Johannesburg - I was quite intrigued, surprised and in some ways pleased to see a picture on Facebook recently of really young people – boys and girls – taking part as match officials in a game. Some were quite young, in their early teens or younger.
The picture showed children standing on the line and acting as additional assistant referees as well as assistant referees, or linesmen/women as we used to call them.
So when is the right time to start refereeing?
There is no real answer to this question.
The danger, as I would see it, is that, when people are young and perhaps immature, there is every likelihood they will experience a situation where, because of their age, they will encounter players much older than they are who will take full advantage of their immaturity to their (the players’) own ends.
I have had instances with new match officials who have been abused, insulted and even assaulted because of decisions they made and which “hardened” players took exception to and then vented their anger at the unfortunate middleman/woman.
There are plenty of those around and they don’t care whether the official is young or old, they will misbehave to harass and intimidate the referee.
I have heard of young up-and-coming referees dropping out after a short time because of this intimidation and some, whom I would have considered to have had real potential, deciding to hang up their whistles without having experienced the real joy and satisfaction of being able to control a game for 90 minutes or more.
Incidentally, you don’t have to be young to feel this pressure.
Remember Anders Frisk from Sweden? He was at the height of his refereeing career in 2005 when suddenly he decided enough was enough and called time on his career.
He was one of the most experienced officials around at the time, but because of the abuse and loathing dished out by highly paid but foul-mouthed stars and managers seeking excuses for defeat, and fans who saw injustice every time the whistle blew, he decided he’d had enough.
The highly respected official made the dramatic announcement after he and his family were inundated with threats from followers of London club Chelsea after he refereed their Champions League game against Barcelona in February of that year.
He started refereeing in 1978, so he was well experienced to meet all “challenges”, but this was one too far. During a 16-day period following the game, he and his family were threatened with death.
Earlier in that season, he was left with a bloody head after being hit by an object thrown from the stands by fans of the Italian club Roma during another Champions League game.
I could give you countless incidents of threats and intimidation against me during my time in South Africa with direct death threats and other sinister and less direct forms of intimidation.
And, yes, I’ve also been assaulted, which I have already mentioned in previous columns.
So you see the dangers of putting youngsters out on the field of play too early?
In theory, it sounds and looks fine, and is fine, long as players, managers/coaches and spectators behave themselves and give the match officials the respect they deserve.
Sure, they’ll make mistakes sometimes. Sure, they’ll get it wrong. Sure, there’ll be misinterpretations, but is anyone immune from making a mistake? I don’t think so. When you’re pointing fingers, look yourself in the mirror and recollect how many times you got it wrong and realised it only afterwards when it was pointed out to you. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I would caution against putting young kids out on the field in a ref’s uniform without proper protection and education on the laws of the game. You might ruin the prospect of a bright future all in the name of progress.
. Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol