Hi. My name is Zach Woosley, and I'm a serial referee complainer.
Over the years I've raised more hell about referees and officials that work soccer matches than your average fan. I've gotten frustrated, I've yelled at inanimate and animate objects, I've even hit a linesman with an empty water bottle (I'm not proud of that and I'm lucky I wasn't arrested).
I've allowed referees to send me into a mental tailspin far too many times ... but not anymore. I've had enough and I've changed my thinking about referees in soccer.
I think you should, too. Change is scary, and it's hard, but if I can do it, I know you can too.
Don't worry, though, you will not be alone on this journey. I'm here to help and I'll walk you through the process with care and respect. If you really pay attention to all that I'm about to explain to you, I'm confident you'll come out on the other side a better soccer fan. I'm confident you'll enjoy your viewing of the game more and no longer will referees drive you to absurd acts like ones I've perpetrated.
Ready to start? Good, here we go.
1. Admit we are powerless over referees -- that our enjoyment of soccer has become unmanageable.
We cannot change referees, we cannot change leagues or governing bodies in soccer. Well, we could, but that would require us to stop buying tickets and merchandise. Let's be honest, that's never happening.
So with that in mind, we have to admit to ourselves that we're powerless when it comes to officiating and it's ruining our enjoyment of the game. This doesn't mean that we'll ever stop getting agitated in the heat of the moment over a call that goes against our team, but we should learn that allowing our mental state to be zapped into oblivion by referees is pointless.
They're just doing their job the best they can. They're not trying to ruin your day and they're not trying to bring down your favorite team. They're just doing a job.
2. Come to believe that a greater power in soccer than ourselves cannot restore us to sanity.
UEFA, CONCACAF, FIFA, MLS, and U.S. Soccer are all regular targets of our rage because it is leagues and governing bodies like these that sanction, train and monitor referees and their performances. We've wrongly looked to them for accountability concerning the product their officials help produce and it has to stop. Some groups are better than others at managing their referees and they should be applauded. Others are not so good, but it's not always their fault.
Take the CONCACAF region for example, and more specifically the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS and LA Galaxy fans are still lobbing tweet and comment bombs all over the Internet after Thursday night's poorly officiated game between the Galaxy and Herediano. Referee Courtney Campbell made one major bad call on Herediano's penalty and one of the assistant referees botched Mike Magee's call, wrongly flagging him offside.
I've seen tweets and comments from fans ranging from general anger to rage-filled conspiracies centered around how CONCACAF is trying to screw over MLS teams. This is absurd and ridiculous behavior on several levels.
Ask yourself, do you honestly believe that various organizing bodies in soccer are out to screw over certain teams and/or leagues? Do you honestly believe there is some kind of covert conspiracy designed to negatively effect the perception of major tournaments?
CONCACAF doesn't benefit from officiating mistakes, and it certainly doesn't benefit from teams like the Galaxy being knocked out in early stages of tournaments. If you honestly think that's the case, I may not be able to help you.
3. We don't understand all the rules and all the intricacies of officiating a soccer match.
While there are many people out there that do have a really good grasp on the rules of the game, the average fan does not. A large majority of those in the media don't either, so don't think I'm claiming to be high and mighty here. We do our best to understand the rules but there's a lot we'll never completely understand because we haven't immersed ourselves in them.
In most cases, we're not referees. We haven't taken any referee courses and we've never officiated anything. I have at a very low level and never soccer, but despite my experiences I still have been one of the most anti-referee people around. I've been blinded by my rage so many times I've lost count and it's pointless.
I'm working hard to learn more about the rules and understand how they are interpreted but we have to accept that we don't know everything.
4. Admit to ourselves that humans make errors and it's almost human nature to forgive them.
Have you ever taken a moment to really think about why, in general, European referees who work in leagues like the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc. and work Champions and Europa League matches are better than their North American counterparts?
It's not a training issue, it's not a competency issue and it's not a conspiracy. It's on the field time.
CONCACAF referees simply do not get the regular "big game" experience that their European based counterparts do. The schedule doesn't compare, the situations don't compare, the pressure doesn't compare. The added variety of styles of play in CONCACAF, along with the vast differences between how the different leagues are officiated, compounds the problem.
If you want to be upset at CONCACAF, this is the one place where I think it's acceptable. But then again, what are they really supposed to do? The volume of games simply isn't there and the opportunities to get referees more consistent experience isn't there. There will always be a level of "lost in translation" errors when teams and referees from different leagues and countries are brought together.
We need to realize this. That doesn't mean we have to like when an officiating mistake occurs but we also have to realize the context, the situation and learn to deal with it. After all, when is the last time a match result was overturned due to an officiating mistake?
5. Stop trying to connect the dots.
I've seen some people trying to claim that the Galaxy/Herediano match and the Nani red card in the Manchester United/Real Madrid match require some kind of action from CONCACAF or UEFA.
Stop it! Just stop!
The Nani red card is nothing more than sour grapes from United fans or Madrid haters. There's a legitimate case for a red card in that situation. Nani put his cleats into the side of another player's body after going after a ball with a high boot. He showed his studs and caught a fellow player with them. Erase the word "intent" from your soccer vocabulary right now, because that doesn't matter one bit.
Nani knows that if you go up high like that and make contact, you will likely be shown a card. That's a dangerous play, a reckless play, and Nani's intentions have nothing to do with it. Granted, different referees might have interpreted the play in different ways, but Cuneyt Cakir made a very justifiable call.
Referee Courtney Campbell made a judgement call Thursday night on the penalty he awarded. In his eyes he saw Sean Franklin reach out, he saw Ismael Gómez go down and he made a call. It wasn't the right call, as slow motion instant replay showed us, but that's soccer. If the opportunity presents itself to try and gain an advantage over your opponent arises, you take it. Whether you call it gamesmanship or cheating, it's part of the game and it's time to get used to it.
Ideological anti-diving stands are fun and all, but they're ultimately pointless.
6. Come to an understanding with yourself.
It's time for all of us to understand that officiating will never be perfect, there will always be mistakes, there will always be varying interpretations of calls made in a split-second based on whatever information the referee can bring in. That's sport. That's how it works. Technological implements can assist the referees in certain aspects of the game, but in the end we're relying on human beings to use their best judgment and make the best call they can.
You do this every day at home and at work. You do this every time you have to discipline your kids (if you have any). You do this every time you make any decision. It's not always right, but in the moment you do the best you can.
Apply that reasoning to the next controversial referee decision you witness and take a moment to soak in the situation. Hopefully you'll realize that getting angry and going on a social media campaign isn't going to help or prove anything other than your propensity to get upset.
Try it out yourself. Admitting the problem is the first step.
Hi. my name is ______________ and I'm a serial referee complainer.