obviously, it's not a turban, but would certainly apply here. Here's an excerpt from the USSF's questions and answers regarding Law 4 (You can see the whole there here):

Under Law 4, all items of jewelry are normally considered dangerous: however, referees should consider carefully any item of clothing or jewelry that is clearly religious or medical in nature and permit it to be worn if it is not dangerous and not likely to provide the player with an unfair advantage. Taping the religious or medical jewelry down is recommended to protect both the wearer and other players. As regards other garments, such as head-coverings, they are not allowed under the terms of Law 4. However, in respect to certain religions, the Secretary General of the United States Soccer Federation has given permission for those bound by religious law to wear head-coverings, usually a turban or a yarmulke, provided the referee finds that the headgear does not pose a danger to the player wearing it or to other players. Since the referee may not know all the various religious rules, players must request the variance well enough ahead of game time by notifying the league. The league will notify the state association, who will pass the information on to the state referee committee. The state referee committee will make sure that the referees working that league's matches are informed. At present, no other forms of religious garb are permitted for wear by players on the soccer field.


What they says is two-fold: That yes, the referee in Victoria was technically correct, that he should have exercised Law 18 (common sense) because the headscarf was not dangerous. Likewise, the player, coach, and/or team could have anticipated a problem ahead of time and contacted the league, to ensure that there's no problem. Of course, if they already had done, and that information had been passed down to referees, then that official is in deep deep doo-doo (and pleading a strict construction of Law 4 will not help him one bit). Read More »

Why refs are pedantic

April 27, 2004
By TheRef
If you've ever wondered why some refs are so pedantic about stuff that doesn't even affect the game, here's why. SFGate.com is reporting that a 12-year-old middle school student was killed trying to move the goal during lunchtime recess. Every year there are reports of goals blowing down in the wind, and kids getting struck by lightning.

So please, give us a break when we come down on you about safety. Read More »

Some serious improvement in just a few weeks

April 26, 2004
By TheRef
In my next-to-last night of indoor soccer, for the youth club, has me doing a new program for their U14s, a co-ed rec league, no experience necessary. It's very informal, music is usually playing throughout the games, and, well let's face it, it's half soccer game, half teenage meat-market.

But the soccer has gotten quite good. I reffed on the first night of the session for them, and well, it was a snoozer. A lot of ineffective ball-whacking with no real flow and no real movement. How a few weeks have changed things - I got more exercise this week than I had all session - it was great! The pace was fast, back-and-forth, and evenly matches by both team and by gender (I have to admit, I love seeing guys getting schooled by, and choose your age for the term, girls/women). A couple of things I found interesting:

  • Country music and soccer just don't mix.
  • Fortunately, if the game is good enough, it doesn't matter.
  • Most guts: at the end of the first game, tied 6-6, the keeper for one team let it all out... offensively. We're not talking merely coming up to the center of the field, or the red line, but all the way in offensively.... for five minutes. He didn't score, but he didn't give one up because of it either. After the game, I absolutely had to go up to him, smile, and say, "Keep, you've got guts!"
  • Funniest line: After I called a PK for a hand-ball in the penalty area (a kid, who played keeper in the second half, flipped up his hands and blocked an incoming ball), the keeper asked, "Can we just make the call a three-line pass or something?"
Read More »

May I address the court?

April 25, 2004
By TheRef
Most people would say that as a society we're far to litigious, and I would tend to agree (although I'm staunchly against legislation for banning lawsuits or limiting damages - I would much prefer that, and trust that they do now, courts throw out pointless lawsuits). But my family has been the instigator in several lawsuits, all involving my brother, who was in a wheelchair his entire life, and the southern school district that didn't want to make legally mandated changes (just for your own edification, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, there was the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which was pretty simple in that any building that use federal money in its construction had to be handicapped accessible) - such as making a toilet stall wider for his chair to gain access to, and to lower a locker so he could actually use it. I could go on about that for a while, like when our vice-principal was thrown out of court (boy that made me trust him as someone fit to be in charge), but I merely wanted to let you all know this for purposes of first, full disclosure, and second, perhaps why I'm thinking in this particular vein. Then again, it could just be from watching Law and Order. Who knows...

