Trevor* is a grassroots referee who will blow the whistle each issue on what it’s really like to take control of grassroots games …
As I write, the first weekend of the Premier League has just ended. There were goals galore, full stadiums, shock wins and free flowing football. No surprises there, but those of us who wear black accessorised with watches and whistles were taken aback to hear Gary Neville praise referees for their role in making the first round of games a success.
New seasons mean new laws and directions for match officials. Over the summer an email will drop into your inbox outlining what the footballing powers have deemed necessary to improve the beautiful game as a spectacle.
Post empty stadiums, an entertaining Euros and the difficult birth of VAR, this year’s email of Law (not rule) Changes was expected to be a long read. However, the emphasis has been placed on less is more, with fewer “softer fouls” in the words of Sky’s leading pundit.
None of the adaptations will have come as a surprise to the top tier players. Every Premier League club would have already had an explanatory visit from an official to talk through the changes and answer any questions. I’d like to think that “any questions?” causes the Premier League’s elite players to turn into teenagers and do everything to avoid making eye contact with the visiting speaker.
At a grassroots level, we don’t get to ask, “any questions?”
Instead, we will spend the summer swotting up, taking Laws of the Game exams and ordering new copies of the IFAB Laws of the Game handbook. Ready in time to be met with confused players and officials on the first day of the season, as it’s impossible to sit down and bring them all up to speed beforehand. So, as well as being a law enforcement officer, the first few weeks of the season sees you becoming an on-pitch educator as well.
The game has seen a few major law changes in recent years and it’s the ref’s job to know them inside out and try to explain them to players when situations arise, as let’s face it, they probably haven’t read them. I know I wouldn’t have if I was playing. One of the biggest changes of all was around “DOGSO” (denying of a goal scoring opportunity) to prevent the double jeopardy of a penalty and a red card. A good part of that first season was spent explaining the rules to players who were furious that they’d ONLY won a penalty.
Some changes infuriate spectators more than the players. In particular, the amend which meant that an injured player didn’t have to leave the pitch for treatment if the offender had received a card. A good part of that first season was spent explaining the rule to sideline warriors and their dogs.
We all know that the grassroots game is a million miles from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, so don’t expect them to be refereed the same. There are plenty of “directives” that the Professional Game Match Officials Board gives refs at the start of each season to make the game more enjoyable and the TV commentators and pundits adopt these as early season buzzwords. But these aren’t laws. “Letting more go” may be getting Premier League plaudits, yet you probably won’t see the same over the rec on Sunday, as more than likely your grassroots ref has been doing that for years. Tough tackling and a little bit of needle make the lower-tier game what it is. Entertainment doesn’t always mean silky skills.
Most refs like me will be looking forward to the pundits moving on from the buzzwords to something else. It might herald the end of captains and coaches screaming “I thought you were meant to be letting more go, ref?!” after the right back has crunched a winger onto the next pitch.
Enjoy the new season.