Referees selected for the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007
Referees selected for the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007

Free State Stars v Platinum Stars, Goble Park, Bethlehem, 17 Oct09.

I was blessed – and not for the first time this season – to have a FIFA female assistant referee running the line for me on Free State Stars v. Platinum Stars (PSL) over the weekend. She hails from the Western Cape.

Three matches we officiated so far together, and what a gem of a talent!  Apart from a few kinks we as referees try to smooth out in getting used to one another’s style when a new colleague joins the team, she makes a middle referees’ work … just a pleasure. I will not be surprised if she ends up as one of the top 10 assistants come end of the season.

But acceptance as a worthy colleague, though easier among match officials given that we are in the same boat – during matches we either float together or sink together – seems not so easily forthcoming from team officials and spectators, judging by the crowd violence directed at us in general and to her in particular after the above match.

She had the courage to flag the home side goalkeeper from coming off his line before the penalty was taken in the 85th minute, with the score tied at 0-0. And then all hell broke loose. First I had to deal with some Free State Stars onfield players that ran towards her to protest her decision, which I concurred with. Though I refrained from giving any cautions/yellow cards out for dissent (the match had already degraded into a farce due to the amount of cards issued and free kicks awarded in the first 30 minutes given the just-playable waterlogged pitch), it was no easy task to get the players outside the 18-yard penalty area again for the retake. (Oh, did I mention a red card in the 28th minute for serious foul play for one of our home town lads? A kick in the opponet’s face while executing a bicycle maneuvre in mid-air.) Suffice to say, my height (I’m 1,93m tall) and verbal cajoling and violent stares a-la-Collina-style played some part in this debacle.

Only to be informed by my 2nd assistant via the communications system that we have another problem. The Free State Stars technical staff have all, save for the head coach, left their demarcated technical area and are now walking down the outside track towards my female assistant on the goal line. With the obvious intend to give her a piece of their male minds.

Intercepting them with a quick rush to the corner flag did the trick. Only just. There were heavy protesting from the assistant coach, the GK coach and the physio. I could either eject the whole troop from the field of play from leaving their area without permission, or I could try to cajole the upset males back to their benches.

A bit of psychology helped. I informed the bench that I will not stop the clock given their antics. The sooner we have everyone in the technical area, the sooner we can resume the match. I informed the head coach, apart from remaining time left of the match, there were more then 4 minutes additional time – due to substitutions – still to be played. This information might have done the trick … or his sanity prevailed … or maybe they thought their goalkeeper is going to save the penalty – legitimately – this time. Who knows, it boggled my male mind indeed. Normality was restored, but the general feeling and loud “suggestions” among the aggrieved glaring males were a female had no business in a man’s game!

Fun had to be had this time by the spectators. They watched with growing anger at the antics of their technical staff, and assumed their home town boys are being ripped off by a female usurper. How dare she have the courage to make a decision against them, let alone a factually correct one? Let us gloss over the technicalities of encroachment during penalty kicks (Law 14) for the moment, shall we?

Suffice to say, after the match we were pelted with rocks, one a “fist-sized calibre” which hit my 2nd assistant on the upper thigh – including a big garbage refuse bin (I kid you not!) dropped from the terrace which missed me – more due to luck then by nimble footwork. The police/security cordon did what they could to SOS us. An important but thankless task. The crowd’s anger did not subside. Males and females bellowed their bloodlust for the poor woman. Cars were swopped on the advice of the police to bamboozle the crowd at the exit. Mob mentality at its best.

Apparently we DO live in the 21st century, but some don’t bother to check the almanac’s date. Why, it’s another technicality? To be glossed over. I salute you. Well done girl, you did our team proud!