Thoughts of the man in black – education and management of walking football match officials…
It seems that no matter how well you (as a referee) think you are doing in respect to your own ability, there is something that comes along and shows that you don’t know it all…
When the Berks and Bucks FA announced a training session for walking football at Piggott School in Wargrave, I had to attend. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, as I had done a few training sessions for Bracknell and basically there they told you to stop the participants from ‘running’, end of story.
However, the Berks and Bucks FA’s referee development manager (RDM), Lisa Benn, and the innovation manager Jon Woods had a very different idea of what was required from the referee. I was shocked a surprised by the various restriction that we were being advised to impose in a forthcoming tournament, Berks and Bucks walking football Competition 2016.
At this stage there was no formal guidance or laws from the FA although I understood they were ‘discussing’ a formal set of Laws of Walking Football.
We were advised at the session that no running was to be tolerated and if a team were attacking the opponents goal and the defender, not involved in the game, ran to take a higher position near the mid-point of their half and not to be involved in the attack, then we were to blow for a foul for running and award a free kick to the opponent’s at the mid-point in the attackers half.
“Although I accepted this at the training session, I was a little bit torn between the Laws of the Game and the spirit of the game. “
“I agree that the Law of the game are the most important aspect of our sport as without a proper frame work pandemonium can take over with no-one knowing what is happening.”
However, the Laws of the Game changed in the 2016-2017 season where they advised referees that they were not just to apply the Laws of the Game, but also the spirit of the game, this being on a match by match basis, each game being unique. Therefore, we were told that any points not covered by the competition rules should be referenced back to the laws of the game.
In the tournament I applied the competitions rules, but where there had been a passage of play where team ‘A’ had walked the ball from their own penalty area to the edge of team B’s box and the defender had ran a few metres I would allow play to continue, providing he did not gain any advantage. This was my demonstration of Law 18 of football called common sense.
This leads to a very debatable point in walking football of how does the referee spot ‘running off’ the ball during a match. I have to say that I had it instilled in me during my development period as a referee that I was always to be near to play for creditability and in case of reaction to certain ’offences’.
However, on a walking football pitch, no matter what diagonal the referee takes, I found that they become involved in the play and it causes unnecessary ‘questioning’ from the players such as ‘Ref why are you there?’
From the observations that others and myself made I started to experiment with my own positioning i.e. running one metre in from the touchline, running straight up and down the middle of the pitch, staying in the middle of the pitch or running on the diagonal.
None of these worked and I was either caught up in play or worse I missed the habitual player running off the ball. Then I tried refereeing from the touchline, it had to work as managers have been able to referee 11 a-side games better than me for over 25 years, and after a few games it became so much easier to referee.
I was not getting involved in play, I had an full view of the pitch and being furthest from the play I was able to identify those that were running and also able to judge whether a player gained and advantage or was just ‘napping’ when they moved out of defence!
This lead on to me being able to ‘explain’ my reason for awarding a free kick against someone particularly if they have ‘ran’ more than once and you can say the double action started there and then you continued there. The players are not happy but because they know that I am able to see the whole pitch and have watched their movement because I am not trying to see what is going on behind me they ‘accept’ the decision.
The above demonstrates that a qualified referee cannot just turn up and referee a walking football game, competition or tournament because there are certain skills, in addition to the normal Laws of the Game that have to be taken into account.
Some of the additional skills that are required include empathy with the age group that is taking part in the tournament. This does not mean that you have to be a certain way to referee the walking football. It means that you have to have an understanding of their reason for doing walking football. Is it medical, social, rehabilitation fitness etc.
From reading the magazine on Walking Football Online and the illustration used by The FA for the Laws of Walking Football, it would appear that a number of professional clubs have their own walking football teams; these may be spectators or even ex-professionals. No matter what the teams make up is each individual is there for their own reasons.
Imagine Leeds United walking football and Chelsea walking football teams meeting in a tournament consisting of say Norman Hunter and Ron Harris, there is no way that their challenges will be like the 1970 FA Cup Final, but in their hearts and minds they would want to win each challenge, and I know that physical challenges (tackling) is not permitted, but how would anyone refereeing today deal with both players if they did make an old fashion challenge?
I think it was about 1995 when David Ellery reviewed the 1970 FA Cup Final, both legs, under the Laws change of 1995-96 Season. I believe that his conclusion was the game would have been abandoned as each team would have been reduced in number due to the dismissal of the type of challenges the players made.
In the walking football above match, Leeds and Chelsea it would be important for the referee to stop the first physical challenge, shoulder to shoulder, and quietly remind the players that it hurts when they hit the ground at their age.
I have been made aware that at one tournament recently a new referee was invited to officiate at the tournament and apart from getting the bear essential laws briefing, they missed a number of things that the regular referees were penalising and as a consequence advantage was taken of his lack of training in the Laws of Walking Football and what was considered the normal practice at the tournament.
This is why it is important that each tournament undertakes a mentoring scheme to promote the additional training of a new referee every three or four weeks so that there can be number of referees available to officiate at the tournament. This not only produces a regular supply for the tournament but also a larger pool of ‘experienced’ walking football referees for county/association competition.