I was thinking about that referee assaulted by the U15s, and how like him, I would probably cease refereeing (even though I love it). Now police are still investigating, and I'm unsure what laws would cover them in England, but here it would be juvenile court, assuming charges were brought - and if, again thinking if it happened to myself here, I were to get any recompense, it would be through the civil courts. Who would be sued? Why, the clubs, the coaches, and the parents (because they're minors, you can't sue the little blighters directly). This would be the closing statement my lawyer would never, ever let me deliver:

Your Honor, the facts of the case are pretty clear, so I'd like to forgo the usual statement about why their liable for medical bills, property damage, and so forth, and go straight into the punitive damages. Read More »

Yet another referee attacked

April 23, 2004
By TheRef
This time it was a U15 match in Cambridge (UK) - the original referee was a no-show, so another stepped into the middle. Always a scary situation, after all, some centers are picked for specific games because of team issues. But this was U15 - shouldn't be that big of a deal, right?

Wrong. He abandoned the game after being verbally abused following a penalty call. Trying to get to the changing rooms, he was hit in the eye, knocked down, had the shirt torn off of him, and then dragged into the locker rooms. Fortunately some parents/spectators were able to keep him from going into the locker room where who knows what else would have happened. "I shall not referee again. You do not expect to be assaulted. I was afraid for my life."

Many thanks for the spectators who intervened. But it begs the questions: The coaches were supposed to be in charge of these kids - where the heck where they? Where the heck was Sir Alex Ferguson?!? Read More »

The man who dared to open his mouth

April 23, 2004
By TheRef
Sir Alex Ferguson is, in my mind, a prat. Every time he loses, he blames the referees. Yeah, just about any other club would celebrate the head coach if they finished third in the English Premiere League, but this is Manchester United, and so in an attempt to take the pressure off... ahem... a "disappointing" season, he bashes refs. Continually.

The latest round of ref-bashing from Sir Prat came as the EPL announced they were going to crack down on divers; English FIFA referee Graham Poll even talked about his own mistake, for not carding a dive: "There were two Arsenal-Manchester United games recently and I did the first one, the Premiership one, when Gary Neville dived between two Arsenal players. I left it. If I'd had the courage to do the right thing, I would have booked him. The next week Gary Neville did exactly the same. It's very clear that players are excellent at simulation. I find it hard to believe the players aren't practicing."

And now Gary Neville has responded with: "I don't know why referees feel they need to speak out and say things like that. We don't speak about them that often." I burst out laughing... at work... loudly, when I read that. Anyone who follows the EPL with any type of regularity knows how often EPL coaches (mostly coaches, but sometimes players) carp about the referees. Gary's statement is absolutely ludicrous. It's become as much as sport as the game itself - maybe if Sir Alex shut his mouth and concentrated on the game (or ending the equally destructive internal politics of ManU), he might pick up a few more points.

The Telegraph injects a little sanity into the drama - stating simply that what should have been a straight-forward story had changed into a story about personalities by... Alex Ferguson. Yes, he used names in his examples, but when you're referring to divers you should have carded (in how many games a week?), you need them. Alex just used the example as another way to bash the refs.

Ferguson is a great coach, but it's clear he doesn't know much about referees, except, maybe, how to bait them (quotes ):

"If they [referees] are criticizing players they should be looking to criticism themselves. I don't think Graham Poll was without fault in the Arsenal game." Apparently he didn't read the quote - he was referencing his own mistake (the mistake for not cautioning Nevelle. Referees at that level (even more-so at the EPL, since they can actually live on the money they make) go over their performances continually, and are assessed at every game. But they the public wouldn't hear your voice, would they, Alex?

"He's never awarded us a penalty kick in his career. I'm talking about blatant penalty kicks - Ryan Giggs against Arsenal [in the same Premiership game at Highbury] and Paul Scholes against Chelsea last year." Awwwwww... like you're so impartial?

"I don't understand what his motive was attacking Gary. Why pick on Gary Neville?" Actually, he wasn't attacking Nevelle, he was using him as an example. He had determined in the game that Neville dived, but he didn't have the guts to book him - not an attack, but statement of fact. Deal with it.

