Barry celebrated until he remembered it was his turn to wash the kits.

by Andy Robinson

Following on from Noel Draper’s “Respect/Referee” articles that have appeared in the “Cutter” over the past couple of weeks I decided to go and investigate for myself how the amateur ref compares against their Premiership counterparts. I therefore made contact with Peter Newton, the Secretary and appointments guru of the Warrington Referees Association, and we duly sorted out a catch up. Peter has been refereeing in the local area and as high as the Unibond League for over twenty years with his first couple of seasons as an official coinciding with my last couple of seasons as a Sunday League player and I duly recognized him.

The game I attended was a re-arranged, late end of season encounter between Grange Red Lion and Prescot Argyle in Division One of the Warrington Sunday League. A match postponed from earlier in the season and both sides were due to meet again the following Sunday.

As I arrived at the ground and introduced myself to Peter he was in the process of checking whether or not one of the “Grange” players had completed his ban via the League’s website on his phone. He hadn’t and the “Grange” started off with just ten players and even though another was on the way I again cursed my daughter for throwing my boots out in 2000 – there was a chance of a game here. I thought the length of the ban was harsh; the poor kid had got five games for a second sending off whereas the pro’s only get four! Having said that he hadn’t been fined 100K in wages. Then, and with much bemusement from the players, I explained the reasons for my notebook and pencil and was greeted with smirks all round and just a hint of disappointment that I wasn’t a scout from Rochdale or Macclesfield or at least from the “Warrington Guardian”. After arranging chats for after the game with Jay and Pete, the captains of both sides and telling both sets of players I would spend a half on each touchline, I sparked one up and settled down to review the ref.

What do I know about refereeing then? Well as a football fan of 45 years I am pretty certain that I know the rules and I know a “howler” when I see one. I also think I know about the “grid” system (if they still call it that) where the official utilises the middle three-fifths of the Pitch and move diagonally or “criss – crossedly” across this part of the playing area in order to see and keep up for most of the play. Therefore – in other words an expert!

The game I saw which contained nine goals and some stunning finishing didn’t have one bad tackle. The unusual hot weather had made for a bouncy, difficult surface so credit the players for that. We did though see dissent. I never understood dissent. How many times do you see a ref change his mind? So why argue over a “push” and get yourself a booking and a small fine? The games’ most controversial moment – a typical was it offside yes or no – which wasn’t given saw the away side, “Prescot” move into a five – nil lead. Peter(the ref) after the game would only say he was watching the flight of the ball whilst Pete the captain of the Grange was adamant that for once the “Grange’s” offside trap had actually worked.  Peter (the ref) maintained a dignified calm and slowed it right down as he explained how he saw events and after two separate Grange players got booked arguing over the incident another of their players shouted over to me.

“Oi d***head, Respect campaign! Have a story now do we?” I replied instantly “It isn’t my fault that your back four is f***ing s***e”. Sunday morning banter; you never lose it.

Experience has obviously taught Peter when and where to let the line a referee draws extend its parameters in the interests of keeping 22 lads on the Pitch. A less experienced official might have had that lad walking.  My take on this offside decision? Not got a clue because I’m crap. I was talking to a Prescot Argyle sub about a recent “Cutter” article when it happened and although I saw it go in the net I didn’t have Gary Neville to advise me or six replays to see it again on.

Peter showed this calmness and dignity towards the end of the game as well. With a Prescot Forward clean through and just about to knock it in he was hacked down from behind by Pete – Captain of the Grange. The straightest red card you will ever see but with the score at 6 -1 and only minutes left (Grange did really well by the way to make it 6 -3 by full time), the defender was given a “Get out of Jail free” card by Peter. After the game both captains were happy with this decision but both captains and the ref agreed that a different score or time in the game would have seen the letter of the Law and not common sense prevail. That has to be the main problem with refereeing at any level. Where do you draw the line between common sense and consistency?

When I finished playing in the early nineties refs seemed to be leaving in droves. I played in the same Warrington League and if I was playing in the middle division of six the lads here were in the middle division of just three and we now have not just a ref for every game but some spare and left over as well each Sunday. Youngsters are taking it up and dreaming of being the next bitch in Fergie’s back pocket (woops, forget I said that Mr Webb) A £25 flat match fee for reffing a kids game on a Sunday morning followed by another in the afternoon beats the hell out of a paper round or collecting glasses in a pub.

What then of the “Respect” campaign?

As explained I saw plenty of dissent but is that so bad at this level? The lads are out to enjoy it, take part, meet the mates and for 90 minutes give it their all. A bit of arguing isn’t going to bring the world of football to its knees and isn’t how I interpreted the Respect campaign anyway. According to Peter, in his first ever game he sent seven players off. As I played around this time I can well believe it but the lunchtime “Sky” kick Offs, the more variable working patterns of post Thatcher/Blair Britain, the growth in 5-a-side leagues where even the most hopeless get a few minutes playing time and probably lots of other factors as well have led to the disappearance of the nutter. Sadly though these factors have led to a reduction in all numbers playing regularly especially with studs on but not the pussies who play 5-a-side.

Perhaps the changes to amateur football over the past 20 years or so some of which are mentioned above have had more of an effect on the Game at this level than the “Respect” campaign. I don’t know but if the “Respect” campaign can stop Chelsea and Liverpool players surrounding a referee and lessen it to a stupid manager making a stupid comment and getting a trivial fine, then it’s a slight improvement. If on a different level it can stop guys like Peter having the mirrors of his car snapped off then it works on that level too.

I will leave the last words with Jay and Pete the two captains who made virtually identical comments “You get some decisions and some you don’t, it all evens out in the end and Peter’s one of the better ones”.