Don’t let dissent destroy your game

In the absence of Ady Williams, former international footballer and captain of Reading FC, who was required by BBC Berkshire Radio to commentate on Maidenhead’s well earned FA Cup replay with Port Vale, Reading RA is grateful to Dick Sawdon Smith for agreeing to present his session on dissent, which he had taken around other societies, most recently at Worthing RA.

Dissent is one the greatest turnoffs that cause referees to give up the game and produced the greatest number of cautions. But can we overcome dissent, can we control it bearing in mind that Law 5 says ‘Each match is controlled by a referee’? Can we reduce cautions without losing match control?

The meeting was split into groups and asked to list what players had actually said or to done to show dissent. East list was then shown and discussed. One sad fact was that many of the words listed were insulting, abusive of offensive. Even allowing for the context in which they were used, surely, Dick said, these should have been treated as sending off offences. However, context is an important factor.

If we are to control dissent, Dick asserted, we must not ignore it. Like a cancerous growth much of which can be controlled if treated early so it was with dissent. We must tackle it early, but all dissent needn’t be met with a caution.

Members were asked to look at their examples of dissent and say how they would tackle them; sharing any special practices that worked for them. Not too many members had pet techniques that they used or were not prepared to share them. Dick pointed out that you can learn from others but what works for another referee may not work for you so you must always be your own man.

When met with instances that might be construed as dissent, considerations might include; was it an appeal, a disagreement or dissent? Many times players are angry with themselves and display that with words or actions, which are not aimed at another person. It is not always easy to identify the motive behind actions, and many actions can be treated differently. Blatant and public dissent such as charging from 20 yards, or waving arms animatedly, or kicking the ball away must be met with a caution. Other actions could be dealt with by the recognised steps of man management; quiet word, public word, admonishment, rather than be ignored. Importantly, always act assertively and not aggressively, which may fuel the situation. Making use of the psychology of the open hand and body language can help calm temperament.

The giving of a caution was enacted, with the warning to the offender that further misconduct could lead to a sending off. This in itself can deter further dissent.

Members then split for a final time to consider what actions we can take to avoid dissent in the first place. Ideas were being fit so as to be close to decisions; positive whistle and signals, preparing for the game so as to be in the right frame of mind, “give and go” when making a decision so not give players chance to air any dissent.

Summing up Dick said ‘don’t ignore dissent. Blatant and public dissent challenging your authority must receive a caution, but otherwise treat it at the right level. Keeping up with play and making clear decisions can deter dissent; moving away after decisions can reduce the chance of inviting it.

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