This is the second part of part 3. I have split this into 3 as Rich has been involved is some many things in my life.
Part two: Superman
As I climbed the pyramid I of course had to be assessed. I felt I was “Alright at this refereeing lark” and started to get appointments that other refs would tell me were good appointments.
I was not geographically aware of which games were “Derby games” in the West Country as I had not lived down here long enough to understand. This has caught me out a few times. Once such occasion was a game between Nailsea and Clevedon, I had no idea that the towns were so close, why would I? The habitants of each town also happened to hated each other.
As I was checking the nets, I noticed there was a bit of a crowd, when I say a crowd, I mean about 100 which was very unusual for games in this league. I didn’t give it a second thought as it was a sunny day and not a bad little set up to be honest. One of the things I always missed about playing was the banter and “psyching out” of the opponents in our warm ups. I did the same as a ref and I still advise refs who I coach today to pay attention to warm up’s as you can gather a lot of clues from how the players may act. Paying attention to what foot players and the goal keeper kicks with, is always very helpful at any level and I always looked for this in the warm up. This plan had also helped me identify contenders for the “knob head of the game” who will try to test you out early on. It very rarely let me down and it didn’t in this game either.
The home team had one lad who had his collar up on his shirt (an Eric Cantona wanna be), bright yellow boots and was the loudest one, screaming, swearing and playing up to the assembled crowd of 100, he was my No1 contender. For the purpose of ease, I will call him Eric. As the game was about to start Eric shouted “let’s get stuck into these fucxxng in-breds” I wasn’t shocked as I have obviously heard far worse before however, as I had noticed in the warm up that Eric was my No1 contender for “knob head of the game” I took this as a golden opportunity to get a pre-emptive strike in. I prevented the kick off from happening and called him over and said “what did you mean by that ‘In-bred’ comment?” I made sure he was by a huge centre forward for the other team when I asked him the question and I pointed at the big strapping lad and said “ You do realise that if he knocks you out I have to send him off, but you will still be knocked out?” he didn’t know what to say and I asked “can I start the game now?” And he nodded and said “Sorry ref but this is our local derby and we hate each other, it’s all part of the game.” It all clicked in place, the attitude of the player and the “big crowd” I had missed a trick and I wasn’t really prepared.
Within the first few minutes I had awarded loads of fouls and the tempo was very very high. Every challenge had “afters” and “dollys were getting throw out of prams all over the place”. I didn’t know what to do as every foul could have been a card but I was the type of ref that “allowed the game to flow.” Nevertheless, every time I gave something loads of players would shout at me, everyone but Eric. I got to half time at 0-0 and little scuffles were breaking out as we walked back to the changing rooms. Deep down I was loving it as this reminded me of being home in Liverpool but I wasn’t a player, I was the one who had to bloody control 22 people who didn’t like each other and reality was setting in, I was losing control.
I had not had anything like this as a ref, every game for the last 3 years were relatively quiet affairs, the odd red card but nothing that really challenged me, not like this.
I went into my changing room and thought “Fuxk ! what am I going to do?” As a player I would be loving it but I was on the other side and I’m a bit lost. The changing rooms were divided by walls that did not go all the way to the ceiling so you could hear everything that was being said by both teams. A light bulb went on in my head and I thought “what would I want a ref to do if I was a player now?” I thought about Eric and why he was one of the only ones not giving me stick and bingo, I need another pre-emptive strike. I thought “I’m going into their changing rooms” I went to the away team first as they were a bit less leary and said “lads I would love to be playing in this game but I’m a ref now and there is no way you are going to finish with 11 men if this carries on like this and I need you to know that” As I was walking out and one of the players said “fair play ref but you’re having a great game. don’t change because of them”….”Shit” I thought “he’s just done a number on me.” It had back fired as they were blaming the home team and the home team had heard it.
I had to now go into the home team changing room where Eric was. I was a bit concerned as the away team had just said its their fault and they had heard them say it. They were livid and I had made it worse.
