Former ASK the REF Columnist Rob Webb Retires, Writes Popular Op-Ed Column for SoccerNationNews
Rob Webb is a former referee and a recovering soccer parent struggling with his addiction to the sport. Webb has spent years on the soccer field and now turns his many talents to other joys and to writing.
Webb used to ‘moonlight’ as a referee and inspired the Ask The Ref column. Now as a member of SoccerNation’s newest editorial panel, Webb will continue to share his wisdom and opinions on the unique world of soccer. As a former elite athlete and First Team Division 1 NCAA All American Water Polo player, Rob brings an intuitive understanding of the many dimensions of competitive and professional soccer.
Barclays’ Survival Sunday – Americans Can Be On The Sofa Watching Fox TV – If You Are in the UK, Where Would You Go?
Chelsea versus Liverpool (the FA Cup Final), Manchester United versus Swansea City, or Blacon versus Waverton?
How could you see all three in person? You’d either have to live in Britain, or be there last weekend. Since I have a US passport and live in California, and my family haven’t been British for 6 generations, I’d have to be there. So I went with my soccer pals to the UK last weekend, and watched Chelsea v Liverpool Saturday on a huge screen TV at the Bear and Billet in Chester, UK, then Sunday went up to Old Trafford in Manchester to see Manchester United v Swansea City.
But Sunday morning, we went to the Chester Football Club Stadium in Chester, UK to see the local league’s U-12 youth soccer final, Blacon versus Waverton.
It started with the FA Cup Final, Chelsea v Liverpool. The Bear and Billet is a typical, 18th Century pub in England, half-timbered construction, uneven floors providing dangerous footing for the unaware, and really, REALLY good lager. Again, I probably drank more lager in the last 5 days than in all of 2010 and 2011. (Chester is an old Roman city, with parts of the original Roman city wall still intact (and you can walk them), as well as some of the old Roman water works, and various excavation sites listed on the National Registry.)
Pub watching was probably the only option for this match, as tickets for the match at Wembley, if you could get them, were £1,500 which is approximately US $2800 . . . EACH. The next time you complain about a Charger’s ticket costing $250, remember that. I pinched one of 7 chairs in existence from a bloke who was waiting for mates, and was celebrating his birthday. Two rounds on me smoothed the runway on that one. Otherwise, the entire pub was standing room only.
I have a couple of observations. I’m no soccer expert. But the Liverpool manager made a serious strategic error (later confirmed by Liverpool supporters) in starting with a 4-5-1 lineup with Suarez in front, instead of a 4-4-2 approach. No goals from the Liverpool side the entire first half, simply because the Chelsea back line double-teamed Suarez and shut down the Reds’ attack. What’s the evidence for my thesis? Carroll was eventually brought in, and nearly immediately scored a goal on 4 or 5 shots on goal from close range. Quod erat demonstrandum.
And also, more fodder for proponents of the instant replay cannon, a shot on goal was ruled not a goal by the assistant referee, his non-call supported by TV re-plays showing a distinctive lack of daylight between the ball and the crossbar. 90% of the ball was in the goal, but remember, the whole ball has to cross the goal line. As you can guess, there was no way to placate the Liverpool fans who were hopping mad after that one. We’ll get to a discussion of laser sensors to determine goals in soccer later.
Obviously, this was an exciting match to watch regardless of which side you supported, especially given the venue.
I was hamstrung for the rest of the evening because I had both Liverpool and Chelsea supporters in my entourage.
The whole debate post match was very pleasing to listen to. And all along I thought it was the world that had problems.
The second premiership match I was privileged to see was in person, and was Manchester United versus Swansea.
Old Trafford in Manchester is probably the largest soccer stadium in all of England, even though maybe not the newest. The mood was decidedly subdued, given that Manchester City had just beaten Newcastle 2-nil, which meant that Manchester United would have to beat Swansea City and score 11 goals to overtake Man City by goal difference and win the Premiership.
This clearly wasn’t going to happen, even though Manchester United handily beat Swansea in a match that wasn’t really a game. Swansea had no offense and no attack, and frankly was no match.
To their credit, the Swansea supporters didn’t think so, and cheered loudly, and sang boisterously. Despite that, the mood was quite generally subdued, nobody stood for any of the plays, and there was a decided air of resignation about the whole affair. Kind of a let down, actually.
The match that was the most fun, believe it or not, was Blacon versus Waverton. These were 11 year olds, playing in the final of the local youth league to decide the league championship.
It was fun, but very, very revealing on a number of levels, especially given my participation in, and association with youth soccer in America for the last 12 years, both as a parent and as a referee.
