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Another university, and many soccer rants

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Once again I’m off, returning to work Sept. 6, driving with child the elder to the University of Victoria, where he’s starting law school.

We had a brief and ever-rarer three days this month when the four of us were together — if you’re becoming empty nesters, cherish these moments. Child the younger has already returned to university in Ontario.

Unlike last year, when I drove a pile of child the younger’s stuff — pretty much all since lost in her house fire in April — to Peterborough, and then brought back child the elder and his stuff, I’m taking my time on this trip, so that it doesn’t feel as though it was all spent in the car.

Sunday, we should be kayaking in Waterton Lakes National Park...only three more sleeps. There’s time set aside in the mountains, a visit to a university buddy in Vancouver, and going to a neighbourhood pub in Victoria for a pint with old friends: my wife’s friend and colleague going back to their doctoral days who played piano at our wedding, and her husband, whom I haven’t seen in years.

Sigh.

I’ll be coming back by myself, and when I looked at the calendar, realized I’ll be in Saskatchewan by next Saturday night. No way, I said, The Labour Day Classic will have sold out back in the winter, but I went on the Roughriders’ website in early July, and found that, unbelievably, scattered around Taylor Field — no, don’t bother trying to correct me on the name — was a handful of single seats. So I scored one seat up high around the 20.

People have offered to lend me a Bombers’ jersey — at my age, I’d want Leo Lewis or Ernie Pitts, maybe Farrell Funston or Gerry James, the guys I watched in the Grey Cup in the '50s and early '60s on our old black and white TV with rabbit’s ears in my Upper Canada youth — but I declined.

I’ll be staying in Regina with Couch Surfer hosts, my first time being on that end of CS, a 3-km walk to the stadium, then another km to Bushwakkers, that fabulous brewpub in an old warehouse which we last visited when I was last in Regina at child the younger’s soccer tournament.

Anyway, enough of that education-related stuff, on to other topics.....

Occasionally, you can say that you done real good.

Big Editor (not his real name) got an email from a single mother on welfare, who was trying to get into a high school technical/vocational program to qualify for a job, but didn’t have the $370 for course materials.

I figured that school divisions would never turn away someone in her circumstances, so one quick call to Louis Riel School Division superintendent Terry Borys, and she’s being enrolled.

Segue....

I received an alarming email from Edmonton, claiming that only 200 Canadian schools are enrolled in recycling programs.

Absolutely appalling, thought I as a fervent tree hugger. But as I encourage all readers to do, I read on.

Turns out that my correspondent is a public relations firm, and that this firm’s outrage is that only 200 Canadian schools have signed on to one specific recycling program sponsored by the firm’s client, a multinational best-known for selling cardboard boxes stuffed with macaroni and powdered cheese.

Um, OK, well, that’s not quite what the headline said......

And now for something completely different....

Here’s another PR firm, this time in Manhattan, alerting me in a back-to-school pitch that September is Head Lice Prevention Month. By serendipitous coincidence, this flack can line me up an interview with a woman who professes to be an expert in head lice prevention, and who is "creator of the leading line of natural lice prevention products for children’s hair".

And I’ll unfortunately be on the road, unable to jump on this fabulous opportunity.

Dang!

Other topics, as my mind wanders....

I was driving down St. Anne’s Road earlier this week on my way to do a soccer match at Riel Park, approaching Bishop Grandin, when suddenly the right lane disappeared for construction. As usually happens on Winnipeg roads, the cars behind me in my lane refused to let me move over to the space that drivers in the lane to my left had courteously provided, instead flooring it and pulling over and cutting me off. I’m wondering, the woman sitting in the passenger seat of that big SUV that cut me off, were you born with that smirk, or do you have to practice it in front of the mirror every day?

Which segues perfectly into soccer.......

All things considered, this outdoor season has been somewhat less adventurous than my first four years as a referee, and as I’ve said umpteen times, I receive far less abuse and considerably fewer physical threats as a referee than I ever did while coaching community youth soccer.

Still, things come up that I’ve never had before. I’m doing a tournament out at Blumberg, 14-year-old girls, there are 11 minutes to go, and the coach of the team that’s up a goal told me she wants to call time out to go over defensive strategy with her team.

Time out? In soccer?

I was tempted to tell the coach that she still had two coach’s challenges left...no, Dennis, come down off the ceiling, I just thought it, I didn’t say it out loud, I promise.

Another one I’d never seen before, this time in 16-year-old rec — 16, I emphasize, not nine-year-olds.

Attacking team sends a shot wide, goes past the net out of play, I signal goal kick. So the defender retrieves the ball, and instead of giving it to the keeper for her to take a goal kick, she stands on her end line next to the net, facing end-to-end, and performs a beautiful throw-in to the edge of her 18-yard box. It seemed a shame to tell her that that’s not the appropriate play in the circumstances.

One night recently I’m doing 16-year-old premier boys, some of the best players in that age group in the province, a few of those guys undoubtedly on the provincial team. I award a direct free kick just outside the area, three defenders rush up and stand over the ball. This, of course, prevents the attacking team’s taking the kick immediately before the defence is set. Again, this isn’t a nine-year-old team who think that the kicker has to wait until the wall is set, this is 16-year-old premier. And I tell the three to back off and give the kicker 10 yards (9.25 metres, as if I can pace that off, but I digress), that next time they pull that stunt they’ll see a yellow, and one kid standing over the ball says to me, "No, you can’t, you have to give us 10."

Um, no, the attacking team has the right to ask for 10 if they think the wall is only eight yards away, and I’ll step it off, but the defending team has to give 10 immediately — defenders can’t stand over the ball and request that I walk off 10 for them. I’ve had rec coaches pull that move and tell their defenders to stand on the ball and make me count off 10, but 16-year-old boys playing at the highest levels?