"I think that if a manager was to come out and comment on a referee the way he has commented on players he would be up before the FA. They are a protected species." He might well go before the FA, but you make comments on referees every week (and have the fines and suspensions to prove it) - Grapham Poll had to guts to go public about a mistake he made, and a problem that he and other top-flight referees perceive. He should be lauded for it... but that wouldn't help your career, would it?

I think the only way to end this little rant is to include this
this little gem found on Football365.com. Now maybe you'll understand why I don't take any comment from the Sir Alex Ferguson very seriously:

"You know the FA and Manchester United. There is a scenario for every club in the country and another one for us. We expect Paul [Scholes - who was appealing a 3-game suspension for Violent Conduct] to have a difficult hearing. Put it this way, I don't think he will get the same hearing as other players get" Read More »

When courts get involved in the game

April 21, 2004
By TheRef
A little while ago I derided a group of parents who sued to get the results of a game overturned; now we look at a similar situation involving soccer and courts, but in this case, it's about criminal conduct. The newspaper I'm linking to only keeps their articles public for seven days, so I'll include as much detail as I can without copying it:

In June of 2001, Martin Owen, after being warned for rough play, and heated words, did a cleats-up challenge into the back of the leg of an opponent, breaking it in two places and causing the victim to be in a cast for 17 weeks (yes, over four months). The referee reported that he ran at full speed ten meters. As for what happened in court, the article is a little fuzzy: on one hand it says he received an 18-month suspended sentence and probation, but on the other it says the trial judge rejected the evidence and appeal. Nonetheless an Ontario Superior Court judge said that his action was beyond the scope of the game, and thus upheld an assault conviction (presumably any civil suits as well)..

I think this, unlike many other attempts, is one of the few places where the courts are a good place in sports - because the behavior was well outside the bounds of accepted behavior. The referee can only red card him, the league can only suspend him (and in some leagues fine), but none have the authority to deal with someone at the same level as a judge or jury. Read More »

Another referee attack in Georgia

April 20, 2004
By TheRef
I know I'm not up-to-date on how legal terminology here, and maybe I take it a bit too personally, but if someone pins you to a wall, takes out a stick and proceeds to choke you with it, I tend to think the intent is rather murderous. But apparently it's only aggravated assault.

Sigh... When this happens to me, I quit. If it don't, someone I love needs to take that stick and beat me over the head until unconscious, in order for the doctors to see what brain damage occurred from the attempted asphyxiation.

And this guy needs to be locked away. There is something fundamentally wrong when someone attacks (and in this case, it was with a weapon) someone else over a game. Read More »

Watch your hands!

April 19, 2004
By TheRef
One of the things you learn pretty quickly as a referee is that perception is a game of angles - what you see can be totally different than what someone a few feet away may see (and probably massively different than that stationary coach!). Our job quickly becomes a balance of anticipating the tactics of each team, and getting into the best angle to see the difference between fair and foul. In most sports you'll hear something like "95% of the game is mental"; and this applies to referees as well. The good news for us is that the physical side of our game is pretty simple: keep up with the game.

That being said, we often have to extrapolate based on existing data; for example, assistants referees (linesmen for you old schoolers) frequently listen for the "thunk" of the ball being kicked to measure when to flag or not-flag offside. Center referees look at body positioning and reactions from the people around them; after all, we can't feel the shove (if there was one). This was the case last night - the last night of the indoor season (I actually have two more, but they're the kids games with hockey walls, this was adult "rec"). One player in particular is a good one for whining about calls not going his way, and then whining when I call fouls on him, and he really proved to be the only trouble for the night (albeit not much of one). He has the usual complaints that nobody, even on his own team, shared, and then while catching up to an opponent on what looked like a break-away, put one hand on the top and shoved.

I thought red card. Was there another defender in front of them? Yes. But he never passed to women, so he probably didn't expect her to defend this guy, either. But the Laws don't take into account teammates opinions of each other, so he got off with a yellow card, and I got an earful.

