Trevor* is an up-and-coming referee who will blow the whistle each month on what it’s really like to take control of grassroots games…
Pre-season training is not something anyone looks forward to. With amateur football set to return, I’m sure that many players won’t be bothering to indulge in a second burst of it just to get through the remaining weeks of the season, but us referees are duty-bound to get ourselves ‘match fit’ ahead of the restart.
I’m fortunate enough to be on the skinny side and I try to have the stamina to keep up with play as well as the ability to sprint when needed. I’m also adept at getting out of the way of wayward passes and avoiding the dreaded slap of the ball on a cold thigh.
Of course, not all my fellow refs are the same. Lockdown has seen many of us gain a few pounds and the remainder of the season will see numerous matches under the control of the ‘centre circle ref’. This species likes to run a game with their mouths and even though they won’t always be close to the action, they will claim to have a ‘great angle’ when challenged.
And the ref who is on the larger side will always be challenged. From my experience, the man in the middle who can keep up with the game will gain the respect of the players a lot quicker. There’s nothing better than when a player appeals for a foul, turns to shout at the ref and you’re standing right next to them. Small wins, and all that…
So as not to dispel any myths about the grassroots referee taking themselves too seriously, yes, I do have a pre-match routine. I’ll always come armed with bananas, Jaffa Cakes and Jelly Babies to keep my energy levels up, and as a young linesman I diligently snacked on these in the dressing room next to refs who had picked up boxes of McNuggets on the way to the match.
Probably (well, definitely) the most embarrassing element of being a referee is the pre-match warm-up. Do you need to do one? Yes. Does it give the players and spectators something to take the mickey out of? God, yes.
Much like the players, the grassroots referee has differing levels of commitment to warming up. Most will attempt ‘the shuttles’ between the touchline and the 18-yard box, covering running forwards, backwards (a key skill for any ref), crabbing (side to side) and the dreaded ‘grapevine’; this is where the uncommitted or uncoordinated ref will call it quits. I’ve seen one lad fall on his face trying to get his legs around this one and the players didn’t let him forget it for ninety minutes.
For some refs it’s not a matter of fitness, but rather an age thing. We still have plenty of veteran refs who couple the old-school Sergeant Major approach to discipline with the sartorial look of big collars and saggy shorts from when they first ran the line in the 1970s. These heroes of Saturday and Sunday mornings may not be the most mobile, but their commitment remains essential to football at amateur level. Next time they wave play on after you’ve been clattered from behind, try and take a breath. Think about just how many grassroots games couldn’t have been played without them over the years. And you wouldn’t shout at your grandparents, would you?