My friend Dave is a qualified FA referee. A few weeks ago I went along to photograph him officiating a match between Stainland and Denholme, near Halifax. It was a pretty rough match in pretty much every sense and Dave’s pre-match comments about relishing the challenge of getting through the 90 minutes without losing the respect of the players by making firm and correct decisions etc… made me realize, after the first 10 minutes of play, that he’s probably some kind of sado masochist. I have never seen or heard anyone cop so much abuse from every single part of the pitch.

As I hovered around the touchline I quickly figured out that Denholme’s manager, who’d been all smiles and handshakes upon arrival, was either a very accomplished actor, a schizophrenic or possessed by Beelzebub himself because the abuse he spewed forth in Dave’s direction far surpassed anything that Linda Blair could manage in The Exorcist.  Despite the fact that Dave had sent off Stainland’s captain, the big number 10, for an enthusiastic two footed lunge that could have broken an elephant’s leg, let alone the poor unfortunate Denholme midfielder that found himself rolling around on the floor clutching his shin while crying out for his momma and another shot of morphine, his half time talk was a no holds barred diatribe against Dave, which went something like this:

Right, listen to me you lot. The ref’s a c*nt. He’s not goin’ to give yer nowt. He were like this last time, the tw*t. Don’t give the b*stard any excuses, so keep it clean and don’t argue back with him, the f*cking arsehole. He’s having another shite game and we’re copping for it, again. W*nker.

And so it went on, for nearly FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. Impressive stuff really. It takes a lot of concentration, stamina and imagination to maintain such a sustained vitriolic critique of one person’s character based on the only thing you know about them, which is that they referee football games on a weekend. Try it for yourself and see.

So the game ended at 4-4, which was a fair result on balance. Both teams gave it their all and both deserved to come out on top but the real winner for me was Dave. Honestly, considering that he was officiating without the assistance of linesmen in a fairly hostile environment, he performed his duties with a dignified authority and didn’t make a bad decision all game. He also didn’t succumb to the temptation to punch Denholme’s manager in the gob.

After the final whistle, said foul mouthed manager walked across the field of play and extended his right hand towards Dave, smiled, and said ‘Well done Dave, you had a good game mate’. I dragged my jaw all the way back to the car.

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