Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not At That Level

My first job was as a professional, certified football referee working for the Capital Area Soccer Referees Association. My brother and I played for the local Boys and Girls Club when we were little. My dad started refereeing then; he once told me it was to learn the game a little better and be involved in what we were doing in a different way. I think the truth is that he was recruited at one of our games because there are not too many people out there willing to do that job.

When my brother was old enough, he started refereeing too. When I hit that nearly-able-to-work age, I got in (I started a year before I could legally get a work permit. Shhh, don't tell anyone!). I don't remember how much we got paid as that was a long time ago, but I do remember that it would have calculated to quite a bit more than minimum wage, if you break down the per-game wage by the hour. Our assigner, Rae, loved that the three of us were all referees because he could send an already established three person team (standard for a football game) to a field for a day and have all the games covered. My dad's long-standing rapport with him is how I was able to start working so early.

Being a football referee wasn't exactly easy. You had to sit through an annual two day class and pass a test at 75% or better to get certified, and you had to work in a very physical job, sometimes in the rain, and remember all the laws that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association imposes. All laws of the game of football (you do know that what the US calls football has very little to do with actually playing the not-a-ball with feet, right?) are set forth and regulated by FIFA, even the referee's uniform. There's a company that makes the uniform and other important tools called Law Five, which is the number of said law. I thought that was quite clever. Actually, I just pulled my old uniform from my closet a couple weeks ago. It went in the give-away bag with a bunch of other clothes.

We never refereed outside the local youth club level, though it was rather entertaining for me to be in a position of authority around so many players who were often older than me by quite a bit. My dad and I were listening to the sports report on the way to work this morning, and there was something in there about a recent DC United game. I was only half-listening. Then dad said, in a kind of nostalgic way, "I never got to that level." Sure, none of us were FIFA-level, but we all could have been if we wanted to. All of us stopped refereeing years ago, my brother was the first one out and dad was the last and I stopped when I went to college, but we could have gone as far as we wanted.

I remember when our assigner passed away. His wife, Maggie, wore a pink suit and all of us ref's stood around talking shop, like we always did when we got together (break times during our training sessions went much the same way). It sure did not feel like a funeral and Maggie, who was not a ref herself, mingled with the rest of us wearing the bright smile she always had.
You can imagine there are not a lot of females in that vocation, and there were not many young people in either. Whenever we would get sent to a tournament where there were tons of teams and referees about, some of the refs would spend their breaks watching whatever game we (as in dad, bro, and I) were working. I was conscious that they were specifically watching me, because my very presence there was doubly unusual.

In my very last training session, and I remember there were a few young teen girls in it who gave me as much of their attention as they did the instructor, someone had asked a question and the instructor wanted the old refs (those of us who were there for re-certification, not first-certification) to answer it. I answered to the best of my ability, which was correct, and one of the other old refs piped in, "I just want to say, if you ever get a chance to see her [pointing to me] work, watch everything she does. She really knows the job." The instructor agreed and the other old refs nodded enthusiastically, the girls glowed in admiration, the new gents in the room looked a bit surprised though it was more about me actually being in that elite 'old ref' group, and my dad beamed his best beam. Strangely enough, I had no idea I was so well thought of, though I see it now looking back.

There is so much that fills my spare time now, but there are times when I do miss it. Mostly, I miss the fellowship. Get a bunch of refs in a room and you'll hear football stories like you've never heard before. Old refs will talk about tough calls, broken legs, neat plays, or the professional match that was on TV the night before. It's fun to watch a game with these guys too, because we all sit around and call it like it was our own. There was passion for the game that was unmatched by players, coaches, and even fans (and we all should know that football fans can get rather fanatic!). Even dad's stories, whenever we happen to get in the mood, are never boring, though I've heard them all many times and witnessed several of them myself.

I thought I was going to take today to tell you all my football stories. Then, I realized that I have a lot more than can fill one day's story-telling. You, gentle blog readers, will just have to endure more football stories at a later time.

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