Earfuls mean very little to referees, and as long as it's not abusive, for the most part we'll happily ignore it. But what if the guy dived, or just lost his balance? I have a simple answer, which begging with a question: Was there a reason to put your hand where it was? The answer is "no" - there was no tactical reason for it. So, in order to not be called for a non-existent foul, the easy way to have avoided it was to not put your hands in that position. If he did that, and then the striker complained, he would have been booked for simulating, because there was clearly no other contact between the two players. Read More »

Nope, the site didn't go down

April 19, 2004
By TheRef
... or sued, or threatened, or anything like that. Just a temporary outage while dealing with a fifteen hour power outage. Should be back to normal. Read More »

RefsCall Electornic Flag Review

April 18, 2004
By TheRef
Boy did I strike it lucky for Christmas... (meaning I'm not getting anything in December... but ask me if I mind) I landed a RefsCall Electronic Flag set, it's not what they use in the MLS or international stages, but it does much of the same things. Although not game-tested, I've done a preliminary review here (it'll also be in the feature article section, on the left side of the page, for the long-term). If you've used them, I'd love to hear your comments on them. Read More »

Review of the RefsCall Electronic Flag Set

April 18, 2004
By TheRef
Note: The initial review was on April 18, 2004. Additional material was added on June 11, 2004.



My parents get the biggest kick out of my refereeing, and even more-so on my taking it seriously. After all, when I was a kid... well heck, I was a kid. My team could do no wrong, and if we lost, it was the fault of the other team and of poor refereeing. As is popular today, I'd spew more venom over the referees than the other teams - after all, we tended the get the refs far more often than our opponents. I'd groan in agony if certain names would be announced.



Now my parents get me autographs of those same people... Read More »

Typical Referee Pre-Game

April 16, 2004
By TheRef
The person who wrote this on Big Soccer (the original thread is here) gave permission to share this bit of wit. I all I know is that his first name is Jeff, and he's from Michigan - so credit with what's available. :)

Well...this would be a typical time-line from one of my typical adult men's games:

1:00 --- Referee leaves home, heading to field for scheduled 2pm match.

1:15 --- Referee arrives at field; noticing that nobody else is at the field, Referee checks his schedule to make sure he has the correct date and field.

1:16 --- Referee gets out of car, and walks to field.

1:19 --- Referee plops equipment bag on ground. As nobody else is in sight, he jogs around field, noting condition of fields and nets as he goes.

1:28 --- Finished with jogging, Referee checks watch. Then, having nothing better to do, he begins to stretch. Read More »

Gadgets

April 15, 2004
By TheRef
I have a big soccer bag - huge. Usually larger than most referees; in the pair of occasions where I've actually had a locker room, it just doesn't fit. Partially it's because of the way I organize my stuff:

I have two plastic shoe-boxes where (big shock) my shoes go - usually there's a third pair (cleats) in my trunk, in case it looks like the ground will be very soft. I used to just throw them into the bottom of my bag, but the transfer of rain, mud, and shoe polish to my other garments worked it's way to shoe-boxes. In one external pocket I have all my manuals, rulebooks, supplemental materials, and flat equipment (like cards, book, zipties, etc.); in another a pump and hairspray (long hair - it IS necessary); and another gets my personal equipment like wallet, keys, and cell phone.

But also in my bag are two smaller plastic boxes that are divvied out between every-game needs and occasional needs. In the every-day box are pencils, flipping coins, whistles, badges, and hair binders (again, long hair). In the other box, there be wrist-bands for hot sweaty days, and the gadgets.

Why am I thinking about gadgets? Maybe it was this article from Tennessee about an installed lightning detector that did it. Because the more I've reffed, the more little gadgets I've picked up, much of them to do with weather. Two years ago at the State Cup, one of the referees I had had a little pocket lightning detector, which came in very handy for the game we were in. It's not perfect (it's my understanding it picks up static electricity buildups and then estimates the distance based on the amount of the flare), but it's a great tool for helping determine if a storm is coming or going, and if it's worth waiting around. I also picked up a weather radio, complete with Specific Area Message Encoding reception, so an alarm will be sounded if an alert comes out in the area that I'm in.

There are reports every year of kids getting killed by lightning, and I'm absolutely determined that it'll never happen under my watch. Read More »

Why refs slag on coaches

April 13, 2004
By TheRef
There's been an interesting discussion on Deep South Soccer that you might want to take a look at. Although the subject title is "Horrible Refs" it quickly became a civilized discussion on grades and why coaches and refs are sometimes at odds.

