That question, from Lauren Bacall (“Slim”) to Humphrey Bogart (“Steve”) in the 1944 film “To Have And Have Not” is one often cited among the all-time great lines from movies. Why was it so well liked? Maybe it was the image of what followed: “You just put your lips together and blow . . .”, the invitation from Bacall to Bogart that anytime . . . Well, you know.
But it’s a question we can also ask of referees, as this example from a free kick near goal in a recent tournament shows. And more than that, it shows what referees are NOT being taught in our “academies” and in our “pro clinics”. So, for the sake of the integrity of the game, I guess it is time to get serious about taking a look at our training and assessing programs . . .
Perhaps twenty-four yards from goal, the free kick started off as a routine “ceremonial” free kick, since the defenders had been quick enough in reacting, and slow enough in moving, to ensure that no QUICK free kick could be taken with the defense unprepared. It happens all the time—-too often, in my opinion—-because referees are not assertive enough to even TRY to put a stop to it. But anyway, the referee, a product of one of the “academies”, held up the kick, then spoke to the attackers, held the whistle in the air and pointed to it. Everybody understood that the whistle would sound, and only THEN could the attackers play the ball.
The next step was to get the defensive wall back ten yards, or whatever the standard is these days. If we are to judge by what’s accepted in MLS, it’s about seven . . . but that’s another chapter in this story. So the referee went behind the players and started yelling at them to get back. With the reluctance that all defenders have to move away from the ball, the players shuffled a bit, and then a bit more, and then a bit more. Now the referee was getting a little irritated, and as I watched the scene unfolding, I guessed (and I feared) what was going to happen next.
Too exasperated to shout any more, the referee really needed to get the attention of the defenders, and you guessed it . . . up came the whistle and out came a stream of short blasts.
Now, at this point let us imagine what could have happened. And, if this had been a movie, it would have been in slow motion, to emphasize the disaster that was about to happen. In response to the sound of the whistle, one attacker over the ball tapped it sideways an inch or two and his teammate hit a screamer towards the goal. I cringed as I watched, and hoped that for the sake of the poor referee, the shot missed. Well, apparently even agnostics have some influence with the Great Referee in the Sky, because the ball went safely over the bar. Can you imagine the scene that would have occurred if the ball had gone in the goal?
Referee: “No goal! I told you to wait for the whistle.”
Player: “But you blew your bloody whistle!”
Referee: “Yes, I know. But that was not for you. It was for the wall!”
Player: “How was I supposed to know?”
Referee: “You look at me and I’ll tell you!”
And now imagine what would have happened if the hapless referee had ALLOWED the goal. What would the defenders have had to say?
One of the fine arts of refereeing is the art of PREVENTING problems. And when you teach preventative refereeing (say, in “pro clinics” and “academies”), you must teach the TECHNIQUES that a referee can use to prevent problems, or as in this case, embarrassment. Things like: choosing positions that enable you to see the play AND the greatest number of players at any given time; talking to players BEFORE the ball is in play at tightly-packed situations in the goalmouth; and of course, NOT blowing the whistle when it can create a disaster. In the recent “pro clinic” I attended, there was TALK about preventing problems, but no discussion of the TECHNIQUES you can use to do it.
Note that in “To Have and Have Not”, Bacall first asked if Bogart knew how to whistle, but just to be sure he did, she taught him the technique. We should do no less.