Then one night I’m out at Buhler Park doing adult co-ed, and Buhler very commendably has biffies at the field, and I have occasion to visit for purposes of — sorry, that may be too much information. Anyways, the biffy company has a notice on the door inviting its customers to follow the biffy company on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m thinking, I’m going in there, I have personal business to attend to, what in the world could they be planning to twee — no, too much information again, let’s not go there, I don’t want to even speculate.

Overall, I can’t recall a season in my five as a ref in which there’ve been so few threats to file formal complaints about me, can’t remember one without a whole bunch of coaches seriously confronting me, haven’t had a season without one of the parents doing the sideline flags who’s thrown a hissy fit over my calls and non-calls.

I had one weekend, a Friday and a Monday, with 16-year-old boys, the same home team both times, different visitor, I gave two reds and a dozen or so yellows. What was really disturbing wasn’t the violence and dissent, it was that after both games, the coaches and managers of both of the visiting teams alleged that racial slurs had been directed at their players, three separate and quite distinct incidents, two in one match and one in the other, each aimed at a different ethnocultural demographic, each disgusting if true. Every alleged incident happened far behind the play, out of my hearing, and all I could do was to advise the visiting teams to file a formal complaint citing the numbers of the players allegedly making the slurs. Such allegations are few and far between, I can’t recall the last time someone’s made such allegations, and here are two, within three days, against the same team.

This is the second year that I’ve done high school outdoors, and that was my first winter reffing high school soccer indoors, and I’ve seen a pretty stark contrast between high school and everything else — youth soccer, both rec and competitive, and the levels of women’s soccer I referee. Men’s I don’t do, gave it a brief try two years ago, a subject for another day.

The type of guff and hassle and grief that I get occasionally in youth soccer from players and coaches, I get in the majority of high school matches.

Keep in mind that a lot of the high school soccer coaches are teachers, and it gets even more surprising how obstreperous and argumentative and unco-operative they are. If it’s an outside coach, a teacher must be on the bench.

Maybe high school teacher/coaches use the last period before students go to a match to do a unit on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They certainly seem to think that I have an obligation to stop the match and explain every call to them and their players, and that coaches and players have a right to argue every call.

High school team captains in particular seem to be unaware that the rules give them no special privilege of having calls explained to them. They yap after every call, demanding I justify the call. One game, the ball’s in play, one team captain is running alongside me and demanding that I stop in my tracks and explain my last call to her, while play continues down the field. She thought it quite rude that I ignored her and maintained my attention on the play.

Another match, the captain is yapping and chirping on every call. He’s committed a couple of fouls, he’s giving me grief non-stop. So I make a call, I think I called one of his attackers for throwing a defender out of his way in the area with a two-handed shove, the captain goes totally berserk, and I give him a final warning and remind him that I don’t have to explain calls to him. "You do when you make a questionable call!" says the kid, who thereupon seems genuinely amazed and incredulous when I card him for dissent.

One high school match, both teams are yapping non-stop, so over I go to the benches and gather the coaches, both of whom are teachers, and tell them that they have to control their players, that I’m out of patience, and that I’m going to start carding kids who do any more yapping. And both coaches come down on me, telling me their kids have the right to say whatever they want, and I have to answer the players to their satisfaction.

So back on the field I go, and the cards start to fly. End of the match, I’m carefully watching the teams shake hands, one coach comes over to give me more grief, then reams me out because I won’t make eye contact with him. I tell him I have to watch the players; he’s astounded, says nothing is going to happen between these girls, and I’m thinking, which game were you watching?

Sigh.

One high school match, it’s in the first minute of play, attacking team boots it down into the area, defender gets the ball and kicks it to the keeper, who picks it up. Whistle, passback infraction, indirect kick, goal. Next couple of minutes, other unusual stuff happens, it’s 3-0, and I stop and ask the team that’s behind for a show of hands for how many understand the calls I’m making. One or two, tentatively, so I ask how many have played organized soccer before, and again, two hands.

I figure that’s something the coach might have mentioned in the pre-game checks, as neat as it is to get these girls active, and as plucky as they are to take on a school that starts 11 premier players and who knows how many provincial players. So I basically spent the rest of the match explaining the rules to the girls and occasionally suggesting how they might tighten up their defence.

The other team showed a lot of class and played keepaway and worked on their passing, instead of putting an inordinate number into the net.

Another high school match, I gave a boy two yellows, and thus my only red of the high school outdoor season. His second yellow, the keeper has the ball, he’s going to punt it, and this kid runs flat out directly at the keeper, yelling, waving his arms back and forth over his head, jumping up and down a foot in front of the keeper, the full Sean Avery, all definite no-nos. The coach didn’t say a word to me when I carded the lad and sent him off, though I believe he shared a thought or two with the player.

But the first yellow, the coach was all over me. It’s the opening minute, ball bounces, this boy challenges and gets his boot so high that he kicks the opposing player in the side of his head, basically Katzes the poor guy. So I give him a yellow, and the coach is hopping up and down, I’m afraid he’ll get so agitated that he’ll do himself a mischief, and the coach is claiming that I can’t give a yellow in the first minute of play.

Um, I can’t? And that’s in the rulebook where?

And yet, given all the things that happen in youth soccer at all levels, especially with teenaged boys driven mad by testosterone, the only near-brawl I had this past year was between women’s teams after an indoor match, and the only punch that was allegedly thrown behind the play came in a late-night indoor match for women 35 and over.

I have my first playoff match the night I return to work.

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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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