It was also rather timely, because as I was mentoring a couple of newly minted referees, I had to teach them a coping mechanism... how to slag coaches. Yes, referees go off on coaches as a defense mechanism - after all, if we actually listened to them, we'd all quit (because apparently, we're all the worst ref ever, or something similar).

One ref was brand new - he first game ever, and the other was one I had before (and impresses the heck out of me - he'll easily surpass me if the grind... and puberty... don't get him first). We had three games doing U-8 girls - I knew the second kid wouldn't need a whole lot of me, so I spent most of my time with the first, brand new, kid. And as it turned out, he didn't need a whole lot of me, either. As girls grow up, they can, depending on the level of competition, play just has nasty and underhanded as the boys - but these games certainly wouldn't lead to you to believe it. However, in the second game, we had a coach that was way too invested in the game - he was questioning calls, making borderline accusations to the referees, and generally making an ass of himself - on more than one occasion, I dropped the mentor role to ask the coach to drop the rhetoric a bit.

Let's review: U-8 girls game, no score is kept, pair of rookie referees. Umm, did John Runk jump bail and move out of Baltimore?

The answer is, no. While John Runk carried violence against referees to the extreme, the vocal abuse is shockingly common. So, at halftime I congratulated the kids for standing their ground. I didn't say it in these words, but the referee is indeed always right - provided that he's honest with himself. If I as a referee believe I made the correct call, and that even if the players (or in Esse Baharmast's case, the sixteen cameras at the World Cup) disagree, I am more that justified in believing my own senses.

The second half, as the coach continued his wackiness (there were no other fouls called, again, U-8 girls who pretty much played "swarm ball", so it was more watching him being overly hyper around his kids), I worked into getting the kids to joke about the coach's behavior. Right? Wrong? Maybe it's not proper to say that referees smile, smirk, and make fun of people in our heads while we're on the pitch, but it's what keeps us sane, and from taking the game too seriously. Because, no matter what level we ref at, it's still a game, and we're still only out there because it's a game, and it should be enjoyable to all parties. Read More »

"Someone please kick him in the balls"

April 9, 2004
By TheRef
If you've ever wondered if adults who play in the dregs of organized soccer ever feel passionate about their game, you only had to look at Michael the other day, walking around the field for hours with a $260 mock-up of a heavyweight boxer's championship belt.

I was assigned to league's competitive bracket championship game (affiliated games are still weeks away), of which they were trying to repeat. The team takes their soccer quite seriously, although they also have a very light-hearted, joking atmosphere on the bench. Play is, like it's been all winter with them, fast-and-furious, and their opponents are up to the task, creating a battle in the midfield. But about 15 minutes into the 25 minute half, their opponents break into the penalty area, and one of their defenders just flattens the striker - in I go, pointing to the penalty spot. The irony is that I called a PK against the same player in the last session's championship game.

But unlike last session, this kick went wide left, and the momentum shifted, and before the half ended the score was 2-0 By the end of the game 4-0.

After that game, I did the teams vieing or 7th place (had this been that type of league, the relegation fight), and the styles were dramatically different. Speed and skill were replaced by whining, internal carping, and hacking. The difference between the two sets of teams couldn't be more stark - neither won often by skill, so they brutally tried to club their way for a few measly points, and yelled at the referee, their opponents, and finally their own players, when things didn't go well.

After the final whistle, I started jogging back to the scorers table, to pick up the coveted championship t-shirts and a bit of water, when I heard Michael (who's every bit as loud as I am), yell for everyone to hear, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the heavyweight champions of the world!" Both myself, and one of his teammates, who had to leave immediately after the game (real life intrudes, unfortunately), turn around to see this massive belt wrapped around his shirtless body. The teammate turns to me, smiles, and says, "Will someone please kick him in the balls?" Read More »

Some new places of note

April 8, 2004
By TheRef
Nothing yet on the bigsoccer thread, but there was a link to a good interview with Dr. Joe Machnik, who's in charge of referees at MLS. It's a good article that explains how referees has progressed in the MLS's brief nine years, as well how things work at the MLS. If you've ever wondered about how and why refs are assigned to your favorite team's game, and just how much we clean up for the privilege (hah!), check it out. I'll also be adding it to the Articles of Note list.

