Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Sorry for the cheesy 90s pop song reference. Dating myself but hey- I am old anyway.

The distribution rates of red cards by league is not exactly stuff to bring up during guy’s night at the bar (pub). Why do I actually care about this?

This is truly useless data. This falls into the category of trivia that nobody will EVER get to use.

Yet the data shows a specific anomaly that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

First, methodology. I was able to grab data of the 50 most disciplined players per league for the last two years. So before everyone gets up in arms about the fact that this is not a truly comprehensive look at discipline per league- you are right….but still 50 per league isn’t bad. I grabbed the leagues I could. I know there were requests for the Mozambique Sunday League and for the English League 2 but:

  • I only had so much time;
  • ESPN only had so much data.

If you find me the data for the Mozambique Sunday League I will be happy to include it.

Enough. Here is the data. I even was able to dress this graphic up a bit (I know you are impressed).

Red Cards by League
Red Cards per Player by League

So if it didn’t hit you over the head with a hammer- let me be clear. The Primera League in Argentina had more than 30% more red cards distributed per player than any of the other leagues studied.

That is a pretty dramatic difference.

So the question becomes…why?

My first reaction was to blame the Argentine players (no I am not xenophobic and one of the best soccer matches I have ever watched live was at La Bombanera).

However the data certainly begged the question. So I ran an analysis of discipline by nationality rather than by league. Guess what? Argentines fall in the BOTTOM THIRD of discipline across all of the leagues studied. So if the Laws of the Game are applied consistently across all leagues that means it isn’t in the Argentine national upbringing/character to foul.

Discipline by Nationality
Discipline by Nationality

Therefore I can only assume that the refereeing in Argentina skews towards a higher distribution of red cards. Am I right to think that? Can you think of other reasons why?

An invitation that means squat

2016 GPS Summer Showcase

The GPS Summer Slam College Showcase.

That means I set the alarm for 4:45AM and the wheels were rolling at 5:15AM. Someone I crewed with at the Needham Academy, Ruben Seyde, said that the assignor for this tournament was kind of a big deal and therefore it was important I made a good impression.

I think the first impression went well, but the first thing the big-wig assignor told me was that my first game at 8:00AM was cancelled. A little mental math told me that I could have set my alarm for 6:30AM if I had known this, but oh-well. Bad luck. Nothing you can do.

So I grabbed my stuff and shimmied up close to the assignors desk. By desk I mean the back seat of a golf cart.

Sure enough some referees didn’t show up and I was assigned a U18 boys game as the first game (AR1). Actually both my first games (ARs) went fine. Downside of having those two games was that I was supposed to have had a game break before I centered my game at 11:30. Nothing you can do, right?

The real reason why I came up was to center the U17 boys game that include one of the top teams in the country. I want to keep chasing better quality competition and on paper this looked like a good one.

My game was uneventful, which is a good thing. I feel as though I did well and there was a great level of pace and physicality that made it worth my while. I could have done a little better checking with my ARs but on the positive side I my calls were good, my positioning was great, fitness was great…I felt good about it.

Best part was at the handshakes after the game. One coach said that was the best officiating he has had in a while…and then asked if I could referee his league’s semi-pro games.

Well….A couple of things on that:

  • I am not sure my certification allows me to do semi-pro;
  • Even if my certification does allow I do not feel qualified to handle semi-pro (yet)…give me another couple of years;
  • Are you empowered to assign referees for games, coach. It would be really flattering if you were but somehow I am not sure….

Nevertheless it was very nice of him to say so I thanked him profusely. I also give him my name (you knew I would!). Who knows? Maybe he is able to give out assignments (and someday I will feel qualified enough to accept)!!!

Which book should I throw at them?

US Soccer has some great instructional videos to teach new referees the Laws of the Game (LOTG).  I found these helpful because the details of the LOTG are a lot more involved than the typical player would expect.

With study of the videos, and not much more than that, a referee can pass the certification exam.

When you are certified- US Soccer sends you your badge, your certification card and the Laws of the Game book. This book (perhaps better described as a booklet) is a nice summary of the rules and fits nicely into the smallest pocket of your backpack. Probably 20 pages.

For a year I used this as my go-to study guide. A few months ago I heard that IFAB had agreed on some law changes that would take effect in June, 2016. I went to their website and downloaded the 2016/2017 LOTG.

Laws of the Game Cover
Laws of the game- The IFAB version

200+ pages later I had the real rules.

