I first learned this fact many years ago during a tournament. I was a rookie ref and I’d had a particularly taxing game. I’d made a couple of iffy calls and on a couple of them weakened my credibility by making a declaration like “It’s a maul!” followed quickly by something like, “Wait, no it’s not!”. That is to say, I wasn’t on top of the game. I wasn’t terrible, nothing that swung the outcome one way or the other but it didn’t look good. The players in this case were no help either, flying this way and that, engaging in all manner of activities seemingly designed to mask any semblance of a rugby match.
To top it off, one of the captains was a mouthy member of The Empire who thought he knew every damn thing about the game and was more than willing to share his observations. At one point the two captains dove after a ball, landed out of bounds and proceeded to fight each other (as they had failed to disturb the ball in any way I chose to ignore them and focus on the play on the field, this decision was also unpopular). It was pretty ugly all around but I was still completely unprepared for what happened after the final whistle.
At the end of the match, which ended (appropriately in my estimation) in a draw, Captain Limerton approached me but instead of the usual questions or complaints he simply said, “You’re a complete f***ing retard.” I was completely taken aback. I couldn’t even muster a perfunctory “F*** you.” I had been completely stymied. I went back to the referee’s tent to ask what to do in that situation and was essentially told that nothing could be done. One of the other refs did offer to talk to the player, when the ref returned his only comment was, “Well it did sound like he had some valid complaints.”
I’ll tell you another tale of woe. I once had a game that was getting out of hand. The players were more interested in fighting than playing ball and the crowd was threatening to storm the field. After an egregious foul, for fear of a total meltdown that would put me on the evening news, I blew the whistle to signify the end of the game. I then went through the full procedure of issuing a red card to the offending player. Guess what? When I submitted my report the disciplinary committee dismissed it due to the fact that a card cannot be issued after a game has ended. This actually happened a couple times before I was able to calm down in the moment and get the correct procedure. In fact, in one case the game was so out of hand that I issued a red card report without talking to the player involved by getting his name off of the roster sheet when I got home. This was another non-starter for the disciplinary committee.
The point is, as far as I’ve seen in my travels and discussions with referees there’s not much I can do after the match has ended. There’s no official sanction in the law book for negative conduct towards the ref after the match. The final whistle is my Kryptonite. Once I take off the cape I’m just another guy. The primary advice I’ve come across is simply to “be better during the match.” Not real helpful as advice goes but I’ve taken it to heart. I haven’t had an incident like the ones above in several years.
As you well know my dear and loyal readers The Angry Ref has no shortage of stories of mouthy players getting tossed about by hand signals and cards as if I were some combination of
DarthVader and Gambit. If you want to have your say without fear of immediate reprisal simply wait until after the game. We’re basically defenseless, with the following caveat: you’re union and results may vary. I’d like to think that some unions address referee abuse even after the match but so far I haven’t found one. That said, don’t be surprised if your union comes down on you for something you say to a ref after a match.
Also, once the match is over and we’re all just regular people again the ref is under no compunction to be nice to you anymore either. The worst I’ve ever done after a match is tell a U19 coach, in front of his players and parents, that he should never be allowed around children. I also said to a parent who approached at midfield after a match to complain about what I had missed that, very quietly and very calm so that no one else could hear me, “No one gives a f*** what you saw.” But don’t be surprised if you get lippy after a match and the ref verbally tears you a new one. If that happens it won’t be me though. My union expects refs to handle these types of situations with class. Also, remember that if you and the ref are performing at a similar level you’ll likely see the ref again.
And while The Angry Ref would never suggest that we whistle wearers hold grudges or allow them to influence our game, well, not everyone is as kind hearted and level headed as I am.