This sort of verbal abuse isn't fair - and it's killing football
PUBLISHED: 11:04 08 December 2017 | UPDATED: 20:40 10 December 2017
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Sunday league football referees deserve our support. Instead they get verbal abuse from people who should know better, says Steven Downes.
What do you do on Sunday mornings?
A decent proportion of people still go to church, while others enjoy a walk. Still more have a lie-in.
All good choices, I’d say.
While you’re walking or worshipping, though, a group of men and women don a strange black costume, travel to a distant field and pick up a few quid to get cold and suffer relentless verbal abuse.
Sunday leagues referees, I salute you - and simply cannot understand you.
I play for a Sunday team. This season, we’re rarely winning. But we always win the game of fun - for that’s what football should be.
We sometimes create confusion by being honest about the ball coming off one of our players for a corner. Honesty is frowned on by many teams, for whom winning a Sunday football match is apparently more important than life or death (thanks, Shanks).
They snarl, swear, argue, kick and - in one surreal moment - blow raspberries at the opposition.
As a grizzled old defender who loves observing human behaviour, these mornings are immensely entertaining.
If I had a pound for every time I get called “fat” (half true), “ginger” (half true) or a *expletive deleted* (sometimes true), I’d have better football boots.
To be honest, they can say and do what they like to me - I’m almost too old to play, anyway.
What gets me down is the way many players behave towards the referee.
Here we have someone who - pocket money aside - is essentially a volunteer, without whose presence there would be no game.
In our most recent match, the ref was a genial gent in his 70s. He deserved respect just for being there, let alone wearing shorts with those legs.
But during the 90 minutes, he was called a (insert your own swear word before the following) cheat, an idiot, blind, stupid, and much more.
Every time he blew his whistle, made a decision, didn’t make a decision, whenever a challenge was made, a header won, when the ball went out of play, our opponents screamed “reeeffff!!!” On the sidelines, the team’s manager and substitutes did the same.
If every decision did not go their way, it was the signal for a new torrent of foul-mouthed abuse towards the man in black.
I tried asking a couple of their players why they behaved in this manner.
I’ll let you work out the answers, but they included the words fat and ginger, plus three or four expletives. My hope of making contact with intelligent life thus foiled, I gave up.
I nearly forgot to mention the moment when a man-child with bad hair and neck tattoos got far too close to me (I could smell the cheap cologne) and shouted: “Ha! You’re losing!”
At this point I was expecting a circle of children to form in the playground, chanting: “Fight, fight, fight.”
So why does the referee bother?
What’s the motivation? If it’s exercise, why not go for a run instead? If it’s to satisfy a desire to be in charge, I’d suggest playing a retro game of Football Manager on a PlayStation.
More likely, it’s because they want to do something helpful, contributing to society and ensuring that Sunday football doesn’t die.
That deserves respect, not abuse and hatred.
Sadly, the knuckle-draggers who dish out the abuse cannot work out that they are contributing to the death of Sunday football - without which they’d have to either go to church or find somewhere that offers bear-baiting.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to find enough refs for all of the matches.
It’s hardly surprising when you consider what the job offers.