I’ve done it. I’m not altogether proud of myself. I was loud and abrasive too. But I’d probably do it again.
I have bashed refs. Not physically mind you and most often from the comfort of my sofa, at times with little provocation, except in the case of one particular rugby union official who is referred to as ‘thon man’ in a tone of familiar disgust. (Don’t encourage me; we’ve lost before we’ve started with thon man blowin’).
I’m reminded of this highly contagious social pastime with the news that World Cup final referee Howard Webb is to take on Colchester versus Shrewsbury on Saturday. That’s in League One, the league below the Championship, which is below the Premier league and a long way from Soccer City. No disrespect to either club but most football fans, commentators or people with eyes would concur that this isn’t the Big game of the weekend (I realise that the Premier league isn’t the be all and end all of football. I’m personally hoping that Lisburn Distillery don’t get a sudden epiphany of Best-like guile and slide a few past Dungannon Swifts in an attempt to go down in the comfort of having reached the hallowed 20 points mark. Aside from this, QPR-Stoke, and West Ham-Wigan are the others to look out for).
It seems every week on Match of the Day the uniformed collection of pundits bemoan how they are left talking about the performance of the officials rather than players. Think Mark Halsey a few weeks ago. He failed to see the tackle made by Callum Mcmanaman who rammed his studs through the knee of his opponent but went unpunished, not even a raised eyebrow. Halsey was also relegated to a League One match in lieu of this incident.
The two examples mentioned are professionals; they both have plenty of experience in the game. Even in spite of this, they made mistakes. Of course they have. Sport at this level (League One upwards!) is fluid, fast and not exact. I’ve recently taken up umpiring my sport and although I was confident I understood the rules since I’ve played for years, when I had the whistle between my lips I started to doubt the knowledge I have accumulated. The more I’ve done it, the better I’ve become but it isn’t as natural as deciphering the rules as a player. I don’t enjoy umpiring in the same way I do playing the game but it has increased my understanding of the sport.
Maybe this is the crucial element that casual observers don’t have. It always easier from the sidelines. Competitive sport can’t happen without the officials and they want to be the best they can be. Do you think Howard Webb wants to hear Alan Hanson drone on about how “unbelievable” his decisions are? Not all the players get things right 100% (or 110%) of the time, we shouldn’t berate the officials of they don’t either.
They are out there trying, perhaps their motivation is an inflated sense of self-importance, maybe they are no good at the game themselves or they might just enjoy getting out of the house and away from the family. And, as they say in my neck of the woods, God loves a trier (although, a Christian friend of mine recently revealed he was fairly sure this isn’t a direct quote from the Holy Bible. He may benefit from reading a different version!).