Last week in this column, I mentioned something that anyone who only watches professional football and possibly on television may not be aware.
This was that in the lower realms of football, assistant referees are not qualified registered referees. They will be a supporter from each club, either volunteers or someone dragooned into taking the flag.
It perhaps goes without saying that the quality that they bring to the game is very mixed. Certainly, as a referee you have to expect anything. Some are very good and helpful to the referee, whilst there are others who barely move and therefore are of little help to the referee, particularly for offside but sometimes in other ways.
I recall on one occasion looking for my assistant to let me know whether the ball had gone over the touch line, but he was nowhere in sight.
He had spotted friends who had just arrived and had gone off for a chat. It must also be said that some are biased, and some believe they know better than the referee.
I had one who ran from the other end of the pitch to tell me about an incident he claimed had happened in the penalty area, from which I was about 10 yards.
Sadly, the people who agree to help by taking the flag are not always appreciated. I read of one father who went along to watch his young son play but as no one else was willing to take the flag, he decided to ‘do his bit’. However, after a few games the insults he received were too much, and he handed the flag back during a match.
I have always believed that those willing or even those cajoled to help in this way, should be appreciated. In 1966 I put forward, to the Reading Referees Association, suggestions for two new awards.
One was a Fair Play Award, where members marked the local league clubs they refereed, on players behaviour on the pitch. The other was a Club Linesman Award, again to be marked by members. This time for the level of the assistance they received. The Awards to be presented to the winners at the end of each season with subsequent publicity, which I believe still happens.
Some years later, I put together a presentation ‘How to get the best from your club linesmen’, which I took around several referee’s associations throughout the south.
My idea for the Award and the presentation was the same. Encouragement, improvement if possible, but mainly to let those volunteers who take the flag, know by thanks or praise, that their contribution to the local game is appreciated.
By Dick Sawdon Smith