Also going in the list is ussoccer-data.com - you can read the notes from the weekly conference calls, notes from the leagues the USSF directly assigns (MLS, MISL, and USL), and league-specific documentation. Neat place to look. Read More »

Incoherent Ramblings

April 8, 2004
By TheRef
Last year, I steadfastly avoided being put into the "mentor" role during the indoor season; this year I wasn't asked, I was just assigned there. I've talked a little about the experiences of it in the past - how some kids have just impressed the heck out of me, and some are, well, kids (which is not a disappointment). I'm not going to rehash that. Well, maybe. I'm not intending to.

After the last batch of kids I mentored with (a couple of boys who had done four games between the two of them), staying on the field to help with positioning and thinking (one kid was ready for that - way cool), I had a talk with a parent who was manning the score board. The kids had already run off to the parent who was giving them the ride, so we were free to have a brief chat. We talked a little about the differences between the indoor game and outdoor, FIFA Laws and High School (he was surprised when he found out it's a different set of rules), and the whole mentoring process.

When the later topic came up, I remarked that these kids are all making the same mistakes I did only a few years ago, but because I started in my late 20s, I was pretty much left to fend for myself. My assignor does take some of the blame - I mean, my second full-length center on a premiere-level game? OK, I'm grateful for the confidence, but I made a hash of it - and it took two years before I got another one (which, IMHO was a year longer than I should have waited). Hopefully, these kids will have supportive parents that will bring foam cluebats to the games to take to parents who insult their children, assignors who look out for them, and older referees who will teach and mentor them properly (I mean I'm doing it, but I have no idea if I'm doing it properly).

I can kind of see why things turned out. There were only a handful of adults amidst a sea of kids when I took my first certification course (and only a few more adults at my first two re-certs - only this last one was everyone beyond puberty, and I think that was because it was in August, when only the refgeeks dare to think about reffing six months or more down the line) - so who are you going to put on a U15 or U16 game? Most of your reffing pool is that age or younger, most of the adult refs do adult games (and even I'm doing more of that) - even a great ref is going to have problems asserting himself at a game where the kids are older than you; it's a little easier on the line if you have a center that'll back you up (of course, that's always the case when you're on the line), but it's a very rare, and probably scary, day indeed when a younger kid goes in the middle. And that left... well... me.

And here's a shock, it tends to piss people off. I could understand, I complained and insulted with the best of them, except for one thing: I got off my butt and started reffing. I'm doing my part, warts and all, to make our reffing corps better. And you find out something pretty quickly once you start - when you're starting from square one with no experience whatsoever, there's little difference between the eleven-year-old and yourself.

Except for body hair. Read More »

Why are some referees cynical? Read on...

April 7, 2004
By TheRef
The Weston and Sommerset Mercury reports that the chairman of the Weston Football Club, despite receiving a four-month jail turn for breaking a players jaw in two places, causing permanent hearing loss, disfigurement, and loss of feeling will remain Chairman after he gets out the clink. Oh, he wasn't even a player in the game.

No longer in the cynical department, but noteworthy nonetheless a player who tackled a streaker and subsequently red carded will have his suspension overturned. Technically, yes, the red card was valid - Violence Conduct can be assessed against any player committing violence against anyone else (even fans or streakers). I don't know if FIFA had streakers in mind when they wrote it up in the Laws, however.

Yet another reason the National Federation of High Schools should just get a dose of reality and drop their set of "soccer rules" and just stick with FIFA. Yes, the officials majorly screwed up by allowing the game the continue past golden goal, but different states have different standards (here, there's no golden goal in high school), and you have another whole way of dealing with it in club sports. Why create additional complexity when none is needed?

Followup (yes, I sometimes write this ahead of time, you found me out): the high school association declared a winner, throwing out the portion of the game after the first goal in overtime. Read More »

I hate it when this happens

April 6, 2004
By TheRef
An article from Fort Morgan, Colorado reminded me of a situation that I've had three times - and when it happens it's almost always a no-win situation for the ref, even if there's only one choice we can make.

In soccer, there is only one restart that is mandated as ceremonial (technically speaking a kickoff isn't a restart); the person taking the free kick cannot have a "quick kick" and must wait for the referee to signal for the restart to begin (usually with a whistle): the penalty kick. Other free kicks can be ceremonial or taken quickly at the referee's discretion - but not when it's taken from that one little spot from inside the penalty area.

