If you were officiating a soccer match and the score got to 6-0, you might expect a little dissent, right? But would you expect it from the winning team?
A top referee had called off on short notice and I was asked if I could take on a top-flight men’s amateur match. It featured a skilled European team (team A) against a young, talented group of soccer coaches (team B) from the area.
Team A started out as the aggressors, committing a number of hard fouls — with screams from almost every team B player that cards were needed for each contact. Team B scored for a 1-0 lead. Finally, on the fourth contact, I cautioned A7 for the contact, but then called team B’s captain (B11) over and rather loudly told B11 that the continuous dissent from team B would cease.
After another team B goal, team A saw that my assistants and I were controlling the match and the physical contact lessened. So, the turning point came — score was increasing, physical play was diminishing and the team B dissent continued. Still in the first half, I cautioned B2 for dissent after his calls for a card when he was fouled.
At halftime, the assistants told me that team B had a reputation for “helping” the referees — they were the same coaches who regularly “helped” the local referees in NFHS and NCAA games. With that new information, it allowed me to understand what had taken place in the first half.
Five minutes in, A4 fouled B9 near team A’s penalty area. After half a dozen team B players yelled for a card, I set up the wall and called B11 over. Again, fairly loudly, I told B11, “Captain, we’ve had this discussion once. For the second time, this dissent and constant requests for cards will stop.” Two minutes later, team B scored again, now at 3-0.
The body language of team A was vastly different than it had been — yes, they were being scored against, but they were not responding with rough physical play and they were not being verbal toward the referee staff. They were almost amazed that a referee wasn’t allowing team B to control the ebb and flow of the game and the issuing of cards.
After a close offside decision, both team B defenders screamed at my bench-side assistant. I looked toward B11 — and then went up to B4 and yellow carded him for dissent.
Team B got another goal from a set piece and after the goal went in, B11 went up to an opponent and said, “You should have been carded for that foul.” OK, the verbal message hadn’t gotten across, so I checked B11 for color-blindness by displaying the yellow card for unsporting behavior. (Bench-side assistant gave me thumbs up!)
There was another non-tactical shirt-pull. I considered not blowing the whistle — figuring the contact was trifling at that high level — but given team B’s emotions, I called the direct free kick foul. Because it was so ingrained into their past behavior, both as coaches and players, several team B players cried out for the card. What I’m sensing as trivial, they want cards for? I wasn’t about to (and no referee should have to) listen to 30 more minutes of those constant demands for cards. B7 was closest to me, so he’s the one that saw team B’s fourth yellow card.
With a tremendous give-and-go, team B scored a fifth goal. The team B dissent was less than before, but still prevalent.
During a corner kick, A5 held B9’s wrist down as B9 tried to go up for a header. B9 got a head to the ball but since the ball didn’t go in, I awarded a penalty kick. Almost to be expected, four team B players did a mass confrontation around me — not to make sure a penalty kick is called but clamoring for a card. Seeing that already-carded captain B11 was one of the players, I choose him to send a stronger message to the team — second yellow card followed by the red. B9 scored the penalty kick to make it 6-0.
Office of referee
In some of my past writings, I’ve written about the office of referee. Just as the office of mayor or the office of the president should not be defamed, the office of referee holds a place in the sport. Even if the incumbent is not talented, the office demands respect.
Your assigner thought you could command the game; that’s why you were assigned. Let’s look at the game mentioned. The coaches (in their 20s and 30s) may have played 200-400 games in their career and coached 50-150 games total. They were trying to “teach” a referee who had refereed 3,500-plus games and assessed more than 5,000, including semi-professional games in Europe. I would not let the office of referee be disrespected that day.
If you are an instructor, prepare your students to deal with players, teams or coaches who try to take control of a contest. Role-play some scenarios. If you are an assessor and witness a referee lose control of a contest due to players’, teams’ or coaches’ verbal outbreaks, try to pinpoint the moment where a specific action might have led to a different path. If you are a top referee in your area, the guy or gal that everyone looks up to, the one routinely getting assigned to the semifinals and the finals, ask yourself if you are the referee above.
Use USSF’s Ask, Tell, Remove. If you can use humor, use it. If you are a strict disciplinarian, use stern body language and facial expressions. If you are a salesman on the field, find a way to bargain with the team. But the unwanted behavior has to stop. Even if it takes four yellow cards and a red card to a team with a 6-0 lead, the behavior has to stop.
There was a major tournament in town while I was there. I spoke with several of the referees who refereed both before and after the above-mentioned game. They said they noticed a distinct difference in the coaches’ behavior and in talking about that game among themselves later, they saw a need to “toughen up” and “take back” some of the control they had surrendered.
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