Ask The Ref – The Q&A

Hello again from me, Dermot Gallagher, and welcome to another week’s blog with a difference. Yes, a difference, because it’s you, the readers and listeners, who have set the agenda.

The following are a sample of the questions submitted and include queries about Law, my career or the bizarre.

Dominic from Nottingham asks:

What was the toughest match you undertook?

Wow, tough question to start. However, Dominic, in my experience you may think a match is tough but in reality it actually has tough phases.

Matches, in general, have intense periods that see peaks and troughs. It is the intensity and length of the peaks that determine people’s perception of how tough a match has been.

For me the toughest period I ever encountered was in the FIFA Military Games in Egypt 2001.

I was appointed for the final group match between Syria and the Ivory Coast to be played in front of a full house 34,000 in Alexandria.

As the group table stood Syria would have to win to progress to the quarter finals and Ivory Coast had to avoid defeat.

The second half commenced with Syria leading 2-1 and both teams believing they could achieve the result needed to reach the knockout stage.

That all changed in the 58th minute. A Syrian header towards goal beat the opposition goalkeeper and a defender, on the line, handled it clear.

Penalty. Red card. Goal. 3-1. Jogging back to the half way line I could sense the atmosphere on the pitch change – and not for the better.

I think the Ivory Coast players saw that as the end of their tournament and their disappointment boiled over. There were fierce tackles and within the next 20 minutes a further five yellow cards shown plus another red for a two footed tackle.

The 81st minute then produced the worst moment of the match.

Still leading 3-1 and now against nine opponents, a Syrian forward attacked towards the penalty area. Coming towards him a 6ft plus defender who lifted his boot and lunged his studs into the forward’s thigh, bringing his studs down towards his knee.

Another red card. A forward who’s thigh was wide open and probably not going to take any further part in the tournament let alone the match.

Many would describe as a senseless act and left the Ivory Coast with eight players. Ironically, it actually seemed to diffuse the intensity as both teams realised it was sensible to see out the last nine minutes almost like a testimonial match.

For me though, it had been 23 of the toughest minutes in my 22 professional years.

Danny of London asks:

What was the difference refereeing me at The Emirates and Stamford Bridge as opposed to Thierry Henry or Didier Drogba?

Danny, in a word, pace! Yes, unbelievably that’s the only difference.

For the last few years I’ve been privileged to have been asked to referee some corporate matches at the end of the season on Premier League grounds.

It’s a wonderful experience. It gives me a chance to have another run out at such fantastic venues. It’s incredible seeing the faces of players that day as you see their dream unfold and they get to play where many of their heroes had before. It’s fun being grilled by many as to what it was like to referee Henry, Bergkamp or Ian Wright. Across the city it’s Drogba, Lampard and John Terry.

When the games start though all that is forgotten. To the players on the day it’s the most important game in the world and the only way to referee it is with that in mind.

Yes, they may not be able to run as fast. Yes, they may need to use rolling subs and take more rest. And most certainly yes, they want to perform to their best and win. They want to make sure their dream is fulfilled – albeit more sedately.

Darren from Norwich asks:

What were the best and worst parts of being a professional referee?

Great question Darren! Without doubt the best parts were the training, preparation and the match. Simple you may say – but it was.

I’d receive my appointment Monday at 4pm and then my focus began. Depending on whether my match was Saturday, Sunday or Monday I’d then map out my week.

Firstly my training was planned. I had to get in my tough, long, intense sessions giving me enough recovery time prior to match. It’s no use burning yourself out on the training field and having nothing left in the tank come match day. I’d got to litter this with speed sessions and ensure I also had rest and recovery time.

My preparation included travel plans, whether I would need to travel the night before. My dietary plans, focusing on when and what I’d need to eat pre-match.

Further preparation would be liaising with my colleagues as to their travel plans. Working out our meeting point and departure time for the stadium on match day. Pitch inspection, warm up times and time to be in tunnel would all be sorted.

The match? That was the greatest part of my week. The challenge, the feeling out there is indescribable – it was like living your dream week after week after week and it never lost any of its sparkle.

The worst part? Easy! Travelling back after matches.

That may come as a massive surprise to many, but for me, it was the only downside and eventually ground me down.

Going to a match I’d be so excited I felt I could drive to the other side of the world. I’d be thinking of the players, the stadium, the games I’d had there before – it was amazing.

When the game had finished I’d shower and change and then I’d hit my wall. I just wanted to be home. I never ever relished getting into my car for that journey and as each match went by that journey seemed to become tougher.

Russell from Dumfries asks:

Playing in my Sunday League I slipped the ball past a defender in the penalty area. He was attempting a sliding tackle and as he fell back the ball clearly struck his arm which he was using to cushion his fall. We felt it was away from his body but the referee said no penalty.

Interesting Russell. There have actually been a few of these incidents in the Premier League this season and I’ve been asked similar.

Prior to this season there were some guidelines issued regarding handball and this was part of it.

When you think of the situation the defender has to put his hand down somewhere, gravity alone dictates that. It was decided that if the players hand is on the ground, in a somewhat supporting action, and the ball strikes the hand or arm that play would continue and no penal offence would have occurred.

I believe that is a wise decision and have to tell you, even though you were upset at the time, your referee did apply the law correctly.

Well, I hope you liked that – I certainly did. I’ll try and sieve through some more next week and hope, by then, we’re closer to a resumption as I’m really missing our beautiful game. Thank you.

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