Brenda and I went to LA last spring to watch our grandson play a little soccer in his league for 12 year olds. The sidelines were crowded with parents and grandparents yelling the little people on. The boys, dressed in their soccer livery, ran like banshees from one end of the field to the other, occasionally whistled to a stop by 3 uniformed referees. Tristan once came along the sideline where Brenda was sitting and without looking at her, waggled the fingers of one hand in a hello to his grandma. Brenda beamed and looked at me as if to say, “See it was worth the drive.”
Tristan’s soccer outing brought back memories of a time when my son was 8 or 9, we were back from overseas and he joined a rec park soccer league in McLean, Virginia. I took him to his second game and surprisingly there weren’t many parents there. Couple of mothers is all I remember now as Joe and I came walking up to his team huddle. On the other side was the visiting team and coaches. No spectators. No referees.
Joe’s coach said they couldn’t start the game because there was a conflict and the refs were somewhere else. He had the whistles and if I wanted to the handle the game, they could get ‘er done.
I’m thinking, I’m wearing sneakers, shorts, a T-shirt, how difficult could this be? So I said sure.
Had absolutely no idea about the finer points of soccer… like the rules. So I’ll make ‘um up if I have to, I’m thinking. These are 8 and 9 year olds. What do they know?
But I remember clearly as I walked out to the center of the pitch this one little kid, I’m not even sure what side he was on, but he gave me a look up and down, like I didn’t look referreeish. He took a couple of steps away, turned and looked at me again. I think one of the reasons might have been the cigarette I was smoking at the time.
Fortunately one of the Moms took a whistle and joined me out among the young boys. I was going on the assumption that you put the ball down in the middle of the field, got out of the way, blew the whistle and let them go at it. Woman asked me for a coin, which was a clue right there that there was maybe a step I wasn’t aware of.
So she got us started and the boys started running. Little 8 and 9 years flailing at this foreign looking ball with their skinny legs. Falling down helter skelter. Happened right in front of me once and I blew my whistle. Felt that was the right thing to do. Boys looked at me. Woman with the other whistle looked at me. Coaches looked at me. So I pointed to the nearest boy. Which was all I needed to do. Some other boy came up, grabbed the ball, put it down somewhere nearby and they all started kicking at it again.
But Jesus Christ, all they did was run in one direction then the other, then sideways. Run, run, run. Breathlessly running here, running there. I finally got to a point near the center of the field and just stood there. Whenever the back and forth flow brought the ball near me, I’d sometime blow the whistle, especially if I got run into.
The woman came up to me once and said something, I’m not sure – this was years ago remember – but it had something to do with keeping up with the ball, moving around. So I did make a better effort, but I got tired quickly. I hadn’t broken a sweat in years and wasn’t up to the fit condition of your McLean 8 or 9 year old. When I’d get exhausted and needed to stop, I’d blow the whistle.
Once I was near the sidelines and two fathers, who had come up since the game began, were talking. One said to the other, for my benefit I think, “This is worst officiated game I have ever seen.”
I don’t know if that was true because it was the only game I had ever seen up close.
The refs in LA did a better job.
Howsoever they have no story to tell for the experience.