As I went into the Home teams dressing room the manager said “I haven’t finished wait until I call you in”. “FFS I thought they have both done a number on me now” I waited outside for about 5 minutes and knocked on the door it went quiet and nobody said “come in” it was a stand-off for a moment so I just went in and said “ I need you all to listen to me, the manager tried to butt in, I stopped him with a stern “No you made me wait now I’m having my say” he stopped and sat down. I couldn’t believe it; the butterflies were going big time but I had to carry on or all of the little respect they had left for me would be gone. I stepped further into the dressing room and said “look lads either you want to play football or you all go outside and have a big ruck and I will stay in here, it’s up to you.” One lad said “What like a scouse wedding ref?” everyone burst out laughing and I joined in and said “yes exactly like a scouse wedding only I will rob the wheels off the car of the one who starts the ruck” Everyone laughed again and the manager said “ok ref thanks” It had worked I had got my point over.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough for this level and I already wanted the final whistle to go but I had another 45 mins to do and it was going to be a long 45 mins for sure. The half started quietly and I was beginning to think all would be good and just like that it exploded, out of nothing. The ball was going out for a throw in and two players were chasing it. It looked like a clear throw in to the home team but as often happens players try to blag that its “their ball ref” even thou it clearly wasn’t. They started to fight and everyone piled in. I couldn’t believe it. My instinct was to pile in myself but clearly, I couldn’t, I froze and thought “WTF do I do now” I just started blowing my whistle like a demented canary and hoped it would stop. Eventually it split up into little scuffles and it just stopped after about 5 minutes. I calmed down and called the two players that started it together as I was going to send them both off I then realised that one was Eric who had been as good as gold until now. Here I was with two lads still steaming and I had to do something. Eric says to me “ You have been looking to send me off since the start when you made look a dick, so you may as well just put me out of my fuxxing misery” I couldn’t believe it, here I was thinking he had been as good as gold and all the time he thought I was picking on him. “If you send off one ref, you have to send off both” someone said. My word, I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, I was getting mugged off everywhere but I had to do something so that is exactly what I did and sent both off. No one said a word. I issued another two cautions one for each side (just for effect if I’m honest) and restarted with the throw in.
The game finished 0-0 with not much else happening. I had to work hard to keep on top of it but it was the biggest learning curve for me and I was glad it was over.
Now you are probably thinking why did he go on so much about that game? Well here is the reason.
As I was walking off the pitch gutted and thinking I was a shxt ref and thinking about packing it all in, I noticed some one walking towards me with a note pad in his hand. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here I was in a big hole wanting to pack it all in and now to make matters worse, a bloody assessor turns up. “Could this get any worse?” I thought.
Back then, assessors did not let you know they were coming and they would just turn up unannounced, also they would try to not get noticed during the game. Many think they should do that today but they don’t and that’s a subject for another day.
“Hello top man” he said. I knew his face but I couldn’t remember his name. “Alright” I said.
“We met a few months ago at the County FA meeting. I’m Rich Melinn, one “L” two “N’s.” was his reply.
My first thought was “he is going to hammer me let’s get this over with.” I was gutted cos if there was anyone I would have liked to perform well in front of it would have been him.
We sat down and he said “Well done mate, you gave the game a chance and they didn’t play ball so you stepped up.” I thought he was crazy, I was convinced I had lost control. He then asked “Do you know when you started to get on top of the game?” I couldn’t think and said “after the two reds?” “No” he replied. “When I had a word with Eric before the start?” “No” was his reply. “ The Superman comment” he said. I remembered “Very Early in the game the captain of the home team appealed for a foul, nothing bad but he shouted “ref that’s a foul get a grip” this was after someone had challenged Eric for the ball. There was absolutely no way the captain could see it as it was straight on to him and his vision was blocked by the player. “Oh superman,” I replied “have you got x-ray vision? There’s no way you can see that” He shut up and the next time he appealed I said “ Oh Clark Kent, I have told you to stop appealing for what you can’t see, leave it out” It was just a natural comment for me and the sort of comment I had always used. Now that he said it I realised that the captain left me alone for the rest of the game. Rich talked about so much “good practice” I did during the game and lifted me up from the hole I was in. He said “look there are a few things I want to chat about but let’s have a pint in the bar after you are changed”
As I entered the bar Rich was at a table with two pints of lager. He said “sit down mate I got you a pint.” “Thanks Rich,” I replied “how did you know I drank Lager?” “You got told off at the meeting about having a pint, remember” was his reply. Incredible, he had clocked it and remembered. We sat and talked through my game and I was hooked by everything he was saying, it all made sense and the major lesson I learned was how to judge the tempo of a game and how to recognise when to come in and when to not.
Rich’s influence on me has been very positive always encouraging me to think differently and look for what works for me as an individual referee. This has manifested itself in different ways. My “quick wit” has always got me out of tricky situations on and off the pitch and he identified this as a strength and said to “keep it in your refereeing tool box as one of the tools to use, it worked today but there will be times when it doesn’t.”
Others at the time were telling me not to talk to players and “certainly don’t crack jokes” I’m pleased to say I ignored that piece of advice and was an assistant referee on the Football within 4 seasons of meeting Rich at this game.
Im not sure how much he really understands how much he has helped me if i’m honest.
The final Part of this section includes a run in with some football fans in a car park, a healthy competition between two RA branches and getting stuck in Amsterdam Airport over night after missing our flight.