So what do people do? Take it early, of course. I've gotten into the habit of telling the kicker for a penalty kick (or kick from the mark in the case of a shootout) the following statement: "I'm going to ask the keeper if he's ready first - do not kick before I blow the whistle." It doesn't always work - I've still had two shots come early, and in both cases the keeper has saved them. Only problem is, as a referee you cannot allow that shot to count, because, as a ceremonial free kick, the ball cannot be put into play until the referee acknowledges it.

And if you're a keeper who just saved a PK, that sucks.

But it's the Law. If we disregard it, the entire game could be thrown out for our action (yes, the same argument could be said for keepers jumping off the line just before the kick - and rightly so - but one is a matter of timing and the other is blatant disregard of instructions and rules). Our only option is to retake the kick. Read More »

Who do I cheer for? Kevin Stott.

April 5, 2004
By TheRef
I quite enjoyed Saturday's return of the MLS between DC United and San Jose. It was a fun game, tough, gritty, and yes, that Freddy kid got to play a bit, too.

While I quite enjoyed the game, I tend to spend equal parts watching the referee (if possible - we're not exactly the focus of the cameras, nor should we be), because refs at that level are simply better than I am. I know the game is called a little differently at that level than what I ref in (the entertainment value is played up more than the actual "Law" part), but just like things that happen in MLS trickle down (or something tidal wave) to the players, likewise I can learn from the referees

I found that Kevin Stott did an excellent game. Yes, Eric Wynalda made a good point about the two possible advantage situations (although keep in mind that it's at the referee's discretion, and in the second, Ernie Stweart pulled up prior to the whistle - so I take any grumbling there with a grain of salt), but was totally off-base with regards to the first red card, saying the bench influenced him - it's actually very insulting! If you watch reply, you see Stott going for his pocket immediately after the foul - there was clearly no doubt about the booking and send-off.

I found the two send-offs a good sign in general. MLS has a reputation of being way too violent, and as I've said before - it tends to wash downwards. If the referees there seriously reign things in, that'll help the rest of us - both for the players who see how their role models playing cleaner, and for the referees who see their role models buckling down. Read More »

For the US, the soccer season officially starts today

April 3, 2004
By TheRef
I mentioned something like the title of this article yesterday, but was pointed out that soccer season has been long underway in Europe (followed by a commentary on Arsenal). I suppose even with a game as world-wide as soccer, it can be acceptable to occasionally become single-minded on your own little corner of the world. Because when I announce that soccer season has finally started, I mean more than the MLS, but rather for everyone - I can get outdoors and off the [insert favorite naughtiness here] astroturf.

Maybe it's coming from a game that has a greater popularity with playing rather than watching on television, but I never understood the linking of the entity Major League Baseball with the overarching term "baseball." For example, "If we don't give [insert professional baseball team here] a half-billion dollar stadium rent-free, we will no longer have baseball in our great state." Um, I know more people watch baseball than actually play it, but will those remaining kids suddenly up-and-quit? Is it not allowed? Maybe it's part of Major League Baseball's anti-trust exemption.

Soccer, as us long-time fans know, will go on. We've seen a multitude of leagues fold, countless teams, but the kids still play. It's been said since the 70s that once the kids grow up, professional soccer will finally take off. I think they're right, with the exception of "take off". While the children who watched the NASL in the 70s haven't toppled baseball, football, and the others - we have things now that we've never had before:

  • A stable professional men's league. Yes, it's losing money by the boatload, but for the most part, so is every other professional sports league in the US. The owners own the teams not for profit (although maybe to funnel their losses from their other ventures into), but for the status and love of the game. Well, the later is definitely the case in soccer; yes, there are some delusional people who think they'll make a profit in professional soccer, but they're few and far between - I recall one A-League owner being quoted as saying that his kids, who were avid soccer players, would kill him if he did anything to his team. This, my friends, is a very good sign.
  • Serious attempts at a professional woman's league. Yes, the WUSA had (and has) problems - but it wasn't even a passing thought in the NASL's heyday. The fact that, in the face of financial armageddon (they spent in one year what they had budgeted for four), they're putting a serious effort to come back in 2005 is a great sign. The WNBA is heavily propped up by their NBA sugar daddies, but these ladies are doing it on their own. If a team lands here, I'm getting season tickets
  • A solid and growing development system, from the US Youth Soccer Association, to the Super Y League, and other amateur leagues.
  • And lest I forget, a top notch referee development program. It's not perfect, and there's a lot to be done, but other countries are studying what we do, and our FIFA referees have acquitted themselves very nicely in the last several World Cups.


