Is this the worst job in football?

In 1933, a local referee, Charles Kearse, proposed at a meeting of the Reading Referees Association that they make an award at the end of each season for the club linesman who received the highest recommendations from members refereeing on the local leagues. Although the recommendations system has changed, those awards are still going today. Last year’s winner was Keith Archer of Pinewood football club. For those who only watch professional football or indeed no football at all, I should explain that in local football such as the Reading Sunday League, the linesmen or assistant referees as they are now known, are not qualified referees but members of the two clubs taking part. The competition rules will state that if one is not provided, the club will be fined. So a follower of the team, who would like nothing more than just watching the match, is cajoled into taking the flag. You would think of course that everyone would be supportive of his efforts but it is not always necessarily so. Sometimes of course their decisions go against their own team. When I first started refereeing I was also secretary of the firm’s football club and the players requested me to ask our first team linesman to stop ‘being so fair’. Obviously I said ‘no chance’. But of course that’s nothing to what they can get from the opposition. I can recall sending a player off for insulting in the vilest manner, a club official who flagged him offside.

Sometime ago I read a letter to a newspaper by a dad who went to watch his son play. In youth football the same situation occurs and it is usually dads who take up the flag. ‘I couldn’t understand,’ he said, ‘why the other parents were so reluctant, so with no one else willing, I decided to do my bit and I became their unofficial ‘lino’. ‘Sunday morning football is something boys and parents love,’ he said, ‘it is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours’. ‘However,’ he wrote, ‘on Sunday there was an incident when I flagged for what, being up with play, I could see was an obvious offside. Then all hell broke loose. The opposition coach and a parent hurled abuse at me despite being twenty yards back on the halfway line and on the same side which meant they were in no position to judge. I can’t remember the exact turn of phrase, he said, but in front of everyone, including the boys, they implied that I was either incompetent or a cheat or both.’ Something snapped in the dad ‘lino’ and he turned on his accusers, slapped the flag in the opposing coaches hand and said if he was so good at judging offsides from the half way line perhaps he had better to the job, and then stormed off to join the other parents.

This sort of thing happens all too often and sometimes it leads to shouting matches and even to fights amongst the two sets of supporters. Of course this in no way compares with the terrible incident in Holland last season which has just reached a close. At the end of a match, the club assistant referee was set upon by seven teenagers and one of their parents from the opposing club. He was knocked to the ground and punched and kicked. He died later in hospital from his injuries. They have all recently been convicted of manslaughter and received custodial sentences.

I’m sure that Charlie Kearse didn’t envisage this sort of behaviour when he made his proposal eighty years ago but I think it shows that recognition and appreciation of voluntary club assistant referees is still as important if not more so, as ever it was.

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