As a Tottenham supporter, the recent spate of refereeing howlers has all too loud a resonance. I’m not really a football supporter. If I have a choice it is rugby. Unlike Football, Rugby is a game where one single individual rarely has undue influence over the result. Rugby is a true team game and one that requires its players to trust that the player to the left or right of them will do their job and be where they are supposed to be on the pitch. Rugby fans and players will know that the option of seeing a TV replay and using a fourth official has been used for many years. For all the years of experience and understanding of the game that senior officials possess, human beings are frail when it comes to making split second decisions. If those decisions are in pressurised sporting cauldrons, the possibility of getting a 50/50 decision wrong is even greater.
3 years ago, I decided that getting a ticket to the Olympics was going to be an impossibility. I was never going to run, throw, jump, pull or push something fast, long or high enough to be invited to participate. My cunning plan was not to compete but perhaps I could officiate? I had played tennis, understood the rules and liked the uniforms the officials were given at Wimbledon so tried my luck with the LTA. They run courses twice a year to seek suitable individuals to become line judges, a few of whom will progress after considerable dedication and time to becoming International Umpires. I was happy to consider watching for chalk dust or foot faults as the highest level to which I might aspire, but who knew? Perhaps if I was good enough I could climb the ladder to the barley water pedestal in the sky and be sworn at by one of the stars of the game one day?
I was accepted onto a sampler course at the new LTA HQ in Roehampton. I was mildly perturbed that I wouldn’t be in a fit state to adjudicate as I had had laser surgery on my eyes just weeks before, and the prospect of the work being undone if a high speed serve came in my direction was preying on my mind. We were taught the hand signals that all line judges make – yes it’s not just shouting “FAULT” very loudly – they all make hand signals to show the umpire where the error was or even if there was no error. Watch more closely next time! And we were judged on our decision making abilities and then told if we had passed the assessment day and were invited to come on the proper selection day.
Sadly i was not considered suitable material for a line judge. Apparently, my biggest problem was that I didn’t shout “FAULT” loudly enough. Any friends reading this will have instantly sniggered, as they know very well that when sitting with me in a restaurant, I usually get told to lower my voice to avoid annoying the table 20 feet away. In one famous instance, when travelling from London to Edinburgh on the sleeper train, I was reading a bedtime book aloud to my beloved when a hammering came from the compartment next to ours and the occupant yelled “Turn that bloody radio down!”
While the elite club (and it was clear that the LTA volunteers who teach the course ensure that it is elite, selecting only those people they "like") remains out of reach, the course revealed to me that refereeing sporting events is not for the faint hearted. Making split second decisions isn’t easy. When it comes to the umpire, linesman or referee, you'll need an iron constitution and a core of self righteous infallability if you are to make it to the top. So before you yell at the man of doubtful parentage dressed in the dark outfit, why not try giving it a go yourself? To paraphrase the great book: Remove the tennis ball from your eye before removing the football from his.