So I invite you to sit down and watch (or tape, if you're out), today's game between DC United and San Jose Earthquakes (4PM EST on ABC) - come watch our most proven young player, Landon Donovan (proof about the success of MLS - he would be rotting on the development team if he stayed in Germany... now suddenly they want him back), and our most anticipated young player, Freddy Adu, and rejoice that yes, soccer in the US has come a long way, both in terms of our professional leagues, and for everyone who plays it. Read More »

The Women In Black

April 2, 2004
By TheRef
I read a neat article the other day about the first game in Coventry officiated by an all woman crew, and started thinking about some of the women I've worked with. Most have been extraordinarily competent, or better. Maybe that's because there are so few women who referee, and those who stick with it turn out to be so much better. Let's face it - you don't see women referees who merely do it for the money or give a half-hearted effort.

I've been fortunate enough to work with some extremely talented women. One was a woman who passed the men's National tests, but turned down the badge, choosing to not give up family live for an ill-paid reffing career (for the couple hundred bucks a referee makes in MLS/WUSA, s/he gives up a lot more). Not only have I worked with her for a few games, but she's also shared quite a bit of knowledge that has helped me over the last 18 months.

I've also had a few games with a 19-year-old who's... well... how can I put it? When the ref brass around here talk about her. The letter's "F", "I", "F", and "A" come up. She's gone to an invite-only referee academy twice, and is in scads better shape than I (unfortunately for me, I have a many, many years to overcome before the corner can even start to be turned), and is intimidated by nobody.

I also mentored an 11-year-old girl a few weeks ago, who could be in a similar situation if she keeps up with it. Great speed, wonderful positioning (she's better as a rookie ref in her first few games than many long-time veterans I know). She needs to work on foul recognition (which only comes with time and experience) and blowing her whistle loud enough for us to hear (a very common problem with younger kids). If she stays with it, she could rock our reffing world.

The trick is, even beyond how to get more refs to get with and stay in the game, is how to get more women. I think it's entirely possible, now that soccer is as much a women's game as it is mens, that we'll see more female referees (maybe more moms will start to compliment their daughter's playing). But are additional barriers to go through - at the professional level, women refs will be "tested" in more ways on and off the field (I've heard some nasty stories); and there's not as many role models for us to look forward to. It was pointed out a few times on SocRefbefore the WUSA, the MLS has a few women referees at their games (mostly as assistants) - once the WUSA came into existence, the number of female refs in the MLS dropped to zero. And this year, this is no WUSA (hopefully 2005 that will change), so you have to wonder what will happen now?

Will female referees still be excluded from our only Division I soccer league? Female players rightly lament the demise of the WUSA and professional role-models for players - but even if the pool is smaller, I'd love to have professional role-models for our young female referees. The only difference is that, if the USSF and MLS choose to, we can still have the later for this year. Read More »

Karma!

April 1, 2004
By TheRef
Last week I wrote about a guy who was none too happy about a call I made regarding a slide vs. slide tackle (the league we're in allows slides, but not slide tackles - sometimes the division is very thin). Last night, in a separate league... I played his team. This guy is tall, fast, and has a wicked foot. I had seen him enough to tell my players that he must be marked, at all times... and the one time he wasn't he put in a nice goal to the lower right corner - I got a hand on it, but not enough to keep it out.

But, for the second straight time, we won (this makes us something like 2-1-5, W-D-L not counting the night where our opponents didn't show up) - in part to an own goal, from that same person! I felt good, in an evil sort of way - not the same type of karma as the guy who broke his nose (and nobody felt bad for him), but appropriate nonetheless. We won 3-2.

Of course, this is why the USSF forbids refs from playing in the same leagues they ref in - because they want to avoid these situations (I can easily picture revenge-based cheap-shots in similar circumstances). But when there are no affiliated leagues, that's exactly what happens (or you don't play). Read More »