The trials and tribulations of a footy ref

By Christopher White


This is my first season as a ‘roped-in’ parent acting as assistant to our U7s manager for training sessions. As the manager is required to marshal the players on matchdays, I get the plum job of refereeing the home games. I have no experience of reffing whatsoever, and precious little football playing experience – just lots of watching. I guess that plenty of us ‘assistant managers’ who end up refereeing are in a similar position. We’re not official refs and get no training as such, we’re just left to get on with it as best we can.

I am having fun learning the ropes (4 home games so far and still alive), but it’s quite a steep curve and I gain at least one Invaluable Golden Rule every week – some from watching other refs, some from helpful analysis of my own ‘performances’ offered by courteous members of the public. Some of these may seem obvious to experienced ex-players, but I am the original lowest common denominator and my greenness may prove useful in establishing a base level for an advice section for amateur reffing dads.

I know the basic rules, but I would love to find out the basic responsibilities of a ref at this level, plus it seems there’s even more to it than that…..

Things I’ve learned already:

Get the team to club together for a stopwatch with nice big controls that work for cold fingers. NEVER trust your wristwatch. (Yes, I ended up giving a game-levelling home pen in the second minute of unintentional extra time. The away manager had TWO stopwatches going. Great.)

Brief the managers on EXACTLY on what you expect from them (e.g.. ‘You guys call the touch decisions but leave the fouls to me’, or “I don’t usually give a foul for a backpass to the goalie at this level, is that OK with you?’ etc.

MAKE A POINT of introducing yourself to the away manager as early as possible. Ask if he has any tearaways on his team that need watching. He’ll say “All of ’em”. (Correct).

It’s polite to the visitors to stay away from your team huddle at half-time. Find something else to do. Watch the birds or try a few car doors or something.

NEVER discuss decisions. ALWAYS thank the away management afterwards. BIG smiles all the time for the kids.

CHECK the pitch carefully before the game for dog mess (have some nappy bags or a shovel handy) or anything else that might hurt the kids. This also gives you something to do that’s a polite distance away from your home team while the pre-match chat and warm-up is on.

FOULS: As far as I can tell, at U7/ U9 level, fouls are usually down to poor technique or over-enthusiasm, not nastiness. So don’t just whistle/yell at offenders from a distance. If a player does something daft, like leaping into a tackle backwards (very common it seems), nip over, bend down to their eye level to get their attention and quickly and quietly explain exactly what they did wrong. Then tell them they’re a good lad/girl – big thumbs-up and a big smile. This takes about ten seconds and they’re much less likely to repeat dangerous play.

Refs run backwards a lot on the telly – park refs check their mirrors first to make sure there isn’t a kid in the way.

Oh yeah and finally, ask the away manager if any of the kids on their team are called Rhett, or anything else that sounds like ‘Ref’ or you’ll be driven up the wall thinking it’s you being screamed at to GET BACK or WAKE UP or KEEP MOVING or whatever if little Rhett’s having a mare…..