Injuries mean more decisions for referees to make
When people take up refereeing they quickly find out that it’s all about making decisions and sometimes they have to make decisions on things they know nothing about. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago after the injury to Reading Football Club’s Jay Tabb. Supporters of the Royals will not need reminding that he took the full force of the ball in his face, when it was kicked by an opponent from a short distance, and was knocked unconscious. There are eighteen powers and duties of a referee and two of them refer to injured players. The first one says; the referee stops the game, if in his opinion, a player is seriously injured. The second one reads, the referee allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player, if in his opinion, is only slightly injured. Note that phrase ‘in his opinion’. What experience do most referees have in assessing injuries? The answer is usually very little. On our training courses we ask how many people have had medical or first aid training. The answer is usually none and the most we are likely to get is a couple out of twenty four candidates. So as I say, referees are asked to make decisions about something they know little about but which could have ramifications. In the case of Jay Tabb, it was pretty obvious; he was laid out cold after a heavy blow. Referees are advised in any case to stop immediately for head injuries as they can of course lead to more serious repercussions. But what is a head injury? Obviously if two players go up for the same ball and crack heads it is obvious but what about players who go down holding their heads claiming they have been the victim of an opponent’s arm? Is that a head injury? Is the player injured seriously enough for the referee to stop the game? Another of the problems referees face is the faking of injuries by players. This is an offence of course, but imagine cautioning a player only to discover he has a real injury. In Jay Tabb’s situation there would have been no doubt and one tip we do pass on, is that a player who lies completely still, is more likely to have suffered a serious injury that one who is writing about in apparent agony. There are other times when serious injuries are obvious. A broken leg can often be seen or even heard. I remember once a player who twisted, not even making a tackle, and went down with a scream. I looked around and could see that his knee cap was sticking out the side of his leg. Luckily, there were first aiders in attendance but even they wouldn’t touch it and the player had to wait on the field for the ambulance to arrive. The problem in local football is that very few clubs have qualified first aiders. That’s the reason I wrote a book along with fellow referee Terry Gibbs, entitled ‘So you carry the sponge’. It was about immediate first aid on the football field and aimed specifically at local club trainers although it was also purchased by referees. However, the real answer is that if you don’t know what you are doing, it’s probably better not to take any action. The doctor’s creed is ‘first do no harm’ and that should be the criteria when a player is injured. I know that Reading Football Club were upset when the referee at Jay Tabb injury, moved Tabb’s head before the physio got there thinking it would help, when it could have had disastrous consequences. Referees have enough responsibility in having to decide between serious and slight injuries, between a fake or exaggerated injury and a real one, it is best, unless they are qualified, that they leave any treatment to the club officials.