Monday 11 December 2017

No love lost in battle with men in white collars

There are certain questions that have puzzled mankind for centuries. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who discovered how to milk cows and what in God's name were they doing at the time? Who was driving the tractor that killed Biddy in Glenroe? Why is there always one cow that won't go up the crush? And finally, why would anyone in their right mind become a referee?

"What feckin' game are you watching referee?"

"Why don't you kick it for them?"

"Merciful hour, can you see at all ref?"

You have to admire a man (or woman, but I've yet to encounter one) who can take that sort of abuse week in, week out and still be declared sane at the end of it.

It really surprises me that we've yet to flick on the RTE News on a Monday evening and be told of how a certain well-known referee has gone on the rampage with a shotgun; finally blowing the head gasket after the tirade of abuse he'd received the day before. "All GAA players are advised to remain indoors."

After most matches, especially the important ones, the chances are that one set of supporters will be hungry for the blood of the man in black. Nowadays we regularly see refs sprinting towards the tunnel at the final whistle to avoid the imminent pitch invasion, while having to dodge a hail of rolled-up match programmes and empty Coke bottles.

"Never a goal ref, you're a dead man."

"Come out ya cowardly bastard."

And that's only the minors. There'd be less of a commotion if the Queen tap-danced down the Falls Road wearing a Rangers jersey and singing Rule Britannia.

It's not just the fans either. Every player, at one particularly heated moment in their career, has thought about decking a referee. You're on the ground after getting rode by a bullock of a full-back, you look up expecting a free in, and the fucker blows you for over-carrying.

There's that moment where you grit your teeth and think, 'Will I just level him? Sure it'll be grand. I need a break from football anyway.' Of course we come to our senses and snap out of it, but we can safely say that there isn't one player who hasn't been frustrated by a poor decision. It's become part of our game and we now expect them.

Referees, like players, build up reputations. There are two extremes in refereeing circles. You've the crazy old men from the country, personal favourites of mine. With them, there'd have to be blood drawn or a loss of consciousness before they'd even think about blowing the whistle. A defender's dream; you can get away with just about anything.

Expect plenty of fights, and don't be surprised if he's right in the middle, scattering lads.

Then we've the new generation, who're usually assigned to the big games. Middle-aged pretty boys with white-collar jobs who have never really played the game at any significant level and think the sun shines out of their arses; sucking the excitement out of the game one hefty shoulder at a time. There's one in every county and by God have I had my fair share of run-ins with ours.

Simon Gibson and I do not see eye to eye. Not only is he from a rival parish, a referee and a poser; but he's doing a line with a girl from our parish, or crossbreeding as it's more commonly known. This particular girl is a neighbour of ours, and cute as a button. Herself and myself have a past that I won't go into, but let's just say I'm not welcome at her place for tea anymore. World War II ended on a better note.

Gibson is a solicitor, and played a bit of junior with the club. He'd arrive out onto the pitch with his socks up, hair gelled, wrists taped; a real show-off/gimp. Of course I can never resist.

"Is that fake tan Simo?"

"How's herself, does she be asking for me? Tell her I said 'well'."

He would always be taken aback by the fact that I didn't respect him, but it was stupid on my part. After all, he was the man holding the whistle and, unfortunately, all the cards. There would be a free and a flash of yellow if I so much as farted towards an opposition player.

But I never learned. It was a hate-hate relationship.

It was the middle of the summer and a heatwave had taken hold. Grass was springing out of the ground and we were struggling to keep it under control, moving stock around every other day to stay on top of things. One evening the father and I went to see how our bulls were getting on. There were 25 of them in all, last year's calves; our pride and joy. Twenty-five meat machines shaping up nicely.

These animals were easily excited and with more testosterone flowing through them than a Leitrim lad in the Coppers basement after four Jaegerbombs -- they needed to be handled with care. Each weighing a half ton; if there was a hint of rain forecast they were brought straight indoors to stop them digging up the land.

"They're running low on grass; we may move them down to the long field. You shut the gates along the road and I'll ring the lads to come and help."

I set off. The long field was about half a mile down the road. Being a quiet country lane, there was no danger from cars. I strolled along, closing the gates of every house on the way.

I came to a lovely new white bungalow and raised my eyes to heaven in disgust. Gibson and my old flame had settled down and bought a site near her parents. The date was set and, surprisingly enough, I hadn't received an invite. In fairness, the place looked magical: flowerbeds, carpet-like lawn and that fancy white gravel in the driveway.

There were no gates but this was the case with many houses and I usually just tied some rope across the gateway to keep the cattle out. I pulled out the rope I'd been using for the other houses and reached for my knife. I stopped for a second and looked towards the house and the fairytale garden; the bulls would make an absolute mess of the place if they got in. I peered at the manicured flower beds and a thought entered my mind.

'Shockin' expensive the oul' rope these days. Sure maybe we'll chance it.'

The Fielder is not a fictional character. He currently plays for his county and club. For more, follow him on Twitter @TheFielder2

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