Imagine your kid’s Pop Warner team playing the league final in Qualcomm Stadium or your kid’s baseball team playing their league final in Petco Park. Imagine a professional soccer club in San Diego where there is only one sport played: soccer, and your kid’s team, regardless of age, plays their league final there.
Imagine San Diego’s Presidio Youth Soccer League with a league final game played in that stadium. Imagine State Cup in a venue other than Bakersfield or Lancaster. I have nothing against either Bakersfield or Lancaster, I just think it’s ridiculous for two San Diego teams to have to drive all the way to either of those two garden spots of California to play one another at 8 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday in April or May, long after the Presidio League is done in November of the previous year.
Why not in November right after the league is over? Politics, let’s face it. Politics. Actually, while I’m at it, and digressing in a huge way, Presidio should be played in Winter/Spring, when college coaches are actually available to come watch. The Presidio Showcase is actually a huge waste of time, because it’s held in Fall . . . during College Soccer season, when coaches don’t have the time or the bandwidth to come watch prospective players play.
And that leads me to my second point. One of the children on the field at the Chester FC stadium had just been signed by Liverpool. That’s right. A twelve year old boy, signed by Liverpool to what is essentially their ‘farm team’. That earns him 3-4 practices per week with the club’s younger’s team, and a possible path to playing professional soccer.
But really, to compare and contrast, the experience was quite different than youth soccer in America. For one thing, and perhaps the most striking difference . . . they let the children tackle, and they in fact teach them to tackle properly, and tackle hard. Imagine that, a tackle in soccer. In America, especially with the younger’s, tackling is discouraged. In America, the referees blow the whistle for tackles that wouldn’t get a second look in Britain. In Britain, when tackled, the children don’t lie on the ground writhing in agony, either real or perceived, they get on their feet and get right back to the game, and the parents don’t bitch about it. It’s part of the game. It’s cultural.
There was no misconduct. No ugly tackles, no aiming for an opponents ankle or knee, no shoving or elbows in the back.
Another, perhaps even more striking distinction is the skill level and the speed of play. These children weren’t playing kick ball. They were passing to one another with purpose, deliberate, across the grass passes with a crisp precision that one seldom sees in youth soccer below age 15, and these were 11 year olds.
OK, I’m not trying to convince you that they were ready for U-17 Academy play in Southern California, and not every kid had the same skill level, but these children knew what they were supposed to do. One huge difference between the two approaches, America and Britain at this age, is that they do not sort teams by skill level, no Premier, Triple-A, Double A-A distinctions, all play together (and I suspect those without skills are removed and put on cricket teams).
None of the children are overweight. All fit, as far as I could tell.
And lastly, decidedly absent was parent heckling. (Admittedly, the referee wasn’t ready for Grade 4 or FIFA for sure, but he let the game flow. No trifling calls, and he let them tackle. Two tackles ruled fouls, and obvious. His foul count was probably 4 for the whole match.
The Assistant Referees knew how to call offside, and waited for participation.) But all the parents were there, in fact we were there to watch a cousin, and all the cousins, all of them, were there as well as the parents, aunts and uncles. None of this ‘hey ref’ or ‘hand ball’ nonsense. All plays were applauded, and after the match, both teams shook hands and applauded up to the stands with the classic European hands over the head applause. The parents and family were committed and supportive. The Coaches were volunteers, in fact the Blacon coach still had on his steel-toed work boots from the morning shift. Everyone stuck around for 45 minutes after the match before filtering out to the automobile park. It was all in good fun, good sporting fun.
OK, let’s face it, soccer in America still has a way to go. I would state the first step in getting on the same page is: let’s not treat our children as though they were so fragile. They aren’t, and this game, to me, was proof. So you got tackled, get over it, and get on with it. Life is like that, isn’t it. They tell referees ‘take the temperature of the match’ and ‘does it need more control’. What this demonstrated to me was, simply, ‘no’. Don’t blow the whistle, it will get ‘sorted’.
The huge lesson, of course, is the support. Let’s support our kids. I’m not discounting the fact that there are many supportive parents, and for those of you who do, bravo. It’s a fact that some parents can’t make it to every match, or even any match because in this day and age, a job and earning a living get in the way of things one would really like to do. But the experience at the Chester Football Club was all parents, it was positive, and it was a good, healthy atmosphere for youngsters of this age, and we can all take a lesson from that. Let’s use sports as a positive lesson about life.
You get tackled, get up, and get back to playing the game. Soccer, the game, doesn’t stop just because you fell down, just as life goes on whether you’re standing or not.
Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of SoccerNation.com. The author reminds readers to support their local referees.
See all previous articles on ASK the REF
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