The summary book that US Soccer provides is great for governing a U9 level game. You read it an have some questions but feel reasonably confident to grab a whistle and blow it at the right time

But proper governance requires understanding all 200 pages. The scary part is that I was a year into my career as an official BEFORE I HAD EVEN HEARD OF IFAB THE BROADER RULE SET.

Part of this could have been a gap in my education. Perhaps US Soccer doesn’t want to overwhelm new referees with the tome which is the LOTG (probably the reason and a good idea nonetheless). But is tough to establish legitimacy on the field when a coach is barking at you about some minute detail and you are referring to a 20 page summary of the laws. And if I were to be an officious official- I really need to know what I am talking about.

Now I want to complain about how different leagues are adopting the new LOTG at different times, but forgive me…I have 200 pages of studying to do.

Summer crickets

Becoming a good referee involves a lot more than bookwork. You need game time. Not only game time, but quality games- right age group with players who don’t just boom the ball up the field (you want to see a referee suffer- just assign them to a game between two “boom ball” teams where the kicks are all 30+ yards back and forth).

In season, there are probably 4-5 emails a day coming out from different assignors. This game needs an AR. Full crew needed for this game. It truly is a herculean effort by these assignors to get their games filled—and games often have last minute complications which creates a headache for the assignors. Boy, do they have a tough job.

But there are LOTS of referees- and assignors have their trusted & proven “favorites.” So you chase games. You scrutinize the email notifications that hit your inbox. You keep your availability up to date in the assignment portals. How far are you willing to travel? How young a game are you willing to officiate? Are you willing to be an AR (Assistant Referee) or must you be center?

But then June rolls around. And all of a sudden- crickets.

The soccer seasons have wrapped up- youth and adult alike. No more emails from assignors. No longer a need to keep your schedule updated in the assignment portal. And you can feel your referee skills becoming duller and duller as each summer week goes by.

I stay fit by running and lifting weights. That part isn’t a problem. I try to watch games on TV. I keep track of the referees as much as I do the players. Learning techniques and identifying idiosyncracies are helpful. But nothing compares to being on the field.

I got an email today from Kathy. Kathy is an assignor to whom I owe a great deal- she assigned me lots of games in the first few months I was starting out. She assigned me games beyond (but not too far beyond) my experience level because she knew my grey hairs would offset some inexperience.

Kathy wanted to know if I would ref high school summer league games once a week. Of course I will! When you haven’t had a game in 4 weeks this is the best news ever.

July 14th (Happy Bastille Day) will be the first game. Should be 94 degrees on a turf field, but I am seriously looking forward to it. Thank you Kathy! For the first time this summer I will hear my whistle rather than summer crickets.

The Showboat

The score was 6-0 at half time. To make matters worse, the losing team had started the game with 10 men and had one man quit in the first 10 minutes bringing them down to 9 players.

“Neymar” was playing right wing for the winning team. I caNeymar Hair Stylell him Neymar because he wore #11, had the Neymar colored hair and cut, and had Neymar-like technical skills (at least compared to the rest of the players on the pitch).

For whatever reason, “Neymar” decided to have some fun in the second half. It started with a rainbow over the defender that he successfully collected after running around the defender.

A few minutes later there was the double foot behind-the back toss over the defender (fortunately a different defender at least) that he successfully collected when the ball came back down. You know, this one:


This made me furious as a parent, as a coach and as a player. But as a referee I wrestled with my options. Law 12 of the Laws of the Game allows for yellow cards to be issued for “Unsporting Behavior.” One of the conditions that could apply is – “If a player acts in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game.”

Loosely interpreted this could apply. However I will say that in both showboating occurrences “Neymar” was performing these tricks in line with his path to the goal (about 25 yards out). So it’s not like he turned around and started truly toying with the guy.

In the end, my card stayed in my pocket. I had a quiet but polite word with “Neymar” when I had an opportunity and left it at that.

Should I have given a yellow card? Was Law 12 appropriate here? Please– I would love some feedback on this one.

Wearing a tuxedo to a fishing trip

The first morning of the academy. Everyone to rendezvous in the hotel lobby at 06:30.

My roommate is a young go-getter. He sets his alarm for 05:00. The type of alarm on an iPhone that makes you think of a nuclear disaster.

5:00AM Alarm ClockHe obviously has no idea how hard it is to fall back asleep once I am awake. Probably because he is always the first one to rise!

