In view of the publicity gained by the Rugby World Cup held in England this year and the views expressed by several commentators about the difference in attitude to the referee between rugby players and footballers, it was singularly appropriate to invite Jeff Finlay, a rugby referee to be our guest speaker in October.
In fact Jeff is a qualified referee in both rugby and football. He qualified as a rugby referee in 2004 and now officiates for the Berkshire Referees Society. As well as having refereed all the first XVs in Berkshire and refereeing service games, he has refereed England under 18’s and under 20’s and his highest honour so far is refereeing the England Under 18 final.
Jeff had previously refereed football in South Wales over fifteen years ago and had recently taken it up again when he discovered his son’s team were short of referees. So he now referees youth football on a Saturday morning before going on to his afternoon rugby match.
So what should we do if we want to get the same respect from footballers as rugby referees enjoy? The answer Jeff thought was simple – talk to the players. I am strict, he said, but I show empathy with the players. I am not adverse he said to saying ‘well done’ to a player. Manage the players and you can do anything. Put the onus on the captains. I call the captains over, he said, and introduce myself by my first name. I tell them that I like the game to flow, so play to the whistle. If I’m wrong, I will admit it and apologise but I explain to them that I can’t see everything.
After all, Jeff said, you can only referee what you see in front of you. But I tell them that if I have to show a red card then I will. He said that he found no problem with the timing for players in the sin-bin but he did admit to having a multi-tasking watch.
Jeff was obviously a fit man and he said the other important factor in keeping control was fitness. What you should be aiming at and what the coaches wanted from you is to let the players enjoy the game and this is easier if you are there when it matters. However, when some members showed a little scepticism that this would be enough to deter problem from players, he did admit that referees enjoyed full backing from rugby authorities. Discipline, he said, also comes down to the clubs and bad behaviour can lead to a deduction of points from a defaulting team. If you don’t want to play rugby, was their attitude, then we don’t want you.
Although not all members were convinced that there wasn’t more to the difference in the behaviour and attitude of players in the two codes, we thank Jeff for explaining how with his experience, he felt they could be brought closer together.