There is a little dispute going on in refereeing training circles about one of the simplest laws of the game, something that has to happen before a match can even start – the coin toss. I realise that many people may wonder why such a simple operation needs any training at all, surely anyone can toss a coin but for a referee, everything that surrounds it makes it quite important. This is the first opportunity on the field that the referee has to show that he is in control and as Law 5 in the Laws of the Game says, ‘The referee controls the match in cooperation with his assistant referees’. Regular readers may recall that earlier in the season I reviewed a paper presented by two Doctors of Psychology to the British Psychological Society annual meeting on what they called the self-belief of referees both at top and ground level. All sports people will tell you that self belief and confidence is important to how they perform and referees are no different. It is perhaps even more important when you consider all the, mostly ill-informed, criticism that they have to endure.
Before the commencement of any game, beneath that self confidence, there always lays a certain degree of apprehensiveness. I remember many years ago, listening to a Football League referee describing his feelings in the dressing room before going out to referee Manchester United against Liverpool. ‘Everyone talks about the pressure on the players,’ he said, ‘but no one considers the greater pressures that we are under’. This was before the advent of the Premier League and television dissecting every decision, which makes the pressure for today’s referees even greater. At park level of course, there is no where near that pressure but butterflies will still exist for a referee as he takes the field. After the preliminaries he is ready to call the captains up. A deep breath, a loud blast on the whistle and the shout ‘Captains please’. Now the referee has to show he is in charge as the captains approach. Shoulders back and reach out to greet each captain with a smile and a firm handshake. For many years, I ran courses for people who had to interview candidates for jobs and so often I was told ‘I can tell in the first five seconds whether the person will be any good by their handshake’. A weak handshake means a weak person is the theory. All nonsense of course but it does show the importance of the handshake. If either of the captains shares that theory, then a referee with a weak handshake is likely to be in for a rough time.
Then comes the nub of our little dispute. The Law says, ‘A coin is tossed and the team that wins the toss, decide which goal it will attack in the first half, the other team takes the kick to start the match.’ The law doesn’t say how the toss is conducted. I and many other referees give the coin to the home captain and ask the away captain to call. In this way both of them are involved. However, some referee tutors are trying to lay down that their way is not just as the best way but the only way to do it. The difference is they toss the coin themselves. As one explained to me, if it is given to one of the captains to toss, the coin is likely to land on the ground. This means he will have to pick it up, which he felt demeaning. I agree we need to use the toss up in a positive way but I can’t believe that picking a coin up is going to diminish our authority.