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Umpire Strikes Back….A Bit Too Often

Netball – the beautiful game. I truly believe that, played properly, it is an extremely skilful, tactical test of mental and physical ability. Of course if you play it like me, it’s more like watching your one-legged Granny trying to hurdle over some over-filled skips but nevertheless, I strive to be better each time I play.

Tonight’s league match was a disaster in so many ways I have neither the strength nor the lightness of typing finger to go into all the reasons why we didn’t win. Sour losing grapes aside, one of the principal reasons was simply bad umpiring.

Our league is a friendly one and all the teams appreciate that the umpires are amateurs and only get paid a pittance for turning up each week. Most are good, fair and games proceed smoothly. What I cannot condone is the league using umpires who clearly aren’t ready, confident or knowledgeable enough to do the job properly.

The FA, RFU, LTA and England Netball all bang on about respect for the umpire; about not arguing with decisions made during play; about bowing ostensibly to someone who knows best. At national level, I can appreciate that certain standards of umpiring/refereeing are rigorously maintained allowing consistency and therefore fairness to prevail. Not so at local level.

Many a local league football game has a willing supporter “run the line” checking for off-side, fouls, throw-ins etc. Netball too relies on amateur umpires; hunters turned gamekeepers if you will. Decisions and interpretation are a lottery. Some of the ref or linesman calls made in haste or because of a fundamental lack of understanding are shocking.

What I cannot stand most of all is losing goals or points in a game to poor decision-making by the ref. It irritates me beyond belief. If you don’t know your arse from your elbow, don’t put yourself out there. I wouldn’t know the offside rule in football if it came up and bit me on the butt but then I don’t pretend to and I certainly don’t put myself in a position of authority nor would I unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Particularly when youngsters are involved – confidence is a fickle thing and one bad ref or decision can knock a kid back. It still knocks me at my great age and experience, so Lord knows what it does to a player just starting out. My own son was ruled to have fouled a player during a tackle in the box, leading to a penalty kicked goal to the other side. It wasn’t a foul – that’s not me saying, that’s EVERYONE who was there saying – it was a poor and too hasty refereeing decision. Son was mortified at “giving” a goal to the opponents and has never forgotten it. He’s 11 years old.

Sports governing bodies have invented a neat “get out of jail free” for quelling anyone who is aggrieved by a bad umpire. At least in netball. It’s called the “dissent” rule. Basically you cannot argue against an umpire’s decision – that would be dissent. In a game with two umpires, you cannot appeal one ref’s decision with the second umpire (even though in tonight’s match she openly admitted afterwards the other ref’s mistakes) – that would be dissent. You cannot trip over your own feet, graze your knees painfully on a concrete floor and mutter “Ooh bugger!” to no-one but yourself in the ref’s hearing – that would be dissent. Well, I have another name for it. Utter bollocks!

Why are players not permitted to question a wrong decision? “Don’t argue with the umpire” is trotted out as a lame litany in response. “The umpire is always right” is another. Well, actually, no.

In tennis, since the advent of the Hawkeye system, the LTA have allowed players to challenge some decisions – this has resulted in many an unjust ref call being overturned. And rightly so. No more “Chalk dust!” screeched by fuzzy-wigged Americans either, thank goodness.

Rugby too uses a TV monitor ref if there is any suggestion that the linesman or ref is not 100% sure what happened. The system works well and above all is fair to all. Rugby players engage with the ref on decision-making, penalties are explained and, before instantly penalising, players are guided. It makes for better players and therefore a better game.

Football and netball lag behind in acknowledging that refs and umpires are not perfect. I’m not advocating a free for all by any means – slanging matches and open hostility are not what I am talking about. But surely brief common sense dialogue should be allowed? Are we all to stand meekly by while a bad ref dictates the outcome of our games, because to argue leads to a penalty or sending off for “dissent”? Are refs and umpires so intimidated by a simple comment or query addressed to them that they instantly reach for the yellow card for protection?

Respect works both ways. So does communication. Players (and supporters) would have more respect for a ref who allows sensible dialogue in a contentious situation than for one who holds his hand up and refuses to engage. Players like me get angry when bad umpiring leads to an unfair advantage. We should be allowed to question in such situations without fear of penalty reprisal. Otherwise bad refs will continue to ref badly without recourse for the impact their actions have on a game, players will continue to be frustrated by a dictatorship of pretty poor quality and the whole idea of a ref as an objective unbiased overseer of the game rules becomes a farce.

Rant over!

