So far this season, I’ve written five in-depth thoughts about games I’ve attended – tactical observations, opinions on the opposition, descriptions of key moments in the game for those who weren’t there, and so on. For Saturday’s game against Hendon, there’s no point. The game can be summed up very quickly: on a dire pitch – not Hendon’s fault, to be fair – this was a dire game decided by a goal scored as a result of a dire defensive mistake. Rob Tolfrey made a notable save during the second half, and Andre McCollin deserves a mention for his work rate and perseverance up front. That’s all I have to say.
The reason that’s all I have to say is that the game itself – the match involving 22 players kicking a ball around the pitch in an effort to score goals, and therefore win the game – was completely irrelevant. The referee made absolutely sure that he was the only show in town, the only man on the pitch worth watching, and the chief contributor to the afternoon’s ‘entertainment’.
This ‘entertainment’, for which most of the crowd had paid the not insignificant sum of £10 to watch, consisted of the man in black blowing his whistle at entirely random events about every thirty seconds the ball was in play. There would then be a delay of two to three minutes while the referee pottered about the pitch, often booking the nearest Kingstonian player for ‘dissent’ (when in fact they were simply asking him to hurry up play), arranging the players to his satisfaction, telling the free kick taker to move the ball, talking to more players, and then allowing play to continue. For another thirty seconds. Repeat for ninety minutes.
This man should never referee another football game again. He is an enemy of entertainment, a thief of joy, a pathetic attention-seeking nobody who referees purely so that the crowd is looking at him. He did not simply have ‘a bad game’. Referees make mistakes – at our level, they make dreadful mistakes – but these are human errors, borne out of a poor decision made almost instantaneously. The better referees will make fewer of these errors of judgement, of course, but such mistakes are forgivable. This referee did not just make mistakes, however – his entire style of refereeing was designed to stop a game of football being played, presumably because he cannot handle a flowing game of football, being incapable of getting anything right at the slow pace of this game, let alone in a full-blooded affair. In other words, the only possible explanation for a such a bizarre display of officiating is that he ruined the game deliberately.
This rant has nothing to do with the referee favouring Hendon over Kingstonian on the day. In fact, he missed the two worst tackles of the game, both deserving of bookings at the very least, both perpetrated by Kingstonian players. There’s not even any point going into the specifics of the litany of appalling individual decisions he made, the worst of which was to send off Wade Small for jumping for the ball. The only reason he appeared to favour one team over the other was that the senior Hendon players figured him out straight away, became his on pitch ‘friends’, and refereed the game on his behalf; the Kingstonian players, on the other hand, naively went about their business for the first half an hour rather than getting in the official’s ear, and therefore bore the brunt of the decisions. On another day, it could have been Hendon who had a man sent off and several players booked.
But what is certain is this: he will ruin every single game he referees.
A final note. As if the referee’s determination to render the spectators’ afternoon futile was not enough, the Hendon team embarked on one of the most extraordinary – and depressing – episodes of timewasting I’ve seen during a football game. 1-0 up and playing against ten men, Hendon tried every single trick in the book: three minute substitutions, deliberate fake throws, s-l-o-w goal kicks, waiting a minute to take every single set piece, ‘running out’ of footballs on the bench, feigning injury, and probably more I didn’t even notice. Their senior players also insisted that the referee send off Wade Small, assisted by ludicrous play-acting from the Hendon keeper, who ought to be ashamed of his antics. This sort of conduct is to be expected in the Premier League, but at non-league level, where most of the players turn out for the love of the game, it is disgraceful – and has certainly soiled my opinion of Hendon as a club, who have built a reputation for fair play over many seasons. Again, this is not one-eyed ranting; I would be ashamed if Kingstonian ever resort to such tactics.
What a dreadful afternoon for non-league football. Is it any wonder gates are down when we subject loyal fans of non-league to 90 minutes, in freezing conditions, of the worst entertainment possible? Why should the eleven, then ten players, in red-and-white hoops by the only ones even vaguely trying to provide a spectacle for the paying punters?
I can only hope for a rip-roaring goal-fest against Lowestoft to get that out of the system. If you weren’t there on Saturday, be thankful.