My constantly-in-motion 13-year old son has been playing "professional" soccer for the past 6 years and over time I've experienced a lot of things that previously I would have thought were relegated only to the slightly insane. I have sat in the pouring rain while children slogged through mud to kick a ball into a net. I have driven hundreds of miles to distant and slightly hostile states to watch the local referees and parents do their best to make us feel unwelcome. I have eaten cupcakes for lunch when it was someone's birthday and that was all there was to eat. I have eaten weirdly cooked hamburgers sold by someone else's mom because that was all there was to eat. I have gone to the bathroom in a porta-loo covered in diarrhea. I have watched kids get their bones broken, their asses whooped and every now and then, a nice win.
This weekend proved to be not so different. We drove through the worst part of New Jersey to get to the military part of New Jersey where farms and lawns are king. The first game was uneventful and our team won 2-0. The second game was one of those bizarre referee incidents where you have to wonder who is screening these men and should they be allowed within 1000 feet of any child, especially mine.
It started out fine. Our team seemed bigger than theirs (unusual -- I always think our city kids look small and sickly compared to those corn-fed suburbanites) and we conjectured that they were a good, younger team "playing up." Our team was clearly better and most of the time the ball was in scoring position. Our kids have trouble scoring but their passing and strategy were in top form. Good ideas, bad aim, and a tenacious defense from the other side.
In retrospect I think the ref thought it was his job to even out the sides by making calls that only benefited the other team so that the ball would have a chance to go in the other direction. But even with at least a dozen bad calls, and 6 yellow cards and 15 minutes playing a man down due to a red card, the ball rarely went over the line and our goalie never touched the ball. The result of those calls frustrated the kids and it got worse as the game went on, resulting in 6 yellow cards and 3 red cards (so those 3 can't play the next game). The last 2 red cards came after the game was over and my son said to the ref "shame on you" and another kid clapped his hands, but said nothing. The hostility of this ref was unprecendented and from our position on the sidelines it was hard to tell who he was trying to punish or what he thought he was doing. He smirked a lot beneath his Stalin-style moustache. In fact he looked incredibly like Stalin, no kidding.
It ended in a 1-1 tie (the other team had a 50% success rate - 2 shots and 1 goal, not bad, compared to our million shots and 1 goal, pretty bad!). I spoke to the guy running the tournament and he was very pleasant, and mentioned that it would teach the kids a lesson in never speaking to the ref, which they aren't supposed to. I agree wholeheartedly but, I said to him, does a reasonable person drive 75 miles so that their kid doesn't play the last game (which was the next day)? They have to come because if they win the last game then they have to play in the final. If they lose there is no final. Our coach followed up and the red cards were overturned, which was the right decision. The kids did learn a lesson about red cards and about making a fair decision when the first one was made by a moron.