Trevor* is a grassroots referee who in each issue will blow the whistle on what it’s really like to take control of grassroots games …
New year, new you, new start. But hey, us kings and queens of grassroots football don’t need a new fitness regime – we’ll be out there in January, come rain or shine, sleet or snow.
Who are we kidding? At this time of year many look at their phones in the hope of reading “match postponed” and pulling the duvet back over their heads. Unfortunately for me, I’m the one who must make the decision.
To be fair, most players and officials love mid-winter games. Maybe it’s the childlike joy of muddy pitches with sliding tackles beginning three metres away from the ball or the whole “magic of the cup” background narrative which we’ve all grown up with every January. In the imagination, grassroots football in Britain is played in puddled parks with the faint aroma of muddied boots which haven’t been cleaned since the week before.
For me, new year weekend mornings begin with some curtain twitching. Did it rain overnight? Has that forecast snow settled? Was there a frost? Are we on or off?
No matter what you might think, refs only call off a game if they really have to, based on a set of questions we have to ask ourselves:
- Will the state of the pitch endanger the safety of the players, likely ending in injuries (mild or severe)?
- Will conditions severely affect the standards of play and therefore the spirit of the game?
- Are there risks involved with the field of play’s surrounding areas and/or travel risks for players making their way to the game?
You weren’t expecting the second point, were you?! Safety on the pitch and on the way to the game are paramount, but also, no one wants to see their certain goal held up by a flooded six-yard box. For the game to get the go-ahead, the answer to all of the above must be no.
Yet this is football, and things aren’t always that simple. An overnight storm or a foot of snow make for an easy decision. The need for a pre-match pitch inspection can leave things more open to opinion. As a referee you can come under pressure to put the match on from Team A if they are top of the league and at home. Whereas their opponents Team B have three players missing on a stag do and keep on kicking the ball into any standing water to illustrate how P-P is the only option.
These days there’s also the added complication of modern weather apps. “Look ref, it’s stopping in ten minutes!” You have to shut all this stuff out and do what you think is right. And more often than not, the match officials want to get the match on.
If we do give the green light in difficult conditions, the ninety minutes can be more challenging than usual. Refs always need to keep up with play and this is even more important in bad weather where slipping and sliding can make the game hard to read and communication with players and managers even more difficult.
When games do go ahead, the possibility of abandonment remains. Player safety is always in the back of your mind and even though those sliding tackles can be fun, they also present an increased risk. Don’t be surprised if an early yellow card is brandished to cut them out.
As a contact lens wearer, I work extra hard in monsoon conditions and will admit to having guessed at a few marginal throw-in decisions in my time. One particularly wet day saw the second half literally pass by in a blur. Not that anyone seemed to mind; at the end of the game both sides praised me for my (enforced) decision to “let the game flow”.