Career & Education

A game with 22 players and 20,000 referees

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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THE 2018 schoolboy football season was a success by any standard of measurement. Congratulations to my home parish school, Clarendon College. They were crowned Olivier Shield champions on Saturday, December 8.

It was moving to learn from Dr Paul Wright that the late Winston Chung Fah, who coached Clarendon to their first Olivier Shield victory in 1977, had been laid to rest at a service in Florida at the same time that the match was being played.

Prominent football coach Lenworth “Teacher” Hyde was a star player on that 1977 team and coached Clarendon to victory this year. “Chungie” remains our role model to this day”, he says, and during the final he was the 12th man on our field.”

The Manning and daCosta Cup season appears to have been relatively injury-free. The referees kept a tight rein on the games. Take note, there are more than 115 schools competing for honours, and this translates into nearly 2,500 boys taking the field, with thousands of spectators following the game.

The Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) seems to have done a competent job with scheduling and, I am told, ensuring off-the-field security and medical facilities in place at all matches.

For those of us who love football, it was good to be in Jamaica with Saturday afternoons or midweek days booked for engaging in full-time play and solid entertainment. There was also a positive spin-off for the thriving casual economy, with sidewalk vendors exultant at the opportunity to cash in on the captive sideline market, while bus and taxi operators enjoyed the after-school business traffic.

Despite the rough edges, schoolboy football is fun and has captured the attention of the entire country. It's true that the behaviour of players and fans is sometimes unseemly, but school administrators and match officials remain on their toes to control any exuberance which could mar the game.

Let's face it, with our level of national indiscipline, it is a marvel and a credit to those in charge that we can roll out an islandwide spectacle of this sort each year with minimum disruption.

With this kind of attention focused on schoolboy football, let's spare a thought for the referee and the linesmen. They not only have to keep the boys in check, but they have to keep an eye on the sideline as well, if only to cool down the temperature of the game and to make their presence felt.

Football referees deserve to get medals for bravery. There is the story of the referee who arrives at the gates of heaven, where St Peter greets him and says: “Before I can let you enter I must ask you what you have done in your life that was particularly good.” The man racks his brains for a few minutes and then admits to St Peter that he hasn't done anything particularly good in his life.

“Well,” says St Peter, “have you done anything particularly brave in your life?” “Yes, I have,” replies the man proudly. St Peter asks the man to give an account of his bravery.

So the man explains, “I was refereeing this important match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield. The score was 0-0 and there was only one more minute of play to go in the second half when I awarded a penalty against Liverpool at the Kop end.”

“Yes,” responded St Peter, “I agree that was a real act of bravery. Can you perhaps tell me when this took place?” “Certainly,” the man replied, “about three minutes ago.”

One habit they have managed to keep out of school sports is the earring style adopted by the West Indies cricket team. Indeed, the teams that do best in cricket are the ones that are not wearing them at all. The demise of West Indies cricket started just about the time when wearing earrings became the in-thing for our boys.

Funnily enough, the women cricketers remove their jewellery before they take the field. A few years ago I was about to suggest that the captain should make it mandatory for the men to do the same, only to spot a photo in which he was sporting an earring too.

Not to ride this one too hard, but I guess it's all in the game of unisex. Sportsmen have a right to wear what they want, so long as it doesn't detract from their game. There was a time when women wore long skirts for cricket and bowled underarm. Things do change, and to give the West Indies team credit, they sometimes surprise us when we think that all is lost. Unfortunately, I think that they have allowed other things to divert them from their cricket, including money, fashion, hero worship, and media personality headlines. Come to think of it, after that Bangladesh series I am now believing that all is indeed lost, and that they are simply on vacation somewhere in the Asian continent.

But back to football. With the West Indies cricket team crashing out of our lives, and with athletics taking a break, schoolboy football and horse racing at Caymanas Park are now dominating the sport pages. Football is the beautiful game, but it is not for the faint-hearted.

At Munro College in my time the first XI practised and played on A field while the second-tier players played on B and C fields. B field played by its own rules and that was where you learnt the tougher elements of the game. I remember an English master Steve “Staggy” Harle showing me how to tackle with the shoulders and put the opponent out of action without detection from the referee. That was a tactic that he brought from an English third division team, for B fielders only.

In Jamaica every spectator is a referee and a fountain of wisdom. We know the rules better than the ref, and we don't hesitate to make them know we do. They say football is a game with 22 players and 20,000 referees on the sidelines. Multiply that number by four letters and you can see how many bad words can be thrown about at a match.

It is no comfort to remind that spectator 'nastiness' is not confined to Jamaica, but is common at matches abroad. It is reported that referees at international matches are now being given crash courses in the lexicon of English language obscenities in an attempt to control behaviour on and off the field.

Cursing in football is hardly new. Watch any game and you're sure to see players uttering some choice words after missed shots or fouls. Portuguese, Korean, Greek — nothing gets lost in translation. But referees can't give out cards for what they think was said, and Fifa requires World Cup referees and assistants to be proficient only in English. So it is reported that international referees are now researching English and American curses. They ought to try and research Jamaican bad words too, but I wish them luck.

I have noticed how an increasing number of female referees are taking the field. This adds a whole new complexion to the game and may be what has put the schoolboys under more discipline this year. You can plead, “But, Miss” or “Is not me, Miss,” a thousand times, but when she blows her whistle and says, “Right off, you are right off, (not right half) and you can take your beard with you.”

Football, and sports in general, is now such an important, albeit unofficial, part of the school curriculum that perhaps it is time to introduce a code of conduct into the sports training of our students, emphasising character development, sportsmanship, and the resultant discipline as mandatory to participation in any of these events.

Football has its own rules and standards and penalties, but if at the end of the season the star player remains locked in the parochial confinement of the game, and does not emerge a better person in terms of character, behaviour, leadership, and all the values that make him a better citizen, then we have lost it.

Finally, here's something to laugh at while the West Indies give us a headache. A Jamaican cricket fan dreamt that he saw a genie who offered to grant him one wish. “I want to live forever,” he said. “Sorry,” said the genie, “I'm not allowed to grant wishes like that.” “Fine,” says my friend, “in that case I want to die when the West Indies win the next Test series.”

“You crafty son of a gun,” says the genie.

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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