The end of metal cup-hooks

Like most referees, when I arrive at a ground to referee a match, my first act is to dump my holdall in the dressing room and go out to inspect the field of play. 

Many years ago I remember arriving at Oxford City and taking the field for my inspection. This included, of course, checking the goal-posts and nets. As I looked at the net at one end where there seemed to be a slight discrepancy, I heard a shout from the very small band of supporters  who, although there was still an hour to kick-off, were gathered on the terraces. ‘Hope you are half as bloody keen when the match starts,’ one yelled at me across the empty field. ‘You just can’t win can you,’ I said to my linesmen.

Supposing there had been a hole in the net that would have let the ball through, there would have been an argument about whether a goal had been scored or not. Believe me there have been plenty of those instances over the years. Those early spectators would have then blamed me for not making a proper inspection. It might be thought that, with professional or semi-professional clubs, the nets would be perfect, but I remember refereeing Swindon A team when they played in the Hellenic League and using up my complete bag of string trying to tie up the holes in the nets. 

Apart from the nets, it is up to the referee to check the structure of the goals themselves. Are they erected correctly and safely? It’s not always known that there have been no fewer than nine people killed in this country by goal posts or crossbars falling on them. 

This year referees have one other thing to look for when inspecting the goal posts. They must give even more attention to the fixing of the nets to the goals. Metal cup-hooks have been widely used in the game for many years. Spread along the cross bar and uprights they have provided an easy and simple way of fixing the nets. Now, however, the British Standards Institute has stated that they must not be used on any goal structure and, from the beginning of this season, the FA have instructed referees, that they must not allow play at any ground where they have these fixings. To back this up the FA, have photographs of some of the horrendous injuries, fingers lost or stripped to the bone, caused by cup-hooks. 

Recently I was told of one of these injuries locally, which happened before the game when the nets were being fixed to the crossbar without using a step ladder. Nets we are told must now be fixed with plastic fittings or tape and there are a number of new types of fittings.

Clubs who have been astute will have applied to the Football Foundation for a grant for replacement goalposts but, where they haven’t, one or two problems have arisen. I have found for instance that some newer referees don’t know what constitutes a cup-hook. Perhaps the FA when issuing these instructions should have included photos of what is and what is not permissible. 

In some cases referees have believed cup-hooks to be the plastic ‘arrowheads’, which are actually one of the recommended replacements as they can be screwed into the old cup hook holes. I have found that these arrowheads seem to snap off easily, leaving areas unfixed along the crossbar. Where the cup-hooks have simply been removed, they should be attached with tape. At one ground recently, I found instead of tape they had been tied on with bootlaces, which had stretched leaving gaping gaps along the cross bar. 

Making sure goals are ‘fit for purpose’ is one of those normally unseen referees’ duties, except of course by my detractors at Oxford City. 

Dick Sawdon Smith 

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© R Sawdon Smith 2007