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Column: Soccer ref calls foul on coach, fan conduct

For the Valley News
Published: 10/21/2021 10:10:02 PM
Modified: 10/21/2021 10:10:11 PM

I used to enjoy coming back to the Upper Valley. I lived in Hanover, Norwich, Strafford, West Fairlee, East Corinth and Orford. Seems like things just kept me moving farther north until I landed, almost 30 years ago, in Wolcott, Vt.

I loved the Upper Valley. Felt like family. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I officiated at a girls soccer game at an area high school (which I will not identify) and was confronted after the game by the losing coach, who dropped the F-word with his team in hearing distance. I told him his profanity would be in my report.

“Go ahead,” he said, furious.

He was angry about a penalty kick I called in the first period of overtime. “How could you call that in the area in this level of a game,” he said, or something to that effect, “determining the outcome like that, as if you have the right?”

So I told him what I saw.

“Their player was charged, knocked down in the penalty area — a foul in the box. It’s a penalty kick.”

That’s when the profanity came out. It was as if he couldn’t accept what I said, needed to demean what I did, imply incompetence.

My partner tried to calm me down. He got us out of there — only for us to face insults by two guys who’d walked to intercept us and give us their critique.

“Must be you’re hungry,” one said, “to give them the game like that just into overtime.”

“No calls in their area. You’d only call in our area. No f------ excuse.”

I lost my temper. I turned around — unprofessionally — and shouted back at him. “I’ll remember that. I’ll remember that.”

“You’ll remember this,” the second guy said, making an obscene gesture with his hand on his crotch.

Felt like bad blood. I can still see those two guys. I can picture them, what they were wearing, their swagger. I felt infuriated to be insulted again.

I have no right to make a call?

Losing coaches and fans have no right to engage in this kind of public disrespect.

I have never felt so demeaned and insulted in 39 years of officiating. I’ve never been more sure of a call than the one I made. It was a foul in the box. It was a PK.

When coaches and fans act this way, what’s the message? High school athletes deserve better than a coach who uses the F-word word freely around his players.

When I am officiating I call a foul a foul, wherever it is, whenever. It takes guts. I’ve gotten more wrong by non-calls than by calls in the box. I make it a study, an art. And I feel good about applying the art of officiating on the field. It’s a privilege. And I love the game.

What I don’t feel good about is continuing to officiate at games with this kind of atmosphere.

There are not enough officials down here in the Upper Valley — not enough people who are willing to take the abuse — so they assign me the game to me even though I live 80 miles to the north.

Is it any surprise that officials are becoming a rare breed?

The times we’re in have made civil public behavior a rare breed. It’s somehow OK to condemn and demean and insult the ref — usually without consequences. Shoot your mouth off. Who cares?

I care. It’s not OK. Don’t do it.

I care enough to write this on behalf of other conscientious officials who get abused.

Lyndon Institute’s athletic director announced the protocol before a recent game with his school’s archrival: “Sporting conduct is expected of players, coaches and fans. Respect of players and officials, regardless of age or ethnicity, is the norm. Be civil. Be fair.”

It made a difference. That game went well. More such proactive talks about respect need to happen in all levels — classes, games, board meetings.

There’s a choice to be made. Put more respect into sports competition or suffer the consequences of low-caliber officiating and patriarchal coaching.

You can do better.

Do it soon.

Michael Caldwell, of North Wolcott, Vt., is a columnist for the Morrisville, Vt., News & Citizen and a longtime high school soccer official.

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