When I was 15, I earned a little extra money refereeing kids’ football matches. I completed a Football Association qualification, persuaded my mum and dad to buy me all the necessary kit and soon found myself knee-deep in mud every Sunday. I was surrounded by kids who, for the most part, loved it and played the game with smiles on their faces, boundless enthusiasm and absolutely no tactical awareness and parents who, despite being perfectly polite away from the field, were baying for blood at every decision which went against their little darlings. Twenty years later, I’ve found myself reprising this role, albeit in a different arena and with the attitudes of the players and the watching parent pretty much reversed.
The players, of course, are Dylan and Xander while the solitary member of the crowd is also a beleaguered member of the team of match day officials, Kate. The older the boys get, the worse the sibling rivalry becomes along with the need for us to intervene in confrontations. Most of the usual football offences come into play. First of all there’s the fouling and violent conduct – if they’ve had a minor disagreement about something, one of them will try and trip or shove the other. Thankfully, they don’t bite each other so at four and two they’re already showing a greater level of maturity and restraint than Luis Suarez can manage.
Then we have the foul and abusive language – sort of. Thankfully, we’re pretty good at avoiding swearing in front of them, so the phrases don’t exactly turn the air blue, but they still act like a red rag to a bull. Xander still accuses Dylan of being Barry Scott from the Cillit Bang adverts – which I’d certainly take as an insult – while Dylan has been known to retaliate by stealing his socks and hiding them. Admittedly, this is more in the dressing room japes category, but it has the desired effect nonetheless.
Let’s not forget dissent either. Neither of them can help themselves trying to get in the last word when summoned by the referee, and a fair few yellow cards – removals of treats and telly – and the odd red – trips to the naughty corner – have been issued as a result of their back chat. Fortunately, I have plenty of experience of this from my days as a man in the middle – albeit mainly with pushy parents on the touchlines.
Of course, being a referee, I’m fundamentally flawed and have probably made some harsh decisions, but at least I’m not Chris Foy. I’ll take that!