These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

THE REFEREE'S A

Published in the Southern League Premier Division game v Gosport Borough Tuesday 24th October 2017 We won 5-1 in front 678 and are top of the league.
 

I never thought I'd be reading a book by a ref nodding my head in sympathy. Football is a passionate sport and it's the done thing to criticise the man in black often to cover the shortfallings of your team; but as I’ve got older I’ve got less and less tolerant of the 'ref had a shocker' brigade.

For the most part I found Howard Webb’s 'The Man in the Middle' book pretty absorbing. I must admit I didn't realise the hours ref’s have to put in to climb the ladder and Webb’s tale is one of totally dedication, lots of sacrifices and bloody hard work – and he admits to making mistakes! He's also a football fan through and through; OK he only played Sunday League football but he supports his home town team, Rotherham United (not Man United as many often accused him off).

Mind games from managers, slattings in the press, pulled apart by pundits, judged every game by referees assessors, tricked by players and grief and death threats from supporters – who'd put up with their family having to get police protection after a split second decision you've made? You need to be pretty thick skin to put up with all that.

There's some great insights into certain managers and players – you wouldn't be surprised by the tricks of Alex Ferguson, but maybe surprised by a haunted Jose Mourinho telling him after a game we all make mistakes but that 'the Man' will now fire me (which Abramovich did a week later).

Watching Match of the Day through your hands after Gary Neville had bollocked you for the lack of a red card, only to find you had in fact got it right 'Never believe anything you hear from players or managers at half-time until you've seen it with your own eyes' I'd warn my rookie refs who worked alongside me. 'They'll try every trick in the book to get into your head and alter your mindset. Be strong. Don't be swayed. Believe in yourself.'

Webb’s performances led him to officiating for 11 years and nearly 300 Premier League games, an FA Cup and Champions League final, nine major international tournaments and finally a World Cup Final 'By the summer of 2008, FIFA had short-listed sixty referee's teams for the 2010 World Cup and, for the next couple of years, they watched us like hawks. The governing body needed to reduce this elite group by half in time for the finals and, in order to whittle it down, instigated a rigorous programme of continuous assessment and aptitude testing....along with seminars all over the world and intensive training camps.' He passed the tests and ended up being in charge of the World Cup Final in South Africa 'What I’m doing tomorrow is just huge. Footballs the biggest sport in the entire world. Millions of people will be watching this one game. And I'm the man in the middle. Bloody hell fire...'

Eventually the intensity became too much 'To be honest. I was becoming increasingly weary of the flak that kept coming my way.... but if there was one insult I hated being hurled at me, it was 'disgrace.' It really got my back up. I was just a referee who tried to do an honest job and who occasionally made genuine mistakes. I may have been far from perfect, but I didn't think I was a disgrace....'Life as an elite referee had been like the proverbial roller coaster, with exhilarating highs and plummeting lows. After nearly a quarter-of-a-century in the middle, however those dips had started to take their toll.'

As football takes on even greater intensity and financial stakes become even higher, the pressure on the ref will only get harder, so hats off to anyone who wants to step into the middle.

I recommend you read this book before the next time you shout cheat.


* Howard Webb 'The Man in the Middle' published by Simon & Schuster 2016 (Buy from an independent bookshop rather than the tax-dodging Amazon)

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