This weekend, I reffed a U-17 boys soccer game.
Referees for this league have been under the constant instruction for the past few years that this is a top tier league with numerous D-1 scholarship players and a few future professionals in it, so we should call the game with the assumption that soccer is a contact sport. Blue team drove five hours to the field from one direction and Red drove four hours from the other direction. Blue team played a very English style while Red team played an Italian style.
Blue started the game with hard but legal shoulder charges into Red’s attackers. Blue’s holding midfielders both looked like decent draft prospects as middle linebackers (6-2/6-4 225 to 230 pounds apiece) and they knew how to use their strength to their advantage. As a referee, I was fine with the level of contact as it was shoulder to shoulder, only occuring while the ball was in playing distance and Blue immediately disengaged without any extraneous contact after the ball was released.
Red was not happy. They chirped constantly. Red #18 was a little guy who was trying to play a speed game. Blue’s holding midfielders would body him every time he got a release and Red #18 was consistently looking back to me for a foul. I was not seeing a foul, I was seeing a weight room issue.
The Red coach was trying to work me. Every time Red #18 was within 10 yards of a defender, he was moaning and asking for a call and expressing his disbelief that I was not seeing the blatantly obvious foul. Red #18 started to flop and dive. This kept on going for the entire game. He never got the fouls that he wanted as I was not seeing a foul. When his players were getting illegally challenged, I was fast on the whistle, but I was allowing Blue to play strong.
At the end of the game, the coach came to me for a conversation in the middle of the field. He said that I would never work one of his games again. My response was simple and direct:
“That’s fine coach, please call the assignor, Jenny Doe to arrange that. Her number is 555-867-5309.” He was surprised at my non-chalance.
I had the freedom to call the game as I saw fit without being worked because the economics of the situation favored me, the referee.
Working the refs is effective in all situations against weak, inexperienced or incompetent referees. Ninety minutes of screaming, bitching and moaning will often produce either indecision or the desire to just appease the noise to limit the noise.
However, working the good refs is still possible. I had the freedom to not care what the coach was saying because I would not see his team until next year. If I can’t be assigned to his team, there would still be over 900 potential matches to which I could be assigned. Not reffing one particular team has absolutely no impact on either my income or my potential to have high level, challenging and fun matches. The power relationship was either neutral or in my favor.
The power relationship between the coach and the referee is not always equal.
In my area, there are a few Division 1 NCAA college soccer programs. Each of those coaches have the ability and willingness to block referees from working their games. If a referee is blocked from one school, that is not that big of a deal, but if they are blocked from two or more schools for whatever reason, the odds of them having sufficient number of high level games without six hour drives to qualify for play-offs or advancement is extremely low. This has resulted in some referees becoming homer referees. They are trying to please both the assessor/evaluator and the home coach. Both the assessor and the home coach can assert significant control over the referee’s short and long term income. The homer referees may not advance past the first round of college play-offs, but they get a consistent thirty or forty high level matches a year while the non-homers who are good but not amazing may only get ten or fifteen high level matches. The truly top tier refs can get away without homering while holding a full schedule and getting to the last round(s) of playoffs. The major college/BCS conferences attempt to get around this problem by flying in referees for major games.
Thankfully, I’m in a sweet spot where I am a damn good referee, but I also know I am topping out at high level amateur and D-2/D-3 college where even if two or three coaches don’t want me in the middle, I will always have more offers of work than I can accept.