He showers, and then climbs back into bed. It is now 05:10. Lord help me. Seriously. He is going back to sleep.

Truthfully I am too nervous to even sit still much less  sleep. I have no idea what to expect for the day. Fortunately I have the experience of a Type A wife and two early rising kids under my belt. I am used to the clock reading “5” when I first look at it.

Shower, shave and dress. Three-stripe socks. “Mr. McCheesy-pants” referee shorts with a too-short in-seam that reminds me of Giorgio Chinaglia. I brought 4 different referee jerseys so I should be covered for any scenario but I put on the traditional yellow as the safest option.

Not surprisingly thBasic yellow referee Jerseyere is no-one in the lobby at 05:30. So I whip out the 200 page “Laws of the Game” and study up.

The first referees to arrive are a couple of young women dressed all in black. They glance at me but don’t really acknowledge me.  As time rolls by everyone comes down. There is one common theme. Black.  Everything official with USSF Referee program crests mind you- but black. No jerseys. No yellow.

And I was starting to get quizzical stares from the kids as they came downstairs. “Who brought the noob?” I could imagine them thinking.

By 6:30 the lobby was full of black and one yellow when one of the instructors came downstairs. He took one look at me and then barked to the crowd “Who was the roommate who let Bill come downstairs wearing yellow?”

Fortunately for my roommate (and bless him– a great guy) he had already gone back upstairs to find me something with a referee crest that I could wear instead of my polyester yellow.

So instead of yellow I stripped down to my (black) UnderArmour. I still got looks from some of the 20-somethings for being a 40+ grey haired dude wearing UA, but I certainly didn’t stand out nearly as much as I did with the yellow. It also nicely offset the red in my fully embarrassed, blushed cheeks. What a tool I am.


10 feet

The eyes are the most effective instrument a referee can leverage when monitoring a match. Yet the eyes can only be directed to focus at any one spot at any given time.

My first “older” match of the 2016 spring season was U-18 elite game in my home town yesterday.

The “Away” team was ragged. They had arrived to the field immediately after completing a game 50 miles away. They were light on subs and anxious to fast forward to the end of the game.

Second half. Home team is up by a goal. Away team’s left back launches into a tirade over a non-call. Center asks him to settle down. Interestingly a parent starts barking at me (AR2) that the player deserves a card for dissent. I calm the parent down.

One minute later the Home team scores again. I whip out my scorecard and dutifully record the time and goal scorer. This takes me a perhaps 20 seconds. While I am finishing, with my head still down and eyes on the scorecard I hear a commotion.

Lift my head (and eyes) up to see the Away team left back charging at me- now only 10 feet away with an enraged look in his eyes AND BEING ACTIVELY RESTRAINED FROM BEHIND BY HIS TEAMMATE. The left back yells “you better start doing your f*@#$ing job.


Flag goes up and I shake it. Center is writing things down on his scorecard. AR1 mirrors my flag. Center is preparing for kickoff. I call out for the center and start patting my back pocket (the agreed upon symbol for a red card). That got his attention.

Center trots over and I recount what just happened. He asks if I believe it is a red. Let me think about that a second. Hmmm. Dissent? Definitely but that would be a caution (yellow). Abusive language? Check. Red it is.

There were a few interesting lessons for me from this game.

  1. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off the field (and onto my scorecard) so quickly. I subsequently learned that there is a protocol called TLC for scorekeeping after a goal. TLC stands for Trail-Lead-Center. The first person to write down the details is the T- The Trailing AR. This would be the AR who is farthest from the goal. Then the L- Leading AR (me in this case) would record. Finally the center. Had I let the trailing AR go first I might have been able to watch the field and warn off the Away left back before he got too far into his tirade. Truthfully the center took his eyes off too, which compounded the problem, but regardless if there is one lesson that needs to be taken away from this it is: I should have had my eyes up longer.
  2. When the center gave the left back the red, the game continued as 11 v 11. This is because the left back and self-substituted (informal substitutions here) and was on the bench when the red card was issued. Center ref was spot on with that call.
  3. The process of reporting a red card through the assigning portal was really quite straightforward. Stick to the facts, refer to the laws of the game and you are done.

Did I feel threatened? Yes. That is why, undoubtedly, younger kids would not be officiating (young) adult game. Did the referee act quickly and heed the advice of his AR (me)? Absolutely. For that I am grateful.