s’cos she’s a woman, innit?

“I just fuckin hate her,” the blue number four said matter-of-factly, his studs clacking back into the changing room.  “First yellow card I’ve got in twenty years’ playing.  Fucking joke.”

“I think she overcompensates, you know,” blue number two contributed, kicking off a long sock.  “Feels like she needs to dish out cards to mark her authority.”

“What gets me is she says I swore at her and I totally fucking never, I can assure you.”

The female referee, a burly lady who the blues had been refereed by once or twice before, did distribute cards more than other referees at that level.  But she wasn’t a poor referee for it; had bad games and good games like everyone.  In fact, having a lady referee generally made players less prone to vehemently dispute decisions.  When a decision went against a player whose natural reaction would be to turn round and challenge it, they held themselves back, clamped on the brakes: ooh, it’s a woman, they remembered, better not. 

At least that was the case at first.

Today those brakes weren’t highly obvious, but nor were they non existent.  It certainly wasn’t a game outstanding in its rampant dissent.  Either way, she’d seemed less patient than normal, calling the captains together at one point in the second half, briefing them not to allow their players to give any more stick to the decisions, just play.

Blue number six suspected that she halted the game to give the captains this message because she’d blown her whistle without knowing what her decision was going to be: who to award the free kick to.  Then she couldn’t make her mind up.  It wasn’t clear cut, there was a messy tangle of bodies before red number eight emerged with the ball at his feet.  He swore loudly to the skies in frustration on hearing the whistle.  “Shat iiiit!” she yelled at him. 

While she spoke to the captains, blue number six approached a team-mate and two opposition players milling around the centre circle.  “It’s not really much worse than any normal game though, is it?”  They all shrugged at each other, agreeing, united in not quite understanding her excessive sensitivity.

———

It’s reflected in a pricked buzz, then growing roar of crowds: that precious momentary realisation that your team has the measure of the opposition.  Shit.  We can actually do this.  At lower leagues where there is little to no crowd, there’s still an almost palpable excitement which sits in the pit of the belly and should be ignored.  Shit, we can actually do this.  The opposition isn’t all that good for once.  We could take these.  Stop it!  Concentrate.

So it was yesterday afternoon, from blue number six’s centre back position, he watched his team-mates suddenly begin to play, undaunted, free, quick and snappy, for the first time in months.  Even though they were already one-nil down by virtue of a typically slow start, they began to string it together.  Six vaguely remembered this feeling: peripheral and isolated by his defensive position, jealous, outside looking in.  Blue’s youngsters had the legs on them, the angles and the confidence, the passes neat and progressive.  It wasn’t recognisable at all.  They went into half-time 3-1 up and ambled over to the touchline, shellshocked by their success.  Nobody really knew what to say.

Despite inevitably contriving to almost throw it away at the end, the blues ran out slender 4-3 victors, the temper of number four still marred by the referee’s alarming whim of flourishing cards.

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