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In which I presume to know more than Mr. Webb

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Sepp, those guys you’ve got refereeing at the World Cup are making it pretty tough on those of us whistle-toting zebras who have to officiate local kids and listen to their parents yelp and chirp and holler.

I’m not talking here about the keeping score part — the sponsors and advertisers probably are forcing you to keep score, and anyway, you think Lionel and Robin and Neymar wouldn’t know what the score was even if you didn’t put it up on the board?

btw, is Wayne Rooney getting a little self-esteem cup at the team wind-up party? But I digress.

I’m talking about stuff they’re letting go such as the incident late in one match in the round robin, can’t remember which teams, but the team that was ahead had a guy down in agony, looking like a sell-sword who just tried to take on Brienne of Tarth. He was rolling around on the pitch, the clock was running, and over came the keeper from the team that was trailing, and grabbed this guy by various appendages and literally dragged him off the pitch and unceremoniously dumped him out of play. All of this happened without a single consequence — no foul, no card, no stern words from the ref.

Now, Sepp, what do you think would happen if I was reffing 15-year-old boys driven mad by testosterone and one of them tried this stunt? Do you think the injured kid and his teammates would just let the keeper drag him off the pitch, and do you think I should let it go without consequences? Because whatever I do, there’ll be players and parents reminding me in that conciliatory and oh-so-understanding tone they invariably effect that, after all, as you might remember, there was no consequence for an identical situation in the World Cup.


Meanwhile, let’s see how your lads are handling the Laws of the Game. That’s the rulebook, the one that has your name as FIFA president right up front before you even get to the stuff about rules and regulations and such.

Looking at Law 12, which is where you get into cards, there’s one in there about a caution for persistent infringement, which in lay terms is a yellow for getting way too many fouls in one match. So how come your guys aren’t giving a yellow to Matt Cooke? Sorry, I mean to Nigel de Jong?

Sticking with Law 12, Sepp, have you ever noticed the one about a yellow for failing to give the yards, or a yellow for delaying the restart? This is an important one for me, because I get in a huge amount of trouble with this one while refereeing kids.

The whole idea is that on a free kick, the defending team is required to give 10 yards and give them immediately, defenders are not allowed to stand over the ball to prevent the attacking team’s taking the free kick as soon as the ball is set on the appropriate spot. There’s nothing in the rules that says everyone has to wait around while the defence sets up a wall, nothing that lets the defenders stand on top of the ball while the referee is compelled to mark off 10 yards and then everyone waits until the ref clearly demarcates it with that can of shaving cream they’re all carrying.

Sepp, read that Law — the onus is on the defence to give the 10 yards, and to give them immediately. Sure, the offence can kick it while the defence is still vacating the 10 yards in all directions, but the point is, there’s a yellow if the defence does not give the yards and thus deliberately delays the restart.

And that’s what I call over and over and over again. I generally give a verbal warning or two or three, getting crankier and grumpier with progression, but I have carded on occasion when it’s particularly egregiously deliberate. And what happens? Parents are hollering at the kids, some of whom have been coached to stand over the ball, telling the kids to go ahead and prevent the kick because they can stand there as long as they want, the parents are bellowing to the kids that I have to mark off the yards before they’re compelled to move. As one parent expressed it one evening, "Ignore him, girls, he’s an idiot."

Sepp, how am I supposed to enforce that rule when no one can take a kick until the ref has done his thing with the shaving cream and the defenders have finally moved back into legal position at a slower pace than winter turns into spring in Manitoba?


I know you’re already tired of my bringing up your own rulebook, but bear with me, Sepp. Back to Law 12, the part that talks about players not being allowed to leave the pitch without the consent of the referee.

Those goal celebrations...every time someone scores, it’s like all 11 going completely squirrelly, they all run off the field into one corner, the subs come off the bench and jump on the pile, there’s probably one or two of those people in there who like to sneak into other people’s photos, Waldo is probably in there somewhere, and the whole thing looks the way I imagine — note that I said ‘imagine’, not ‘expect’ — Bay Street will look like when the Maple Leafs have a Stanley Cup victory parade. Come September when I’m doing kids’ rec and there’s an 11-9 match, what do you expect me to do when those kids emulate their heroes after every goal?

Still with me? Look, the Blue Bombers will tell you how tough it is to get 10 yards, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when you can just carry the ball 10 yards from where it’s supposed to be.

Over and over again, I keep seeing guys take a free kick from wherever they like, instead of back where the foul occurred, or when taking a throw-in, it’s three steps from where the ball went out, pump fake, take two steps, throw.

Back here in Winnipeg, Sepp, I whistle down those plays and send the players back to where the ball went out or where the foul occurred. And you know what I get, don’t you, especially from coaches at the premier level? I get, "Let the kids play the game, it’s not all about you!" Why, those silly things, it is all about me, of course, but, still, you restart the match where the stoppage was called.


Finally, Sepp, I’m just wondering, does Howard Webb ever get told that he’s the only referee in the world who enforces the rules and regulations about players being absolutely forbidden to wear jewellery, incuding earrings and metal studs in their ears and noses and other places way too icky to think about, forbidden also with a piece of tape over it? Does Howard expect Argentina to present him with the mandatory roster sheet showing that Messi and his posse are all duly registered, and if Argentina doesn’t have one, will they give Webb grief and accuse Howard of being the only ref who asks to see it? How does Webb handle it if Philipp Lahm says the rules don’t apply to him, and he wants to wear sunglasses during the match? How about if Cristiano Ronalsdo tells Howard that he left his player card back in Lisbon, does he still let him play? Or what happens if Felipe Scolari says he left his coach’s card in his other pants, does Howard Webb just shrug it off as inconsequential that Big Phil can’t prove he’s registered, can’t prove he’s gone through the coaching clinics and taken the Fair Play course and been cleared by the registry abuse checks and isn’t currently suspended?


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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