What do you think? Should refs demand respect from players, or earn it?


I’m Bored….Summer Holidays Suck

“I’m bored…”. Two of the most overused, annoying and machine-gun-attack inducing words in the English language. Usually accompanied by flouncing, flopping, leaning etc. Ugh.

One and a half weeks in to the six-week summer holiday, and I have heard these words no less than 4,000,000 times already. As I write this, I am hiding in my office. Ostensibly working but actually in retreat from those words, those faces and those expectations. This is the bit they don’t tell you about becoming a mum. You also have to become a clown, magician, comedian, sports supremo and party planner ready to whoop up some fun and creativity at any given moment the children are not in school. Sadly, it is clear I just don’t have it in me to be all of those things, all of the time.

Only ten days of it so far, and I have already started to become sarcastic. I even suggested to someone on Twitter this morning that they might like to dart their hyper-active toddler with a safari-style tranquilliser gun. Stick a Haribo on the end and they’ll be mesmerised enough to let you get them square between the eyes. Anything for a few moments respite from “I’m bored….what can I do, Mum?”

There are many helpful blogs out there devoted to entertaining the kids (for free, in some cases) throughout the nightmare that is the school holidays. Most are aimed at younger children than mine and so simply do not apply. I have a pre-teen and a teen. One male, the other female. The combination alone is enough to induce a migraine. They never agree on what constitutes “fun”, and never will. So to retain my sanity, I have resorted to cynicism when it comes to what I am prepared to do to entertain them this holiday.

One of the depressing things about working from home is noticing that the ironing pile is bigger than me. 5ft 4 inches tall is one mo-fo of an ironing pile. And there’s more in the machine being washed as we speak. So this morning I suggested to the children that they lay all of the clothes out flat on the lawn and spend the day rolling over them until they got all the wrinkles out. That suggestion was met with blank stares.

The other bit about working from home is I am suddenly drawn to Delia Smith. First and foremost, you should know that I sometimes fantasise about stuffing Delia with apricots and breadcrumbs, wrapping her in tin-foil and shoving her into a pre-heated oven until she says sorry for making me and anyone else out there feel inadequate with her smug organisation. No-one smiles that much whilst making a spag bol unless they are chopping magic mushrooms. That aside, her recipes are easy enough for even a numpty like me to follow. Or Numpty’s children. So I have suggested several times over the past week or so that we could all make a nice meal for Dad/brownies for a picnic/phallus-shaped cookies to amuse Mum together, a way of whiling away the long hours between 11am when they rise from their pits to 10pm when I decide they either have to go to bed or be sold for medical experiments. None of my cooking mamma ideas have yet cut the mustard. I hate mustard anyway.

We are lucky enough to perch practically on top of tennis courts which are free to the public. When I suggest to the children we go and play tennis, they are – almost – enthusiastic. Only yesterday did I realise that this is because they can tag-team at one end to cleverly aim balls at anywhere except where my racket can reach and therefore have me running around like a maniac, sweating and turning puce much to their amusement. Even this nasty tennis-bullying, however, does not entertain them for more than thirty minutes. Only happy-slapping would do that. And to be honest, I am in danger of imminent cardiac arrest so tennis is most definitely off the menu.

Bike-riding is something they would like to do, but frankly I object on the grounds that nothing has ever been the same shape since double-ventouse deliveries. There is not a saddle known to man that does not make me pee, chafe or simply weep. So forget it, kids. When I suggest that older teen might like to take pre-teen out cycling around the lovely country lanes, that blank serial-killer stare greets me once more. Ditto swimming. It appears unless I am in the pool with all my wobbly bits on display for public- and offspring – ridicule, they are not happy to just let me sit at the side watching. Selfish mutts. They have no appreciation of the pain of the Brazilian that would be necessary before I can even don a swimming costume, not to mention the Hay Diet I would have to embark on which takes at least three months, I’ve been told. It’s not happening.

So here I am at Wits’ End. The only thing that appears to be interesting enough to illicit a grunt from Teen Girl is Chessington World of Over-Priced Crap. Except when we get there, she will be happy for ten minutes then want to go to Dubaiiiiii (said in a whine only she can perfect). Pre-Teen Boy is off on a football camp in eight days (and counting) – hoorah for the beautiful game. May it always release me from parental servitude! As for the remaining four weeks, I am already thinking they could dig their own holes under the patio and perhaps erect a springboard so they can somersault into them in creative ways before I cover them over and give them marks out of ten?

Hang on a mo – Social Services are at the door. How boring. Must dash.