Trials and tribulations of a young grassroots referee

“I had a parent walk into the middle of the pitch and shout abuse into my face. During the game. I would tell you what she said, but this is a family newspaper”

As a young player of both Gaelic football and soccer, I was highly critical of referees. Nothing irritated me more than a referee who didn’t know the rules, or how they were applied. It was a sure bet that after a divisive game you could find me in the dressing room, ranting to anyone who would listen about technicalities, ‘what if’ scenarios, or a decision I thought the referee had got wrong.

While some people were receptive to my analysis, most were not. And the most common response once I had stopped to take a breath?
“Why don’t you just start refereeing yourself?”
Naturally I thought this was a fantastic idea. I still do, in fact. But I won’t be the first to tell you: it’s a difficult job.

While there are dual players, I consider myself a dual referee – being match official for both soccer and Gaelic football. As a result, in the few short years that I’ve been refereeing, I have a fairly good understanding of the trials and tribulations of a grassroots referee.

‘Young Referee Paradox’

As much of a pain as it is, referees must be the position of authority on the pitch. Otherwise, we cannot do our job. I’d rather just make a decision and have nobody question it, but this is Planet Earth, not utopia.

Being a young referee, this becomes a problem. While the vast majority of those you encounter on the pitch are upstanding people, there are those who see a young referee coming and use their ‘seniority’ to intimidate them.

Please don’t do this. Sometimes decisions just don’t go your way, and all this behaviour accomplishes is driving some new referees out of the sport: No Ref, No Game. And there is anything but a surplus of referees at the moment.

Another point. I’m still playing the game. Young referees, despite getting more stick than others, are typically fit, tuned into the game, and have a good understanding of how the game needs to flow. And while we do need experience to become authoritative referees, that won’t be possible if we are driven out of the game. So cut us some slack!

Give Respect, Get Respect

There are several phrases that you are guaranteed to hear when you tell people you’re a referee. “It’s a thankless job”. “Sure you’re on a hiding to nothing there”. Another one, “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. I could go on.

Sadly, there seems to be a culture, in both Gaelic football and soccer, where a ‘certain level’ of referee abuse is tolerated. Mild verbal abuse? That’s alright. Severe verbal abuse? Slap on the wrist. Physical abuse? Well, we’ll have to take a look at that.

Referees are thick-skinned. We have to be. My mother hates being at games where I’m refereeing. She’ll often tell me of so-and-so who called me this, that, and the other. I never hear it – you learn to tune it out as background noise, so you can pay attention to the game.

I had a parent walk into the middle of the pitch and shout abuse into my face. During the game. I would tell you what she said, but this is a family newspaper. That is what we’re dealing with. And the best part? It was an U-12s game!

Referees are getting sick of it. This is not exclusive to Roscommon. Maurice Deegan gave an interview the week prior to last outlining the effects of social media on refereeing. The FAI are rolling out a national campaign, No Ref, No Game.

If people want grassroots Gaelic games, and soccer, to continue in this country, we need to get our act together very, very quickly.

A weekend of football was lost last week. If young referees are discouraged from picking up a whistle, a weekend of postponements might just be the tip of the iceberg.

*Shane Murphy (19) is a GAA and soccer referee in County Roscommon