It was a sad day for the NRL when Matt Cechin announced he was retiring as a referee, partly due to death threats after making a brave — but ultimately correct decision in a World Cup semi final last year.
Imagine how the trolls would have reacted if he had made a bad call?
Constant media attention to every decision that referees make has increased to fever pitch over the last 10 years.
With coaches and officials constantly questioning decisions, it filters down to the fans who all of a sudden decide to blame the refs for a loss instead of accepting that maybe the other team was simply better — or that their team made mistakes at vital times in the game.
Shane Flanagan recently blamed the refs for the Sharks loss to Brisbane (a week after telling people to stop bagging refs after his team got a few helpful calls).
The Sharks lost by 2 points, and in the game, Moylan threw an intercept pass which cost 6 points, and Townsend missed a simple conversion which cost another 2 points.
But enough of that. Last weekend I travelled back to Tamworth with one of my Bush Cricket mates for a trivia night (we won, of course, and are now the proud owners of a Kootingal Kougars Football Club hoodie).
During the afternoon, we took my mate’s 18-year-old daughter to play in the local women’s soccer comp.
It was while watching this game that I witnessed two very distinct examples of sportsmanship, and the “spirit of the game”.
While I was watching my mate’s daughter play on one field, on the field behind me was a Northern Inland Premier League game between a Tamworth team and an Armidale team.
The noise coming from the other field caught my ear. There were harsh whistles being blown, players yelling at opposition, fans and benches hurling abuse at anyone and everyone one and more cards being handed out than at a Penn & Teller concert.
Just before half time, there was a nasty clash which lead to several players running in for a bit of push and shove.
The referee and linesmen spent about 5 minutes talking about what action should be taken.
Apparently, they felt a player from each team who had run to join in the melee should be red carded, but in the heat of the moment, they weren’t sure which players had run in.
The game continued and half time was called. I was keeping my ear on that game as well as trying to watch the women’s game.
Both teams came out for the second half, but the ref didn’t reappear for nearly five minutes.
Later in the game, I spoke to a guy on the sideline who told me the referee did not want to blow the whistle in the second half. He was spent. He’d had enough.
He had apparently previously decided to hang up his whistle at the end of the year, but the level of abuse during the first half had left him completely deflated.
He had two choices, either call the game off, or hand the whistle over to one of the linesmen. He chose the latter and the game continued.
At first, the players seemed to play the game in a better spirit, but eventually, there was another clash that brought howls from the coaches box and led the new referee to essentially send off the Tamworth FC coach.
All in all a rather shameful day for soccer.
Meanwhile, on the other field, one team had only 10 players at the start of the game, so the other team agreed they would play 10 on 10.
Later in the game, the team that agreed to play with only 10 players had an injury, so they were down to 9 players, so the other team took one of their players off to even it out at 9 a side.
At the end of a very close 1-0 game, played in excellent spirits, where the referee didn’t need to issue cards or warnings, the teams walked of smiling and laughing, and interacting.
The premier league game was full of spite.
The women’s game was full of sportsmanship, spirit and dare I say fun.
The men were busy trying to dominate their opposition and win at all costs.
The women were trying to have fun.
I know which of the two games I’d rather be involved with.
And remember, there’s no such thing as too much sport!