How to handle high tension matches (II)

Author: Godsway Glah
Referee William Agbovie — One of Ghana’s top FIFA referees
Referee William Agbovi — One of Ghana’s top FIFA referees

Last week, we examined the usual characteristics of high tension matches and concluded that our Premier League matches almost have those qualities. Every match looks like a cup final encounter.

Last weekend’s Kotoko-Hearts match was a typical example. Referee  William Agbovi, who has handled Hearts-Kotoko matches, perhaps more than any other Ghanaian referee in recent memory, performed creditably to the admiration of all objective observers. The Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) president, Kwabena Yeboah, among other praises, said he “doffed his hat for referee Agbovi”. Indeed, the referee equally earned the praises of coaches of both teams.

Referee Agbovi exhibited high attitude refereeing by being proactive and avoided being reactive. Talking to him after the match I got the impression that although he was aware that it was going to be an uncompromising match his past experience in handling many high tension matches, especially those involving the two teams, gave him some confidence and comfort.

Indeed, he didn’t only have confidence in himself, but aslo both teams equally showed him respect and were confident that he would not be the reason why they could win or  lose; and that he would be fair and firm. He was trusted and acceptable to both players, their handlers and the fans.

There are many ingredients in a referee that make a him acceptable. And it begins with the impressions he makes in his physical appearance through his physique, his dressing, the way he walks and the way he speaks.

It is not a beauty contest, but a referee with a pot belly does not attract much admiration and respect from players and spectators. It is a truism that one only gets one chance to make a first impression.

Managing the crowd of spectators

High tension matches are the ones that attract spectators and crowds. The ability to seem completely unaware of derisive comments and even insults from spectators is a skill that has to be quickly mastered by all referees, especially by assistant referees who are always closer to the spectators.

Even the slightest acknowledgment that a referee has registered a spectator’s troublesome comment can be enough to attract further unwelcome shouts, including insults.

For the referee, the problem is heightened the nearer he is to the touchline and a boisterous crowd. Most referees would in their early career have reacted at one time or another and quickly learnt from the consequences.

When a referee ‘does nothing’, it delivers the strongest message that can be communicated to the perpetrators. It clearly shows that the referee has not been affected by the comments; it also demonstrates a professional demeanour, minimises conflict, discourages further comments, displays strength and not weakness.

Again, this allows the referee to keep focus on the game and a;so encourages the referee to try even harder to perform his duties and responsibilities.

Physical fitness

A referee who displays poor stamina shows that he lacks physical fitness and the ability to cope with the speed of the match. It is always desirable to be very close to places of incidents and fouls.

For, it speaks a lot about the ability and efficiency of the referee when he is seen struggling to run from a distance to catch up with play, especially when fouls are committed. Referees who are physically fit and cultivate the right anticipation of the direction of play are better able to manage the game.

Current league matches

With less than eight matches to end the 30-match league, there are no clear indications about the final positions of any of the teams. Those who cannot win the league title would be desirous to be among the enviable 

Top four

The top four positions do not only show class and competence; they also attract more financial rewards. There is no need to tell anybody about the consequences of being in the ‘relegation zone’. But some teams will find themselves there.

It is, therefore, clear that our referees should strive even harder to handle matches with professionalism, firmness and fairness. They should remember that as referees, they operate as a team while the football teams also consider themselves as such.

No referee should make himself a part of any team. Without trying to frighten any referee, I wish to remind them that their managers are looking for referees to drop from the existing list of referees. The remaining league matches would be contested in an uncompromising manner.

All matches will continue to be played in a high tension manner. We should let the better side win, and for that matter, the teams that deserve to continue in the next Premier League to do so.

Refereeing is much more about good conduct and character. There is more after active refereeing. We should create a good name as a fortune to inherit in our retirement.

The teams and their officials who influence referees to help them in their matches are the same people we would be dealing with when we retire from active service. And they only deride us and call us names when we are off the field.

As referees, we have cultivated football within our veins and we would still like to be involved in the game in one way or the other. We must create and establish our acceptability while we are actively involved in the game. Nobody gave me this advice, but I have realised it.

Luckily, I didn’t behave too badly when I was active. Let us handle our matches well like our elite referees. Referee Agbovi had a strategy of preventing problems from happening, rather than just dealing with them when they happened.  

My view is that referee  Agbovi has reinvented himself through his classic performance. He has just returned from a severe sanction. And as it this was not enough, he was handling the match at a time his father, a retired FIFA referee, had just died and was lying at a hospital mortuary.

As a friend commented, “his performance was a tribute to his late father yet to be buried”. It was a high tension match but he reduced it to a manageable one.