There are few roles in football so roundly derided as that of the “extra official” or if you prefer the “additional assistant referee”. Reception to Michel Platini’s desperate attempt to ward of the inevitable implementation of technology in this multi-billion pound industry has been, if we’re being kind, mixed.
However this is about to change. These consummate professionals have decided enough is enough, and in an attempt to increase the wider public’s understanding of the vital role played by the fifth, and by extension the sixth official, we have been given exclusive access to the personal diary of one of UEFA’s top men (or women, no sexism at UEFA) on the day of a high profile Champions League match. Of course, we cannot name this gentleman/gentlelady for reasons that will become apparent (not because I’m making this up, honest). But rest assured this is an individual at the top of their profession.
Names have been changed to protect those involved.
0700hrs: Alarm sounds, the official Champions League theme tune blares out from my iPhone. I’m not even out of bed yet and already I’m inspired.
0800hrs: After a quick shower, I head down to take advantage of the facilities on offer at the hotel my fellow officials and I are staying at. Breakfast poses the first problem of the day. I am unable to decide between scrambled or boiled eggs. I know that all eyes are on me, there is a decision to be made and it’s down to me to make it – scrambled or boiled? Scrambled or boiled? A considerable amount of time has now passed and I’m increasingly aware I haven’t said or done anything since the egg question was posed. The young waitress seems slightly unnerved by my wordless stare. Thankfully Tom (tonight’s referee) senses there is a problem and shouts over from an adjacent table – “just give the twat a coffee, we’ll be here all day otherwise”. Tom’s obvious concern for my cholesterol levels is heart-warming. A coffee it is.
1000hrs: It’s not just the players that are elite level athletes these days. To do our jobs to the fullest of our abilities officials must be in peak physical condition. Time to hit the gym. Hard. Tom and his two assistant referees, Steve and Brian, go straight for the treadmills. Nigel, the fourth official, heads over to the weights room. He spends his time lifting a weight plate over his head, rotating it 90 degrees – so that everyone gets a good look – and brings it back down to waist height. He repeats to exhaustion.
My role however requires a very specific workout. Davie – the sixth official, I’m the fifth official no matter what that prick Davie says – and I each grasp a dumbbell in our right hand, remove the weight plates and stand very still. We hold that position for 45 minutes, rest for 15 then another 45 of standing and holding. Tonight’s match is a group game so no chance of extra time. Otherwise I would tack on two additional 15 minute sets to prepare myself for the potential added time.
1400hrs: I decide to take a brief stroll, clear my mind in advance of the big game and soak up some of the local culture. One of the drawbacks of my job is that due to being trained to spot the smallest of misdemeanours – a shirt tug here, an ankle clip there. I often find myself noticing things occurring in a crowd that are invisible to the untrained eye. This afternoon was one such occasion. A young woman attending to her child, a man in a baseball cap approaches from behind, I watch on as he rifles through her unguarded handbag. I look around; only I am witness to this heinous crime – time for action, time to be a hero.
1600hrs: Tom, Steve and Brian are guiding me back to my room. The last few hours are a blank. “Did they apprehend the pick-pocketer?” I ask. “What the twat are you on about? We got a phone call saying you’d been standing frozen on the spot in the middle of the street for the last two hours. People thought you were one of those bloody street performers” came the reply. Hmmm, I do occasionally suffer from adrenaline related blackouts. Probably best to have a nap.
1800hrs: I awake from my nap. Tom, Steve, Brian and Nigel are having a pre-game meeting. Davie and I are not involved. It’s a great feeling to know your peers have such faith in your preparation that they know your participation in these meetings would be of no use and only interrupt the Zen like state you enter in the hours leading up to a big match. Davie on the other hand is not asked to attend because he’s a genuine idiot who spends the entire time asking to borrow my “wand” – not a “flagpole without the actual flag” as some ignorant individuals claim – so he can pretend to play drums on the table.
1945hrs: Kick-off. Nerves are jangling. The ground is old fashioned and I can feel the breath of the crowd on my neck. This is why I got into the business, nights like this, under the floodlights within touching distance of some of the most elite sportsmen on the planet. This is what I was trained for and here – not at the breakfast table or on the street – is where I show my worth, where I shine.
2030hrs: Half-time. Shit – I have no recollection of the last 45 minutes. Sometimes I get so “in the zone” I effectively operate on auto-pilot – yeah that must be it. As I enter the referee’s room Tom gives me a look that some would misconstrue as incredulous rage. I however have seen this before and know he is trying to convey his respect for me, and gratitude for the job I am doing. Tom sometimes has problems articulating his feelings.
2045hrs: Second half. The fans are obviously a bit bored with the lack of on pith action and have now taking to abusing me. I am a professional and will not allow it to affect my performance.
2130hrs: Injury time. The abuse continues as does the lack of action. Most of the chants are like water off a duck’s back and nothing I haven’t heard before. Unfortunately now even the ball-boy has started joining in. It’s difficult to translate literally but I’m positive he was telling me to “shove my half-arsed flagpole up my arse” or some variation thereof. I snap. Some things are beyond the pale. I turn to face him “it’s a wand, not a flagpole you irritating little shit”. The crowd as one roars. Initially I presume they are vocalising their approval of my Oscar Wilde-esque putdown. I soon realise however they are using their collective voice to call for a penalty. I turn back to face the pitch and see Tom trotting over to me closely followed by a posse of gesticulating Italians. “Did he touch him? Is it a pen? A red card?” Toms questions come thick and fast. “Eh well… I was just explaining to the ball-boy that it’s a wand not a half-arsed flagpole so eh… yeah… I didn’t in the strictest terms actually see the incident.” Tom is for once able to articulate his feelings toward me in language I cannot bring myself to commit to paper. He gives a goal kick and quickly blows for full-time.
2300hrs: Back in the hotel. I watch the highlights of tonight’s match to help me improve my future performance. Overall, I am pleased with how things went this evening. Graeme Souness on Sky Sports however, accuses me of being incompetent and very probably, a moron. I choose to ignore the bitter psychopathic Jock bastard and turn in for the night. I drift off to sleep content in the knowledge that I am playing an integral, if underappreciated role in the beautiful game.
This article originally appeared on the sadly departed Football Project