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(2011-04-11 14:54:37)







分类: 足球

Football: I loved being a linesman for my son's team - until the abuse began




Early on in the football season I wondered why other parents on the touchline were so reluctant. Every Sunday morning, as we rolled up at pitches across south London and further afield, they would give their excuses. A bad back or the wrong shoes. Or often just a shake of the head. On one occasion a dad from our side declined, claiming to be completely ignorant of the rules, which seemed odd, as he turned up week in, week out, to watch his son play.



So, with no one else willing or able, I decided to do my bit. I became our unofficial "lino" – the dad who takes the flag.



I would have preferred, in many ways, just to watch our under-13s, for which my 12-year-old son plays at right back, and cheer them on, free of responsibility. But they are such a good and talented bunch of boys, with a good coach and enthusiastic parents, that part of me wanted to get involved. Sunday morning football is something everyone looks forward to. Boys and parents love it, whatever the result. It is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.



A few weeks ago, however, there was an incident. The other team's right-midfielder fed the ball through to their striker. "Lino", as I am now known, was up with play (it is not always the case), and saw the forward to be a clear yard offside, as the pass was threaded through. I raised the flag and the ref blew.



Then from 20 yards back, near the halfway line, all hell broke loose. The coach of the other side, and his friend, whom I assumed was a parent, went for me. I can't recall the exact turns of phrase. Suffice to say there were very strong views hurled in my direction. From the benefit of a position well away from the action and on the same side of the pitch (so they had the worst angle to view it), the two had been able to judge that their forward had definitely not been offside. They also judged it right and proper to lay into the "opposition" lino, in front of the boys, implying I was either incompetent or a cheat or both.



Something in me snapped. I turned to them and said "that's it". If they were so good at judging offsides from such impossible positions, then they should run the line. Their side could provide both "linos" if that would make them feel better. I slapped the flag into their boss's hand – ignoring his "if you do that, I'll slap you in the face" – and began to stomp off to join our contingent on the other side of the pitch.



The Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has just announced a campaign to "raise the bar" on players' and managers' conduct towards football referees and match officials. From my experience, that bar is set appallingly low. It should be said though that, in the U13s league at least, it's the parents rather than the boys who are causing the trouble. On Friday, Matthew Simmons, the allegedly racist Crystal Palace supporter who was on the wrong end of Eric Cantona's infamous kung-fu kick in 1995, was found guilty of assaulting the coach of his son's football team in south-east London. Fortunately that level of violence is rare. But an atmosphere of aggression and intimidation is all too common.



Five minutes after screaming at me, the same coach, to his credit, walked round the touchline and apologised unreservedly. He knew he had given a poor example to his young charges and to ours. I could tell by the way he made up to me that he was mortified.



He asked if I wanted to carry on – to resume "lino" duties – but I was too flustered to do so. Afterwards my son told me how the same coach spent the rest of the game praising not only his own side but every pass and header from ours. The game ended, as always, with everyone on good terms, handshakes and all.



If this had been an isolated incident, I would not have reacted the way I did that Sunday morning. But it wasn't. Far from it.



The manner in which adults can behave at football games had been on my mind for a few weeks. I had come to realise why the other parents had not wanted to be our "lino". Like me, they go to the football as a form of escapism, for fun – not to be shouted at.



But why should we be surprised or shocked? Turn on Match of the Day or Radio 5 Live these days and the pundits spend almost as much time assessing the performance of the match officials as they do analysing the play.



They fail to realise that people who referee, just like players, are prone to human error. It is all part of the great, unpredictable sport. Refs and linos make judgments under huge pressure, quickly, in a flash, and they make mistakes. But the pundits are always so earnest, so dismayed, appalled, disbelieving of the refs' shocking level of performance in one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.



Surely the assumption should be that refs and linos, like players, are all trying to do their level best. If pundits don't want professional referees ever to make errors, ever to have "bad games", then we should hand over the final judgment on decisions to machines. And how much duller that would be.



The damage can be seen all the way down the line, from the Premier League to the under 13s in the park. Football now has a culture that legitimises criticism of officials. Professional players can surround a referee and harangue him, and get away with it.



At the top, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of arguably our greatest team, Manchester United, leads by shocking example and almost every other Premier League manager follows. How dare Ferguson or any other manager moan in interview after interview about how unfair referees are on their teams? How dare any of them take issue, publicly, with the FA's Respect campaign aimed at cutting down abuse and criticism of referees? Down at the grassroots, too many of the aspirant Fergusons do the same, and it is wrecking the fun.



Players and coaches should be told that they cannot question refs or linos on the pitch or off it. If they do, they should lose points. It should be another rule of football, like offside, but simpler. That way, everyone would know where they stood and the enjoyment everyone gets from football at every level would be even greater.



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